Mourning Jewellery

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Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums has a small but comprehensive collection of 19th century mourning jewellery.

Souvenirs of the deceased are the more obvious and widely used form of mourning jewellery. The notion of keeping physical mementos of a person dead or alive is thousands of years old and not unusual even today. Hair in particular was most common. In Britain at least, jewellery either made from or including hair, emerged sometime during the 17th century. Originally rings were popular, set with intricate designs in hair, but by the 19th century all manner of items were being made.

Jet has been used in the making of jewellery for thousands of years and it was certainly used in Britain prior to the Victorian passion for it as a mourning accessory. Most of the jet used to make jewellery in the 19th century came from Whitby in North Yorkshire.

Jet was perfectly versatile not only because of its colour but also because it was easily carved and manipulated to suit the needs of each stage of mourning. It could easily be left unpolished, but equally it could be cut and polished into a many facetted jewel that sparkled like diamonds.

The difference between jet and bog oak is that jet is fossilised wood, which is very hard and can be polished while bog oak is wood, which has been preserved in a peat bog and is dull and soft, which made it suitable for the early stages of Victorian mourning.

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