The sepia work in the above piece is what makes it so special and an excellent representation of its time. The surrounding gold and the band are merely there to house the fine quality of the sepia, and judging by the crisp detail to the willow and the urn, it was a piece of quality in its day.
Let’s take a look at how sepia and the styles affected the Neoclassical era. It cannot be understated how important the use of sepia miniatures were to the construction of memorial and sentimental jewellery, more so than any other technique of painting sentimental depictions.
Deep brown hues and reds to symbolise the earth and the blood are utilised for symbolic effect. Hair was often chopped and mixed into the paint for even greater sentimentality; the person who was being remembered for whatever capacity became the jewel itself.
This is where it’s important to factor in the ideals of what the Neoclassical movement was. This was a time when the classical Greek and Roman sculptures, art and views on philosophy had a rebirth in a time that was primarily dominated by ecclesiastical means. There needed to be a way to show this art and present it upon the person, rather than simply a work of art in a house, the person became the figure to display the art. This relates back to the nature of the person and their role in sentimentality and mourning. The person was not something to be judged at death with a firm control of living inside the paradigms of piety to have this final reward, but the person, and the family, were the targets for grief, mourning and essentially love. Being able to display this affection through the use of Neoclassical philosophy was a major turning point for Western cultures.
Sepia was ideal for this, it involved all the principals for love and it upheld the affectation of the late 18th century perfectly.
Age wasn’t a factor in the usage of the symbolism, either. To be so firmly entrench in the mainstream mindset, this ring shows that no matter what the age of the person who was being mourned was, they still upheld modern fashion. “Prepare to Follow”, a sentiment of notice for those to be aware of their mortality, is used for William Wilton, who died at age 51 in 1785 (which, for a mortality rate of around 40, is quite a decent year). More importantly, William would have been reaching his maturity during the height of the Rococo period and none of those motifs are reflected in the ring.
Much of this is due to the ring being commissioned either after death or created, then tailored, to the person who wore it, essentially leaving no preference for the individual to customise their own jewel. Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, but most often this is from the child or relative who would want to appear fashionable in a time where society was looking at the person.