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Mourning Jewelry: A Brief History

Why Wear It & How To Choose

Learning to accept the unpleasant situation of having to say your final goodbye to your loved one is nothing short of difficult. Making the situation even more unbearable and crippling for many is dealing with the sense of loss while yearning to have their loved one back, alive, and well. 

For many, they find themselves lacking adequate closure, making it challenging to go about their daily life. What's more, they may even experience despair and anger at the fact that their loved one has passed and that they will never see them again.

If you've recently experienced a loss, we want you to know that we understand the grief you're going through. As such, we would like to help by giving insight into how mourning jewelry can help you cope and navigate your day-to-day life more easily. 

In this guide, we will explain what mourning jewelry is, how it may help you in this challenging journey, and provide answers to commonly asked questions encompassing the topic. Continue reading below to learn more. 

What Is Mourning/Cremation Jewelry & Why Was It Created?

Cremation jewelry is a personalized accessory that contains a portion of your loved one's cremated remains. These decorative pieces help people to feel like their loved one remains close to them even after they've departed their waking life. 

Cremation jewelry comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes, designs, and colors. Here are four of the most common options you will likely find when shopping at memorial jewelry stores or antique stores:

  • Necklaces. A mourning necklace is a chain with a pendant or charm attached to it, worn loosely around one's neck. The pendant can feature any number of shapes, sizes, colors, or styles to best commemorate the loss of a loved one. 
  • Rings. Rings are perhaps the most personal and intimate form of cremation jewelry because they need to be perfectly fitted to the wearer. Like necklaces, they can feature almost any style, color, or shape to suit the wearers' preference. 
  • Bracelets. This would be the most suitable option for anyone who prefers to wear jewelry on their hands rather than their neck. And if they choose to wear it around their ankle, the jewelry can be a perfect accessory to their shoes. Bracelets are a beautiful form of cremation jewelry that can help you remember your loved one.
  • Keychains. While keychains are not jewelry, they are an accessory that can be customized to commemorate the death of a loved one. The great thing about them is that they're versatile and can be attached to car keys, staying close to you everywhere you go. 

While wearing memorial jewelry is a typical memorial tradition today, it really only gained popularity in recent years, following centuries of being an under-appreciated tradition that originated millennia ago. While the creative aspect of memorial jewelry originated centuries ago, people have found unique ways to incorporate memories of a passed loved one onto jewelry, modernizing its style and appeal.

What Is The History Behind Mourning/Cremation Jewelry?

Going back to the dawn of time when humans started honoring their deceased loved ones, there is recorded proof that they were making and wearing cremation jewelry as a way to remember and commemorate their loved ones. Cremation jewelry, also known as remembrance or memorial jewelry, was known to take the form of a finger ring or a pendant and chain with the deceased’s name and date of death on it.

There are recorded traces of memorial jewelry taking the form of more elaborate items such as precious stones that contains cremains and hair. This is more commonly known today as urns. While mourning jewelry is still common today, they take forms that fit adequately into current styles, as is typical for everything in life.

The style evolved significantly since its inception millennia ago. Allow us to go into deeper yet succinct detail about the history of mourning jewelry and its evolution through time.

WHEN DID IT START?

Cremation jewelry dates all the way back to the 1800s. During this time, the customary tradition was to incorporate hair within jewelry. There wasn't a name for this practice, but in the modern day, we typically refer to this as a hair urn. 

The practice was similar to how it's done today, with the jewelers placing locks of hair from the deceased securely inside jewels such as rings, pendants, lockets, and more. Lockets were a trendy and in-demand type of jewelry in the 1800s, so it was common for loved ones to have a chunk of hair accompanying the photo in the locket. 

Another common practice not requested very much in modern days is the method of grinding the hair down into a fine powder substance, which would then be mixed with paint. They would then use the substance to paint an expressive drawing with a scene representing the life and loss of the deceased associated with mourning.

They also used canvases such as tortoise and turtle shells to paint these scenes. It's been recorded that common symbols were weeping willows, gravestones, and pearls for tears, among others. These ancient cremation jewelry pieces were unique and intricate, carved into ivory/stone in addition to the hand-painted canvases.

During the 1840s, cremation jewelry underwent commercialization around the same time the camera was conceived, and it was referred to at the time as the daguerreotype. Taking your picture during this era was costly and considered an act of luxury; therefore, it was generally reserved for special occasions. One of the special occasions, however, was during the loss of a loved one.

The tradition was customary to all cultures and relatively straightforward. The family of the loved one would hire professional photographers to take a picture of the deceased generally while they were laying at rest in their coffin.

This was a way to preserve their memory by giving the family something to hold onto in addition to mental memories. It was common for the families to decorate and accessorize their loved ones with flowers and trinkets to prepare them for the photographs. 

They chose to take the photo once their loved one was dressed and decorated in their coffin because it made for the perfect picture of them looking fast asleep and peaceful rather than decreased. These pictures were secured in or on keepsake jewelry such as inside lockets, brooches (an ornament pin clipped onto clothing), rings, pendants, and more. They were meant to be worn by the deceased's family to keep the memory alive. This tradition has since been eliminated because it would be considered morbid and disrespectful to the deceased by today's standards. 

Moving into the late 1800s and early 1900s, when crematoriums were first dated back to, the options for cremation jewelry expanded. Cremation jewelers started offering the option to put the deceased's ashes in an urn or insert it into jewelry, which we refer to now as cremation jewelry. This was a new but very popular way to commemorate their loved ones since it allowed the family to keep the remains in their possession rather than laying them to rest, away from home.

Why Do People Want To Wear Or Have Mourning/Cremation Jewelry?

Facing the death of a loved one is one of the most challenging things humans will ever need to deal with. It brings upon emotions that are so difficult to get through, emotions that are only brought to the conscious surface following the death of the ones we love and cherish dearly. Because these emotions can be highly paralyzing to the person grieving, any little thing they can hold onto for comfort can make a world of difference.

Whether it's a favorite piece of clothing, a picture, or even their favorite perfume bottle, these items become the dearest and invaluable reminders of their deceased loved one.

However, keep in mind that over time, pictures fade, clothing becomes worn after too many washes to keep it preserved, and perfume can be discontinued at any time. And while all these tokens keep memories alive, they are not keepsakes that can be kept close to the survivors' hearts and serve as everlasting memories indefinitely.

However, cremation jewelry, such as inserting ashes into a pendent or urn, can last forever without wearing. 

Turning the cremated ashes of a loved one into a piece of jewelry or preserving it in an urn provides psychological comfort for the grieving family in many ways, including the following:

  • Cremation jewelry offers comfort because it is a tangible representation of their loved one for years to come.
  • Wearing a piece of mourning jewelry, such as a cremation pendant, creates opportunities to share memories of a loved one with anyone who asks about the beautiful pendant. 
  • It provides them with comfort during their time of grieving and for the rest of their lives. 
  • If they're in a stressful situation that they can't seem to shake, having memorial jewelry on them can help them feel like their loved one is with them, supporting them during the process. 
  • Choosing a distinctive design and style for the memorial jewelry can be a distraction in which the surviving loved one can focus on selecting the perfect and most suitable piece of jewelry. 
  • When the jewelry is designed to symbolize the deceased, a feeling of closeness can be experienced every time the loved one wears the jewelry. For example, suppose the person who passed away loved to play the piano. When the bereaver wears a piano-shaped memorial pendant with remains inserted in the middle, it will help them to feel connected to their deceased and missed loved one.
  • The experience of losing a loved one can activate unruly feelings of helplessness, and the bereaved may feel a sense of dread as though life will never be the same again. But wearing cremation jewelry can help them pay tribute to their loved ones and remember the good times, rather than feeling stuck in a melancholic mindset. 

Generally speaking, cremation jewelry serves as a  meaningful way of remembering the deceased. For anyone who would like to hold onto tangible memories but are uncomfortable keeping the cremated remains, they can also use jewelry such as pendants and lockets to contain memories.  They can infuse them with other memories such as sand from a beach they frequented,  a few locks of hair, a particular photo, dirt from their backyard garden, or anything that keeps the memory alive. 

WHO WEARS MOURNING/CREMATION JEWELRY?

Everyone has or will experience the loss of a loved one in their lifetime. It's an inevitable yet unfortunate reality of life. The hard truth is that experiencing the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one is not easy. In fact, it can be crippling, and for some grievers, it can impede them from resuming their regular day-to-day activities. 

There are many ways in which the surviving loved ones can find peace and acceptance, one of which is to wear mourning jewelry. Memorial jewelry can be made for anyone who is grieving, not just immediate family. Here is a list of people who have significantly benefited from wearing a piece of jewelry designed to represent their deceased loved one. 

  • Spouses
  • Children/Stepchildren
  • Siblings/Stepsiblings
  • Aunts/Uncles
  • Cousins
  • Parents/Stepparents
  • Close friends of the deceased
  • Community members
  • Close coworkers
  • Close sports teammates

If you’ve recently lost a loved one and considering getting a piece of customized mourning jewelry to help you keep their memory alive, here is a list of ideas to get you started. Remember that regardless of the relationship you had with your loved one, you can find the perfect piece of jewelry that represents your relationship, despite how close you were. 

What Can Be Placed In Or On Mourning/Cremation Jewelry?

With the rise of people choosing to be cremated, it is no surprise that cremation jewelry has grown in popularity as a mere consequence. Since they're worn to keep the memory of the deceased alive and to be kept close to the heart as a representation of love and loss, they are designed to contain many different things. Moreover, mourning jewelry was not always created to hold ashes. So to give you an idea, here is a list of unique memorabilia you can add to your cremation jewelry. 

FUNERAL FLOWERS

Place dried funeral flowers or petals from their favorite flower in the hollow compartment of the jewelry pendant.


BURIAL SPOT SOIL

You can take a small pinch worth of soil from their graveside and place it in the cremation jewelry pendant to keep a memory alive.


BEACH SAND

 If they had a favorite beach or a beach you went to together, you can use some beach sand to insert into your jewelry. 


LOCKET OF HAIR

Another traditional expression of love to the deceased is to save a locket of their hair and insert it in the cremation jewelry.


CREMAINS

Once the deceased has been cremated, you can remove a tiny pinch and insert it into the hollow center of the jewelry. 


PHOTO

If you prefer not to put anything inside the cremation jewelry, you always have the option of etching an image of your loved one. Photo engraved jewelry is among the more popular of options. 


THUMBPRINT JEWELRY

This is one of the newer options and a popular one as well. When you purchase cremation jewelry from a specialized jeweler, they will have you upload a photo of your loved one's thumbprint, and they will etch it perfectly on the surface of the pendant. 


Whatever you decide, the purpose is to keep the memory of your loved one alive. There is no one idea that is better than the other. In fact, we recommend you go with something that best represents their spirit and your relationship. If you need help deciding the best option for you, here is an excellent article that goes into detail to help you decide.

How Can You Identify Antique Mourning/Cremation Jewelry?

Historically, mourning cremation jewelry came in many styles, the most popular being brooches, hair pins, tie pins, Memorium rings, and lockets which were highly revered memorial jewelry in previous eras. 

In terms of the material used, it varied depending on the type of jewelry and the jeweler who made it. However, a significant portion of mourning jewelry made during the Victorian period was made of Jet, mainly because it is black, which was believed to be the best color to represent the loss of life.

Jet is a class of lignite, the lowest coal rank, and is a gemstone. Unlike many other popular gemstones, jet is not a mineral but rather is a mineraloid. It emanated from wood that has changed consistency under decades of extreme pressure. Jet is native to Whitby in the Northeast of England.

Many pieces are easily identifiable merely by the inscriptions or hair work used in most antique jewelry. The jet material and black color are also helpful indicators in identifying antique mourning jewelry. 

Moreover, some of the more valuable antique pieces will display obvious signs of wear or tear, but they are typically preserved and in excellent condition. Upon close inspection, a seasoned antique mourning jeweler can quickly determine the piece's estimated age. If you look around at antique stores, you might be lucky to find one from the Victorian era.

When identifying antique mourning jewelry, something to remember is that sentimental jewelry is often conflated with mourning jewelry. The difference is that sentimental jewelry includes acrostic rings (Victorian romantic rings), wherein the stone's initials typically spell out words with sentimental meaning.

For example, the word dearest might be cryptically inscribed through the types of gemstones contained on the ring. This class of jewelry is not memorial or cremation jewelry as it does not represent the loss of life. 

Here is a list of unique features to look for:

  • Have unique inscriptions or hair work in the jewelry
  • Have obvious signs of wear or age
  • Unique symbols used in antique mourning/cremation jewelry
    • Crosses
    • Weeping willows
    • Flowers or floral patterns
    • Plaited hair or hair work

If you come across one, we recommend you preserve it by bringing it to a seasoned jeweler who has the knowledge on how to clean it without causing more damage. They may even have solutions to clean it that will preserve it even longer. 

Where Can You Purchase Mourning/Cremation Jewelry?

There are a couple of different options when it comes to purchasing mourning or cremation jewelry.

NEW MOURNING/CREMATION JEWELRY

Mourning cremation jewelry can be purchased d from any memory jewelry in your local area. You can also buy them from online dealers if you don't have access to one where you live. Below is a few ideas.

    • Online jewelers
    • Local jewelers
    • Craft fairs/farmer’s markets
    • Local artisans
    • Etsy
    • Amazon
    • Funeral Home
    • Elderly family member 
    • A parent that was given jewelry passed down from previous generations

ANTIQUE MOURNING/CREMATION JEWELRY

Finding antique cremation jewelry might be a little more of a challenge since they are far less common. Typically, you will find what is left lingering around in stores since antique jewelry is no longer made. 

    • Auctions - both local and online
    • Estate sales
    • Jewelry stores
    • Etsy 

Be wary that many online salespeople are selling newly crafted jewelry designed to appear antique and as though it's from the Victorian era, when in fact, it is not. If you’re looking for authentic jewelry, your safest option should be through auctions and seasoned jewelers. If you’re unsure of what jewelry would be best for you or someone you plan on gifting it to, here is a guide to help you make the best choice.

What Types Of Mourning/Cremation Jewelry Are There?

There are many different types of cremation jewelry available today, making it easier for the bereaved to find something that suits them perfectly. While the mourning jewelry industry has come a long way from its origins in the Victorian days, many of today's pieces or tokens reflect their historical origin.

From colorful gems to photo-etched pendants, there are many ways to honor your loved one love, regardless of your budget, style, and jewelry preference. Here is a list of some of the more common choices. 

VIAL URN

What is the first thing most people think of when it comes to memorial jewelry or memorabilia? It's probably cremation urns. That's because it's one of the oldest forms of remembering and honoring the deceased. When you get it in jewelry form, it's basically designed as a vial pendant with a secure hollow interior.

The hollow center is meant for keeping the ashes of the deceased or other keepsakes such as pieces of flower from the funeral, gravel, hair, and so on. The vial can be engraved with photos, designs, logos, a short message, names, dates, and so on. This is to create something sentimental and personalized. 

Depending on the jewelry store you purchase the urn from, you will be given a choice to decide which metal to have it created with. Suppose you want something more subtle, or something only you will recognize the meaning of, you can go with a standard-looking urn with little detail.

Or, if you want something that will spark conversation and invite people to inquire about its meaning, you can add as much detail and color to it. The memories are yours, so the choice in design is also yours. 

LOCKET NECKLACE

Another type of cremation jewelry is a locket-style urn. Many people love this type of memorial jewelry because lockets represent the Victorian era, so the jewelry itself represents the origins of this tradition. They are perfectly designed and crafted to have space to hold one or two photos on the inside of the pendant.

If you prefer, you can also add ashes or another memento such as a locket of hair, sand, or gravel from your loved one's favorite hiking hill or even flower petals from the funeral. The choice is yours. These pendants come in all shapes and sizes, including a heart, circle, oval, square, or even a star depending on the jeweler.

A heart is among the more common choices, but again, we encourage you to choose the design and shape that best represents you and your loved one. 

CREMATION BRACELETS

A cremation bracelet is another excellent option for grieving loved ones who want to keep their loved ones close and their memory alive in the form of a tangible object. Many people don't like wearing necklaces, so this would be an excellent second choice. Similar to a vial urn, they are designed with a hollow interior, or they can have a pendant attached that contains the hollow centerpiece for the ashes. 

The great thing about cremation bracelets is that they can be designed for males, females, or gender neutral, depending on the buyer's preference. And like all previous ideas mentioned, they come in various styles, colors, designs, and sizes. When you visit a jeweler, inquire about the many options you have so you can tailor it to your exact preferences. 

CREMATION RINGS

Cremation rings come in various designs and styles and can be designed with any look in mind. Since cremation rings are also used to store memorabilia, the interior will also be hollow, allowing you to secure your loved one's remains or anything else that will fit. Because rings are typically rather bulky, it won't be so apparent that it's a cremation ring. Therefore, if you prefer to wear something subtle, a cremation ring would be an excellent choice. 

KEYCHAINS

Keychains were a great addition to the family of memorial jewelry because they give an option to people who don't like wearing jewelry. Almost everyone wears a keychain on their key ring and brings it with them everywhere they go.

Therefore, this is an excellent option if you want a keepsake to remain with you but don't prefer to wear it as an accessory. Cremation keychains can also be designed with a hollow interior to safely secure a pinch of cremains from your loved one or another token of memory.

MEMORIAL DIAMONDS

This is one of the newer additions to the family of memorial jewelry. It's been growing in popularity among diamond lovers. How it works is that you can have your loved one's cremains or hair melted down and cooled into a solidified crystal.

A specialized jeweler will use a pressured carbon process to successfully transform the hair and ashes into a diamond-like gem. You will have the option to choose the size as well as what piece of jewelry you would like it embedded onto.

It can be placed on a ring, necklace, bracelet, or even on the front surface of an urn. There are many options to help you make a perfect choice. 

BROOCHES

A brooch is an ornament designed to be attached to clothing with a hinged pin and catch. If you find a jeweler specializing in this type of memorial jewelry,  they will give you a few options. They can be designed with a hollow center, used to secure your loved one's cremains. Or, if you prefer something more subtle, you can opt-out of that and have a photo or message engraved on the front surface.

When customizing one, you can choose from various colors, designs, and shapes so you won't have issues finding one that best represents your loved one and your personal style. 

HAIRPINS

Hairpins are similar to brooches. They can come in a variety of styles and colors. You can have cremains, memorial flowers, sand, gravel, or any other tiny memorabilia inserted into the hollow interior. If you can't find a local jeweler specializing in cremation hairpins, Etsy is an excellent place to find specialized memorial-independent jewelers.

TIE PINS

Tie pins are similarly designed to hairpins. They can be designed with gold plating, silver plating, or any other plating the jeweler has access to. If you prefer not to add cremains, you can always have a photo etched onto it.

This is a great way to convert a tie pin into a photo engraved memorial jewelry without having to wear flashy jewelry you wear tiepins to work regularly, this is a beautiful way to memorialize your loved ones and keep them with you through the day.

CUFFLINKS

The more common cufflink memorial jewelry option is one with a photo etched onto it. You might prefer this type of accessory jewelry if you wear cufflinks on special occasions and would like to bring your loved one with you. Or suppose you are struggling to let go and would like to see their face while you're at work, a photo-etched cufflink is an excellent option that will certainly bring you peace throughout the day.

The great thing about cufflinks is that they are versatile in style. You can choose from a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. 

If you have any of the above and would like to know how to preserve it so it lasts generations, here is an excellent guide to help you maintain its quality and value. 

Mourning Jewelry Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if the jewelry is mourning jewelry?

Mourning jewelry will have a few distinct features. It could have a photo with two separate dates etched onto it. Or, it could have a pendant on it that is slightly bulky with a screw cap that is used to seal shut the hollow inside. 

What is the meaning of mourning jewelry?

Memorial jewelry was created as a way to honor, memorialize and remember the life of a deceased loved one. It can help you feel at peace when wearing it if you bring it with you everywhere you go. It will give you a sense of closeness with your loved one. 

When was mourning jewelry popular?

Memorial jewelry was very popular during the Victoria Era, the 1800s, and early 1900s and has regained popularity in the 21st century. 

Who wears mourning jewelry?

Anyone can wear mourning jewelry. It is not associated with any particular culture or religion, so whoever feels that it will help them accept the death of their loved one they are perfectly suited to wear it. 

Where can I purchase mourning jewelry?

You can purchase memorial jewelry from any specialty jewelry. You can also find them at craft fairs, farmer’s markets, and local artisans. You can also find them online from e-commerce jewelry stores or buying/selling platforms like Etsy and Amazon.

What if I don’t like to wear jewelry?

That is okay. There are many more options in addition to jewelry, including hair pins, keychains, picture frames, tie pins, and cufflinks, and you can even get a memorial photo engraved on a pocketknife. 

Does antique memorial jewelry have a more sentimental meaning?

No. The sentimental meaning comes from how personalized and customized the piece of jewelry is to you. If you get an antique piece, it will hold historical value but unless you customize it, it won't represent the loss of your loved one. 

A Beautiful Display Of Grief

A lot of thought, creativity, and love goes into designing and making cremation jewelry. And since it represents the honor of life once lived, this jewelry class has withstood the test of time. In addition, over the years, cremation jewelry has evolved with the times, and there are now many options to choose from.

Whether you prefer an antique piece of jewelry with ties to its origins in the Victorian era, or something newly crafted, you can be sure that once it's personalized with cremains or another form of memorabilia, it will undoubtedly bring you peace during an inherently difficult time in your life.

August 31, 2022 by Jeri K. Augustus