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Memento mori, remember your mortality

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This lock of hair

I once did wear

But now I trust it to your care

Look oft at this

And think of me

When I am far away from thee

Anonymous, Mourning Scrapbook 1849 


Cherishing a lock of hair has long been associated with enduring love. In bereavement, jewelry made of hair served to remind the wearer of their loss.

After the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Queen Victoria did much to direct the art of mourning. For forty years she set the trend in grieving etiquette and dress. Victoria determined that wearing jewelry was improper in the early stages of grief. However, after one year and one day appropriate accessories could be worn. In this second mourning phase, which lasted for a further year, widows wore jewelry crafted of jet and hair.

Jet, which is a type of lignite and is classified as a gemstone, has the appearance of black glass, although it was considered bad taste to wear polished pieces while mourning. Jet was largely for the wealthy while jewelry made entirely of hair was more accessible to the masses. Locks of hair were woven into rings, bracelets, earrings, fobs and necklaces. Adding hair to a broach or locket was popular as it could be done at home by the bereaved.

Rigid rules around mourning were relaxed upon Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 and the use of hair jewelry declined. Today the art form has become highly collectable.