Topic: Memento Mori, Remember your mortality

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Queen Victoria in 1885 

Symbolizing life and enduring love the keeping of hair has been associated with death and mourning in many cultures for thousands of years. Hair jewelry was a decorative and practical way of keeping loved ones close, reminding the wearer of their loss.

Queen Victoria did much to popularize the art of bereavement after the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. For 40 years she set the trend in mourning etiquette and dress. While wearing jewelry was improper in the early stages of grief, after one year and one day appropriate ornamentation was acceptable. In this second mourning phase, which lasted for a further year, widows wore jewelry crafted of Jet and hair. Jet, which is a type of fossilized coal, has the appearance of black glass, although it was considered bad taste to wear polished pieces while mourning.

Jet was an expensive commodity making hair jewelry more accessible for the masses. Locks of hair were weaved into rings, bracelets, earrings, fobs and necklaces. Inserting woven hair into a broach was very popular as it could be done at home by the bereaved. Many saw this as preferable to taking the hair to hairworkers who had gained a reputation for mass producing jewelry from purchased hair.      

With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 the rigid rules around mourning were relaxed. Mourning jewelry and the use of hair declined. Today the art form has become highly collectable.

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