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Jewelry History: Bejeweled Skeletons

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I came across an article about beautifully bedazzled skeletons the other day, and can’t help but post it here. Like a lot of golden objects, these jewel-encrusted corpses belong to the Catholic church. Found in the catacombs of Rome in the 1500s, the identities of the bodies remained a mystery for years. I can’t help but admire how well dressed they are in their afterlife. You can read more about the mysteriously beautiful skeletons here or pick up the book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs.

 

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Jewelry History: Mourning Rings and Hair Jewelry

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As Halloween and Dia de los Muertos creep up on us, Custom Jewelry thought it would be a good time to take a look at one of the more macabre and eccentric jewelry traditions: mourning rings and hair jewelry. Now, this style of jewelry has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been fascinated by hair jewelry since I learned of it’s existence in high school. So throughout the years, it has been a surprise to me that so many people are unfamiliar with it — and incredibly creeped out by it once they do learn of it.

OK, I get it. Wearing someone else’s hair as a decorative ornament, if taken objectively, is creepy. But, in its truest forms, mourning rings and hair jewelry were simply used to remember loved ones who had passed on from the wearer’s lives. And many times, it was worn while the person was still living as a token of love and affection. See, not as creepy as originally thought, right? No takers? Bueller?

Mourning jewelry has been around for some time, but really started to come into fashion in the late 1600s, early 1700s. At its start, there was little to no hair involved at all, but rather dates, names, and miniature portraits of significant people. It wasn’t until the reign of King George that miniature portraiture jewelry took fashion by storm as a way for the gentry to show support of the ailing king by wearing his portrait on a ring or brooch. Eventually the portraiture of King George gave way to a more commonly accepted practice of wearing portraiture of loved ones, and jewelry makers started creating pieces more customized to their buyers. Then, during the Victorian era mourning jewelry became fully mainstream and branched out into other types of memorium jewelry, such as the crosswork hair mourning rings, bracelets, and the rock crystal memorial rings people are more familiar with.

While slightly macabre, I’m fairly certain my fascination with mourning jewelry (and especially rings) stems from how much these little artifacts tell us about the everyday people who wore them. Each piece generally has a wealth of symbolism that goes with it, as well as most every piece is marked with the names and dates of the person who has been memorialized. It’s like getting to glimpse into history while simply shaking someone’s hand. And even now, whenever I come across another great example of mourning jewelry, I can’t help but wonder who wore it, and why they found it so important to memorialize the person for whom it was worn. It’s beautiful really.

With that, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite mourning rings outlined above — and even a picture of the one I have in my own jewelry collection. While not as fancy as the others shown, I love it, as each day it reminds me that someone was loved enough to have a ring made to remember them.

Mourning rings, clockwise from top left:

Skeleton Hair Ring, Hair Ring with Blue EnamelCrossbones Mourning Ring, Blonde and Blue ring, Victorian Hair Locket Ring, The ring from my personal collection, Wheat Hair Ring.

 

 

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Jewelry History: Berlin Iron Jewelry

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Here at Custom Jewelry, we find inspiration in the odd, strange, and slightly off-color, so it’s no wonder we love October around here. While some may find it macabre, we’re drawn to the slightly somber rituals at the end of this month: All Hallow’s Eve, Dios de los Muertos, and — while technically in November — All Saints and All Souls days.To us, there’s something beautiful about taking time out of our lives to remember those who have come before and who will continue to go after us, and in honor of this somber month, we’ve decided to post a few things throughout it to honor the gothic, the strange, and hopefully, the beautiful. Today, we start with the gothic: Berlin Iron Jewelry.

Dark, brutal, and strangely wonderful, Berlin Iron Jewelry is a style of jewelry that started in Berlin around the turn of the 19th century during the Napoleonic wars. During this time period, the aristocratic class was encouraged to give up their gold, silver, and other precious materials in order to help fund the war against Napoleon. In exchange, the classes were given beautifully black-lacquered iron jewelry with which to adorn themselves. What started as a sign of patriotism, soon spread into a fashion trend and led to more mass production of the iron pieces.

Created by a process called sand-casting, Berlin Iron Jewelry is formed via melting wax into sand and then pouring molten iron into the sand frames. Once cooled, the iron is taken out, finished with a black lacquer and either linked into bracelets, necklaces, or the popular chokers of the time period. You can spot Berlin Iron Jewelry by the stark, black material it’s made of, the very distinct lattice-work detailing, and its tendency to have Neo-classical imagery such as cameos and classical figures. Both beautiful and menacing, these intriguing pieces give us a glimpse into the past, remind us of the war torn country for which it was made, and show us that even the most ordinary objects can be extraordinary in the hands of the right craftsmen.

Images via Three Graces, 1st Dibs, and historicalfashion.tumblr.com

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