Here, we have a truly special ring that reflects a popular design of the 1790s that leant itself to all forms of memorial jewels. The black enamel inlay which creates the basis of the jewel’s symbolism is a stark contrast to the popular ivory or vellum that was so typical of the times. This particular style, while very unique and quite typical of the 1790s was adapted well into the 1830s and was followed on by morphing into more popular Victorian styles, but it was certainly a unique style for its time.
This jewel combines the entire morning sentimental depiction into the construction of the ring, rather than build it in a three-dimensional environment, even placing the hair memento as part of the depiction itself. The weeping willow is set in relief as part of the gold work, flanking the white enamel urn, which is set atop the plinth. The plinth has become a window to the hairwork, a rather meta view of the urn and its relation to the human remains.
Of note, the ring is not a true navette shape, but the more oval shape which was popular at the time. This can house the sentimental depiction without having to force the design within a more narrow shape.
Surrounding the ring is a white enamel border, which balances with the urn itself. This is important to note, as the white enamel is used for a seventy year old man, rather than being reserved for the young, or unmarried female. This is a statement to the ubiquity of mourning symbolism in jewellery, much like blue enamel being solely reserved for mourning, the elements create the allegory for the person, rather than being a literal motif for their living.
Another piece which shares this ring’s evolution is this harp brooch. These pieces had their origins in America and share many similarities with early American mourning jewels (many of which depict the eagle), but are not exclusive to the area. One thing to note (pun intended), is that the harp piece is around twenty years younger than the ring.
Here is where the collector must discern the differences. Yes, it’s easy to look at the two and note that the black/white enamel combination, with the black enamel dominating the background, and the hair memento being used as a physical object in the jewel makes them contemporary. But, look at the surrounding gold work in its floral pattern, typical of the early Gothic Revival period. Also, note the use of the difference between the ring’s oval shape and the popular rectangle of the first-quarter 19th century. Here, we can see the major differences that prove the evolution of the design.
It is important to note that while there are some very unique styles at any given time in jewellery design, quite often, they were adapted and often evolved into other jewels. Unless a piece was specifically commissioned, then there is a good chance that its style lived on, but it can be better used as a measure for the origins of a piece in a specific region or time.