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Mourning Jewelry

Mourning jewelry can keep loved ones close at hand, heart.

By Jean Lang

Looking for some distinctive jewelry? Maybe you’d like to add the “Not Lost But Gone Before” white enamel mourning ring to your collection. The ring, offered for $1,350 by Erica Weiner, is described as a 10-karat gold and enamel Georgian with lovely plain weave hairwork encased in rock crystal at the face. 

The white enamel framing the hair locket indicates the deceased was unmarried. The reverse of the head is engraved “E. A. Vincent ob 27 May 1807 at 30.”

Lily Maslanka, who specializes in antiques for Erica Weiner, which has stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn and has a website, said mourning jewelry has been popular with some going back centuries.

“Death was a lot closer and people had to face death a lot faster and a lot younger,” she said of those living in times where it was not as unusual for children to die, or adults to pass at ages much younger than now.

 “Memento mori” jewelry was to encourage people to “remember that you will die,” so live your life.

She said sometimes the jewelry was connected to a specific person, but other times not. “Memento mori” jewelry was to encourage people to “remember that you will die,” so live your life.

She said mourning jewelry was particularly popular in England, including during the Tudor and Stuart reigns. After Charles I died (in 1649), she said passionate royalists wore mourning jewelry to remember the sovereign.

Mourning jewelry is sometimes subtle, with just a name inscribed in a gold and black band, or not so subtle, featuring black skeletons or human hair in its face.

Sometimes hair was a design element in a portrait in the jewelry, such as leaves of a weeping willow tree.

“Hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials and survives us like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death…” reads copy accompanying one of the rings. It’s quoting Godey’s Lady’s Book, written around the time the ring was believed to be made. Hair was also occasionally used for non-mourning jewelry, oftentimes by lovers, particularly if they were separated by distance.

But mourning jewelry and other keepsakes aren’t just the purview of antique lovers.

There are various options for jewelry and other keepsakes offered by Etsy, funeral homes and others for those looking to memoralize loved ones, be they human or pet.

Maslanka said she had a pendant made that encases a small braid of her late mother’s hair, which she wears every day. “You know how much I love you” reads the subscription, which hangs over her heart.

There are various options for jewelry and other keepsakes offered by Etsy, funeral homes and others for those looking to memoralize loved ones, be they human or pet.

Malldou Jewelry offers the Tree of Life Urn Necklace for Ashes Always in my Heart which you can get in two days with Amazon Prime. “I love you to the Moon & Back,” reads the backside. Inside, you can put the ashes or hair/fur of your loved one. And with a nod to the more current environmental concerns, it boasts that it’s made with environmentally-friendly and durable 316L stainless steel.

Randy Anderson, who runs a funeral home in Alabama and sits on the National Funeral Directors Association’s board of directors, said he gave the male members of his family penknives and the female members charm necklaces, each with the fingerprint of his father-in-law, at the time of his passing.

He said it was to remind them of how he had touched their lives. Penknives were chosen because the father-in-law was an avid outdoorsman, he said.

For the football fan, Boston Cremation offers a football display urn, $575.99, not including engraving ($39) It’s made of cherry wood and features a clear, acrylic case to house your passed loved one’s football. (Ball not included)

A reviewer on Etsy said how pleased her daughter was with her purchase.

Of the store’s array, she said, “It’s the most interesting cabinet to talk about, but not a lot of people want to talk about it.”

“My daughter loves her ring. Now she’ll always have her cat of 19 years with her (heart) thank you sooooooooo much, Gina!” (from Jenny) Jan. 24, 2019.

David Sloane, author of “Is the Cemetery Dead?” said while hair was accessible to people looking for mementos centuries ago, technology now provides further options, including jewelry containing gems made with the ashes of loved ones.

Cremation Solutions, with its tag line of “tomorrow’s traditions” offers to take tablespoons of ashes sent to them in a mail-in kit and turn them into jewelry like the “comforting light ring,” made with cubic zirconia in a sterling silver setting, with 14 available colors, for $695 (make take 8-10 weeks).

It also advertises Pandora style beads for $105; an “Endless Love” pendant for $2,095, featuring a halo of diamonds around a Portuguese cut cremation crystal; and fingerprint jewelry, made from an ink imprint of your own or a loved one’s finger.

Maslanka says mourning jewelry is not everyone’s cup of tea, particularly those who don’t want to think about death.

Of the store’s array, she said, “It’s the most interesting cabinet to talk about, but not a lot of people want to talk about it.”


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About the Writer

Jean Lang is a freelance writer and a former Boston-based Associated Press staffer. As a reporter for The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, Mass., she had the privilege of writing several obituaries. Jean can be reached at jeanmcmillanlang@gmail.com.

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