I love Halloween. I love the dark and mysterious, cauldrons, witches, the wheel of the year turning to winter. We have discussed the Day if the Dead here recently and I decided to take topics a wee bit darker for the next two weeks – leading up to Halloween and All Soul’s Day/All Saint’s Day.
The topic was inspired by a conversation I was having over at Art-Share.org, a podcast of which I am part. We were embracing the dark, maybe morbid topics for the month of October – things like momento mori, and … hair jewelry. So I was inspired to research both Victorian hair jewelry and mourning jewelry styles.
In the 17th and 18th centuries it became a mark of status to wear mourning jewelry for deceased loved ones. The height of the style came in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert died in 1861; she dressed in black for the remainder of her days. In the US at this time, the Civil War helped increase the popularity of mourning jewelry – as to be expected…
|The five daughters of Prince Albert wore black dresses and posed for a portrait with his statue following his death in 1861.|
|coffin ring from 1715 – crystal coffin shape over skull and hair work.|
|Images from HistoricNewEngland.org|
|Enamel brooch, jet and hair brooch, carved jet brooch.|
Jet is a mineraloid, derived from fossilized wood. It is ultra black, smooth and lightweight. It has been used since Ancient Greece circa 200 BCE. The Venerable Bede says this about British jet: “Britain has much excellent jet… black and sparkling, glittering at the fire, and when hearted drives serpents away…” Superstition had it that jet was shiny enough to avert the evil eye.
The town of Whitby is known for its jet, although jet occurs in other regions. Whitby jet is from the Jurassic era – app. 182 million years old. Whitby was a popular Victorian seaside destination, and the Whitby jet trade started as a souvenir industry. After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria’s mourning regimen helped to increase jet’s popularity. The rise of jet’s popularity saw shops carving and selling jet jewelry in town go from 50 workshops in 1850 – to 200 shops in 1873! It is currently illegal to mine jet in Whitby, as it has been over mined and the shale based cliffs are rather unstable. Contemporary jet carvers are working with pieces washed up on shore that have naturally sloughed off the jet lines in the cliffs.