The British Monarchy has had little luck in love. Do you remember King Henry VIII? The king who had six wives? At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the man kept desperately searching for his ‘one true love’. Every time he pursued a new conquest, he promptly made himself single again. Sometimes by banishing his then wife, sometimes by enlisting the help of an executioner with a mighty axe. For all that, he never found his happy ever after. Equally as tragic is the story of Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century. The queen was besotted with her prince Albert, but he died when he was barely 40 years of age. She secluded herself for the next 40 years after that. The fashion style of the day became black, black and more black, with as only decoration….a diamond ring as mourning jewellery.
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Behind a little door
Mourning jewellery created a real trend. The hoop skirts of strict Victorian Britain were but a little frivolous, but mourning jewellery seemed to have to Monarchy’s blessing. Aristocrats started wearing bracelets, necklaces and diamond rings to remember their loved ones by. These jewels were supposed to offer some solace. Really popular was jewellery set with pearls or diamonds, and containing a lock of hair the deceased. It could be a necklace or a diamond ring, with a little door behind which the lock of hair was kept. This is, after all, very personal and hair can be preserved for many years.
The auctioning of jewellery
The mourning fashion went even further. Hair was used to make detailed miniature scenes inside the jewellery box. Or it was plaited into a chain for watches. Hair became a fashion accessory in itself and in the mid-nineteenth century, it didn’t even have to be from the deceased. There was such a high demand for it that Britain had to import 50 tons of hair per year to incorporate it into jewellery. To our current taste, Victorian mourning jewellery seems sombre and rather sinister. You won’t find it anymore in jeweller’s window displays, but only in auctions of prestigious auction houses. People who do like black, can of course still opt for jewellery with black diamonds. However, the underlying idea remains timeless: loss, mourning and love. The latter is perpetually translated into jewellery and especially a diamond ring. Diamonds are, after all, forever.