When I hunt for jewelry, I mostly seek cufflinks—from the Victorian to the Art Deco Period. But I will frequently stumble across a piece of women's jewelry that I cannot pass-up. These pieces often feature interesting stones, heavy metal work and bold designs. More "handsome" than "girlie." Some of my favorite pieces are known as "Mourning Jewelry" from Victorian England.
Mourning jewelry was not invented by the Victorians; it had been crafted and worn since the Medieval Era. But, with the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria began a 40 year period of mourning—and took her country along with her (at least for part of that time). Whitby jet, from Yorkshire, became popular. It was black, shiny and light; it was also expensive, since carving the brittle material was tricky (as it would break easily). Heavy (or heavy-looking) silver and gold jewelry was also popular—often reflecting the Aesthetic Movement style in the late Nineteenth Century.
Victorian society, protocol and customs were tightly-regulated and strictly observed. And the Queen had an enormous influence on behavior and fashion—not only in England but in many parts of the world. Wearing suitable mourning dress and appropriate jewelry was an important part of a widow's public presentation. Mourning jewelry was serious, heavy and somber—not unlike the Queen herself. Frivolity was out. In fact, after Albert died, Victoria kept a lid on the laughter (or any expression of joy) in her children at home. She thought that vulgar displays of happiness would dishonor her deceased beloved.
Keep in mind that the America Civil War was occurring in the States during the early years of Victoria's mourning. Many families bore some acquaintance with death—and mourning jewelry was perfectly suited to the widows and mothers on both sides of the North-South divide. Sometimes a lock of hair from the deceased would be worked into the design of the piece—either woven and exposed or neatly rolled and enclosed into a class "reliquary" of sorts.
The brooch above, made of sterling silver, is hallmarked Chester, 1887. Numerous elements—a jagged crescent, scrolling botanicals, hand-etched barring, little decorative balls—work well together to create a harmonious whole. And it's perfectly-suited for a woman (or confident man) who wanted just a little "decorative brightness" which was nevertheless serious, understated and respectful. Click on the photo above to learn more about this handsome piece.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248