Memento Mori.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a jewelry design inspired by Victorian mourning jewelry. Mourning jewelry was worn both as a symbol of mourning and as a memorial to loved ones. It was usually made of black jet, and sometimes incorporated the hair of the deceased in intricate patterns. There are some fantastic surviving examples of rare pieces made entirely of hair.

Images from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

I love the intricacy of these pieces, and their simple, direct social significance. While the hair pieces were generally very intricate and delicate, jet pieces were frequently carved in a heavier, simpler chain pattern. They’re elegant, and eloquently symbolic.

My tribute piece doesn’t use hair, but I do have some beautiful old bone components for jewelry. When I set out to make my Memento Mori choker, I used those. For the jet component, I chose large vintage black glass rough cut beads. Rough cut (also sometimes called English cut) beads have smooth, irregular facets. They’re imperfectly shaped, but each facet is sharp and defined, and they catch the light so beautifully. They’re generally fairly small, so the larger ones in this piece are a bit rare. I love rough cuts for their imperfection, and their insistent personality. The ones I’ve used here seem both sedate and demanding, and I like the effect they create. The line of jet is broken on one side by a vintage bone infinity symbol, originally part of a clasp. The choker is finished with a vintage hand carved bone hook clasp, which is accented with an antique and very rare black tri-corner Czech pressed glass bead.


I’m really pleased with how this piece turned out, and I hope to do a few more pieces with the same feel. If you’re interested in mourning jewelry, you can check out some other photos I’ve gathered on Pinterest.

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