The History of Mourning Jewelry, Remembrance Jewelry, Memento mori Jewelry and Cremation / Crematory Remains Jewelry
Mourning Jewelry is/was worn to commemorate the death of a loved one, usually in the form of a ring, brooch, or necklace. These mourning pieces served as an eternal memorial and reminder of the lost loved one. In the original form they were to remind the wearer of his/her own mortality [the literal translation of "memento mori" from Latin is: "remember you must die"] and took the form of obscure motifs such as skulls and coffins. Later it became popular to have hair of the departed person in a locket or ring, often in designs of graveyards and tombstones.
Memento mori jewelry is the name given to 16th through 18th century jewelry that is specifically created to remember a dearly departed loved one. It became very popular, due in part to Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria's mother died in March of 1861, and her husband Prince Albert died in December of the same year. Overcome with grief she went into mourning that lasted the rest of her life. It is written that she wore a piece of jewelry made with Prince Albert's hair every day after his death. Because of Queen Victoria's influence, the fashion of wearing mourning jewelry lasted until the end of the 19th century. Queen Victoria remained in mourning until her passing in 1901, causing a revival of this type of jewelry.
Although mourning jewelry has been produced for nearly two thousand years, it reached its peak in Victorian England at the later half of the 19th Century. The height in American popularity came during the Civil War. The material most associated with Victorian mourning is Jet. Queen Victoria popularized this “black amber”. Jet is a variety of fossilized coal. The most prized and expensive is from Whitby, England where it has been washing up on shore since prehistoric times. Jet has an appearance similar to black glass which is used as a modern substitute. At one time, , mourning Jet jewelry was the only ornamentation women were allowed.
Later, mourning jewelry made from gutta-percha, gold, pinchbeck, and human hair were incorporated into the wardrobe. Gutta-percha is natural latex obtained from evergreen trees in East Asia. It was the first plastic material used for costume jewelry. It is a Jet imitator that was quite a bit less expensive. Today gutta-percha can be found, amongst other uses, covering golf balls. Pinchbeck is a false gold used for inexpensive jewelry during the 19th century.
Hair art became popular in the Victorian age. What started as a simple way to keep a loved one near became an elaborate art practiced by many. Taking a lock of hair and weaving it into knot designs for use in a brooch was the most popular form of Victorian mourning jewelry. Rings, bracelets, earrings, watch fobs and necklaces all became quite common in the later portion of the century. Today this art is prized by collectors and family historians alike.
The End of an Era
In 1901, the Edwardian period followed the death of Queen Victoria. In part, the world came out of mourning with her passing. Fashion changed and women were no longer so rigidly dictated to by the strict Victorian code of etiquette.
Scholars today quite generally agree that cremation probably began during the early Stone Age -- around 3000 B.C. -- and most likely in Europe and the Near East.
During the late Stone Age cremation began to spread across northern Europe, as evidenced by particularly informative finds of decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic peoples.
With the advent of the Bronze Age -- 2500 to 1000 B.C. -- cremation moved into the British Isles and into what is now Spain and Portugal. Cemeteries for cremation developed in Hungary and northern Italy, spreading to northern Europe and even Ireland.
In the Mycenaean Age -- circa 1000 B.C. -- cremation became an integral part of the elaborate Grecian burial custom. In fact, it became the dominant mode of disposition by the time of Homer in 800 B.C. and was actually encouraged for reasons of health and expedient burial of slain warriors in this battle-ravaged country.
Following this Grecian trend, the early Romans probably embraced cremation some time around 600 B.C. and it apparently became so prevalent that an official decree had to be issued in the mid 5th Century against the cremation of bodies within the city.
By the time of the Roman Empire -- 27 B.C. to 395 A.D. -- it was widely practiced, and cremated remains were generally stored in elaborate urns, often within columbarium-like buildings.
Prevalent though the practice was among the Romans, cremation was rare with the early Christians who considered it pagan and in the Jewish culture where traditional sepulcher entombment was preferred.
However, by 400 A.D., as a result of Constantine's Christianization of the Empire, earth burial had completely replaced cremation except for rare instances of plague or war, and for the next 1,500 years remained the accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe.
Modern cremation, as we know it, actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation into the development of a dependable chamber. When Professor Brunetti of Italy finally perfected his model and displayed it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, the cremation movement started almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the British Isles, the movement was fostered by Queen Victoria's surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson. Concerned with hazardous health conditions, Sir Henry and his colleagues founded the Cremation Society of England in 1874. The first crematories in Europe were built in 1878 in Woking, England and Gotha, Germany.
Meanwhile in North America, although there had been two recorded instances of cremation before 1800, the real start began in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania.
In 1884 the second crematory opened in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and, as was true of many of the early crematories, it was owned and operated by a cremation society. Other forces behind early crematory openings were Protestant clergy who desired to reform burial practices and the medical profession concerned with health conditions around early cemeteries.
Crematories soon sprang up in Buffalo, New York, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Detroit and Los Angeles. By 1900, there were already 20 crematories in operation, and by the time that Dr. Hugo Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America in 1913, there were 52 crematories in North America and over 10,000 cremations took place in that year.
In 1975, the name was changed to the Cremation Association of North America to be more indicative of the membership composition of the United States and Canada. At that time, there were over 425 crematories and nearly 150,000 cremations.
In 2003, there were 1,864 crematories and 693,742 cremations, a percentage of 28.63 of all deaths in the United States.