The history of mourning jewelry and cremation jewelry

The History Of Mourning Jewelry Over The Centuries

Mourning Jewelry Over the Centuries 

Click the video above if you prefer watching or if you are a more visual learner!

Before we take a deep dive into the mourning jewelry trends and innovations over the centuries, let's do a quick touch on the basics. What is mourning jewelry? Mourning jewelry is any jewel or piece that is made to commemorate a loved one who has passed. It can be made for people or pets. Mourning jewelry has always existed. In this post we will be touching on the 1800's and up, however it has existed prior to these dates. If you are interested in purchasing a mourning jewel, have a look at our ready to order ashes jewelry here. Or send us an email at for custom jewels.

1800's Mourning Jewelry Trends

mourning jewelry symbolism weeping willow

In the 1800's it was common to incorporate hair within jewelry. Often jewelers would place locks of hair from the deceased inside of jewels such as lockets, rings pendants and more. It was also incorporated by grinding the hair down into a powder-like substance and mixed into paint. The paint would then be used to make miniature paintings of sorrowful scenes or symbols they associated with mourning. They used canvases such as tortoise shells to paint these scenes on. Common symbols were weeping willows, pearls for tears and grave stones, among others.

hair in locket mourning jewelry

Using hair was always a common practice, however its popularity sky-rocketed when Queen Elizabeth's beloved Prince Albert Died. The queen was said to have kept a strand of his hair inside of a heart-shaped locket around her neck. This caused the trend to be consumed by the masses. During these times, nobility were considered the "influencers" the population would look to for fashion trends. Hair had become so sought after that Britain was importing over 50 tons of human hair annually to help support this craze. It even created jobs for women, who became "hair weavers," which was a job they could do working from home.

Hair was not the only type of mourning jewelry in the 19th century. There was also other jewelry that was created specifically to be worn during the grieving period, such as "jet". Jet was a type of fossilized wood that would be carved by hand by jewelers and made into ornate beads for necklaces, earrings, brooches and more. Jet could only be found in certain areas and because each piece was carved by hand, it was quite costly and reserved to only the wealthy. Because of jet prices, jewelers used an imitation called "Gutta Percha" to create a more affordable alternative. It was a natural resin-like substance derived from a tree. Jewelers could heat the substance and make molds with it for easier production and to cut costs. You can easily tell the difference between the two because of the lines along the sides, caused from molds.

victorian women mourning clothes clothing attire

In the 1800's, the "rules" of mourning were quite strict and defined. There were 3 stages of grieving that were expected to be practiced by mourners. The stages were deep, full and half mourning. Each stage had its own wardrobe and etiquette. For example, you were not allowed to wear tortoise shell jewelry within the first period of mourning. You were also expected to rid yourself of your mourning garments after this period because it was considered bad luck to keep it. This meant people were expected to buy a new outfit for every person who passed. Thankfully the deceased had allowances in their wills specifically to pay for these mourning trends!


1800's to 1900's Mourning Jewelry Trends

daguerreotype louis daguerre

In the 1840's a more commercially available camera was invented. It was called a daguerreotype. Having your picture taken at the time was still a luxury and was generally reserved for special occasions. These occasions included the loss of a loved one. They would bring in photographers to take a picture of the deceased in order to preserve their memory. Crematoriums weren't invented until the late 1800's, so families were expected to prepare and bury the bodies themselves. Because of this, they often dressed and decorated the deceased with flowers and trinkets and would then photograph these ornate scenes. The families liked that the photograph gave the impression they were sleeping, making them look at peace.

These pictures would then be inserted inside lockets, brooches, rings, etc and were worn by the family. Today this is no longer something we see and would be considered morbid! (We aren't going to put any pictures simply because the pictures are a bit too creepy!)

 In America, crematoriums were only invented as of the late 1800's. By the 1900's there was said to have only 20 across the US as a whole. Today, cremation is a common practice and chosen by most people in parallel to burials. Because of this we have begun to see a trend for ashes jewelry. Ashes jewelry (also known as cremation jewelry) is where you insert the ashes of a loved one or pet inside of a piece of jewelry, in order to commemorate them.

Ashes inserted into jewelry

At Fine+Flux we make our cremation jewelry by inserting the ashes within a small compartment underneath the center stone and sealing it shut, protecting it from water. It is a discreet, sentimental way for people to preserve the memory of a loved one.

If you are looking to create a memorial piece, please send us an email at or you can shop our ready to order ashes jewelry by clicking here.


Back to blog

Contact form