The Victorian Mourning Jewelry Era – Gold Locket With Hairy Memories



Ever heard of a locket or any kind of jewelry with braided hair embedded in it? Simon McKee shares one of his most personal find till date with Jon Winter of the Searcher Magazine – A gold locket containing a generous amount of beautiful auburn braided hair. How it had survived under the ground for so long is remarkable.

When finding such an intimate and no doubt cherished artefact, the detectorist wonders about the circumstances of its loss. Was it a piece of mourning jewelry or its very close cousin, a sentimental locket owned by a ‘sweetheart’? We can speculate forever, but never know for sure; we can only guess. Determining whether an item of jewelry of this nature is merely sentimental or true mourning can be tricky.

Mourning jewelry has been around for a long time but is now associated in many people’s minds with the Victorian era when the queen retreated into mourning after the death of her beloved Albert in 1861. A locket containing a lock of the deceased person’s hair became popular. It is also believed that some lockets didn’t necessarily contain hair from the deceased, but from supplies that had been imported into the country to keep up with the demand. The large heavy-looking locket attached with a velvet ribbon and worn by the Victorian lady in the photograph was a fashion ‘accessory’ of the time (should that be necessity?)

victorian lady with jewelry
Victorian Lady with Gold Locket

In addition to a lock of her sweetheart’s hair, there may have been a portrait of her loved one. It’s a fact that a hundred or so years ago, no well-dressed person would have considered his or her mourning outfit complete without a piece – or preferably several pieces – of special jewelry. As well as being a souvenir of the deceased the brooch also served as a ‘Memento Mori’, a reminder to the living of the inevitability of death. It is a fact that the Victorians loved jewelry made from hair; it was a huge industry, and not only for mourning.

gold locket with braided hair
Gold Locket with Braided Hair

In today’s era, the idea of wearing a locket with hair would be frowned upon and dismissed as a macabre bauble. But then, what do we know about current trends! So, is Simon’s find a locket worn proudly by a sweetheart or a piece of mourning jewelry? At the time of writing, Simon says he’s waiting to hear if Treasure Trove in Scotland has any interest in the locket, but given the age he thinks that it’s unlikely.

Maybe we will see a Titanic like movie in the making with such a backdrop. Such astounding discoveries only make us realize how much of our past historical facts are yet to be unearthed. Who knows maybe such mourning jewelry may become a fashion cult in the future?


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  • Image: The Searcher Magazine (July 2014 Issue)
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