In the early modern era of jewellery design and manufacture, there is the need to create standardisation for artists to follow a certain mould or style and replicate for a growing audience. Artistry grew from knowledge passed down through generations into an industry of shared knowledge. Not even the Industrial Revolution and machinery could take away from the skill that an artist could apply to a jewel. Having a jewellery firm create a certain style of design for a jewel which was the template to produce another is a method which is still in practice today, and these designs from the firm of John Brogden (c.1860s) show thirty mourning rings in an album.
The entire album contains 1,593 designs for jewellery and goldsmith’s work, dating between 1848 and 1884. John Brogden’s firm was established in 1796 by John Brogden the elder. c.1824-1831, it was labeled ‘Brogden & Garland’ and then ‘Garland & Watherston’ after 1841. Thomas Brogden served an apprenticeship in 1851 to J.W Garland as a goldsmith and jewellery from 1834 to 1841. Garland’s departure in 1841 opened the door to J. H. Watherston to partner with the younger Brogden and reestablish premises at 16 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden in 1848. In 1864, Brogden became sole proprietor of the business and operated under his own name until 1880. During this time, his name was such to generate royal patronage and he had exhibited jewellery at the 1851 Great Exhibition, as well as further exhibitions in London and Paris from the 1850s to 1870s.
What these design plates show are what would have been the epitome of style and fashionable identity in the latter 19th century. Brogden’s work was influential enough to be seen internationally and his work served as a catalyst for others to follow. When this is considered in terms of mourning jewellery, these styles are what would have been seen quite typically in day to day life. They are all evolutions of style, adapting much from the Baroque, Neoclassical period and Gothic Revival to establish a new Second Empire style which was so popular in the 1865-1880 period.
To note just how typical these styles would become in their permeation through society, note the below ring:
Its style has been replicated perfectly in the use of the black enamel and subtle design elements that were captured when the mould was created. The serpent ring is one of the more complex designs to capture from the design studies and even one of the more unique for its time, being particularly popular after Victoria was given a serpent ring with an emerald-set head by Albert. Replicating this style for the use of mourning was popular throughout the mid 19th century, as the black enamelled serpents represent eternal love, yet to see the design and something very close to it as the final product is indeed inspiring.
From the perspective of fact, nothing can match a primary source for a reference. As these designs can be referenced within a very specific time, matching them to an existing piece today assists the modern collector into having assurance of the historical quality of a ring. Photography and painted miniatures are also superb ways of identification, if the image clearly represents the jewel.
Note the below painted miniature, where the woman is clearly wearing a black enamelled mourning brooch with the loose acanthus-styled designs to the border and the clear use of pearls around the hair memento. This brooch clearly matches the style of the below brooch:
While not 100% identical, the similarities are too obvious not to connect. From a mid 19th century image comes a way to identify the brooch with understanding. Finding images like this can be difficult, as they were specifically commissioned by the individual and not necessarily something which was required for mourning or sentimentality, but a nice token to have if the image could be afforded. Photography allows for more variation with its cheaper cost and speed of delivery, but there is a lot of effort involved to collect and catalogue photographic primary sources.
Using black enamel in all of the designs underlines just how fundamentally popular this was as a signifier of death.
Of course, mourning has been identified with the wearing of the hair of a loved one, however, it was predominantly a sentimental message that wearing hair jewellery conveyed. In these earrings, the three-tiered drop of the woven acorns and the above central weave were one of the most popular motifs in latter Victorian jewellery, for the very reason of their symbolism as being a statement of longevity, victory, new growth/life and power. It is a lovingly prominent statement of identity, but not one which is in any way negative. A nice symbolic way of being a positive statement.
As these earrings are currently held in America, their origin may quite likely be with A. Bernhard & Co. As stated, they were ‘manufacturers of diamond work and ornamental hair jewellery / also fine jewelry, charms, masonic emblems’, clearly purveyors of all kinds of jewels, from expensive to otherwise. Hair was a material of low cost, simple construction and high production. Most jewels were colour-matched and not the original hair that was given to the jeweller to weave, but this still held the same sentimentality for the wearer. Quite often in sets of brooch, earring and bracelet, hair was woven from Eastern Europe through to America. With such a material in high production, its yield created a vast breadth of similar styled jewels, working their way into daily accessories. More can be found in the following articles which use the Art of Hair Work, by Mark Campbell as a primary source to match against hair jewellery:
> Art of Hairwork 1: Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain With Serpent Clasp
> Art of Hairwork 2: Directions for New Beginners
> Art of Hairwork 3: Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain With Locket
> Art of Hairwork 4: Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain With Acorn Charms
> Art of Hairwork 5: Victorian Hairwork Fob Chain With Black Enamel Fittings
Particularly when hair is used as the primary material in the 19th century, the catalogues which they are identified through focus on the weave of the hair or its fittings. Jewellery which has been made as a marriage between two pieces or has lost some of its elements can make something as beautiful as a hair necklace or fob chain difficult to identify.
In the case of these earrings, the below catalogue page clearly identifies their style at the bottom:
The very notion that a catalogue could produce such a variety of hairwork jewels speaks back to the culture that required them. Hair was a popular statement of love and identity. It did not need to be a statement of grief or excess of affection, but simply a loving statement within fashion. This related to the professional catalogue and the home itself. Hairwork could be done within the household, as Mark Campbell’s Art of Hair Working (1875 / above links) shows. Having something of a keepsake of a loved one to weave into fashion, even if it’s just a basic twist of hair in a locket is a basic way of keeping love close. Given that mobility was high in the latter 19th century through mass transit, hair and photography were at the height of popularity.
Black enamel bands are the most recognised of mourning jewels, being placed in very visible positions for others to see, easy and cheap to manufacture and all for the purpose of creating the wearer to be a walking tombstone for the person who is deceased. Their ability to be re-appropriated or kept by a family lineage is important, as these rings are far more important as tokens of remembrance and genealogy, as opposed to their commercial value.
By looking at two different eras of mourning rings, we will see their importance as cultural markers. The following ring is from 1827:
And this ring is from 1881:
What can be gathered from the two different eras, times when the meaning of mourning and the imposition by Court values created the necessity of mourning?
Firstly, the design of the ring speaks in volumes to the society within which is was created. The first example from 1827 has the excessive flourishes around the edge of the band which were incredibly popular in jewellery design of the 1820-40 period. This was ushered in through the Gothic Revival period and its use of the Rococo styling that was can be seen in architecture (such as cornices) and furniture design. Its use, combining floral and acanthus motifs, are decorative and dominating, imposing a style which was opulent upon a society that was moving away from the excess of the Regency Era and towards the simpler pre-Enlightenment Christian values. Dominance in style is a reflection of the majesty of God and final judgement, where a life lived in piety would be rewarded with entrance into heaven. This is a motif worn on the finger to show the values of this for the deceased, who is in this case William Wrightson.
Compared to the 1827 ring, the 1881 piece is reflective of Victorian standards, where design was simplified and direct; the sentiment is drawn to the top of the ring, where the gypsy set pearls are inlaid to the stylised buckle. Post 1870s mourning jewels are far more streamlined to the Empire style, which was influenced greatly by classical elements of Roman, Greek and Etruscan in the late Victorian era, yet retained the simpler elements of each. Note the pieces below:
Previous Rococo embellishment is lost to the clean, straight lines. In this, the buckle and the enamel take pride of place. Enamel is one of the most important factors in mourning jewels, denoting at what stage the jewel would be worn in the three stages of mourning custom, clearly denoting that the jewel was created for the purpose of death and also the status of the person wearing it within society.
Black enamelled rings were easy to create with low gold content and make in great numbers. The producers in Chester, Birmingham, Exeter, Newcastle, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin and London could supply Britain and its colonies with a large supply of rings that were transported for the purposes of mourning. A jeweller colour simply tailor the ring for the individual, or a mourning warehouse (such Jay’s; see below), could supply all the products necessary for mourning to a family, including the rings.
However, we see in this ring for Tommy, that the ring was quite bespoke:
In 1881, we have the standardised mourning Victorian style, yet we have a personal statement etched into the ring. For construction, this was the concept the ring was built around. Unlike many other rings with the ‘mother’ and ‘father‘ titles pre-made into the band and created within a series of different sizes, this ring was made to order by the person in mourning for Tommy. ‘IN MEMORIAM TOMMY’ would be a set pattern that ‘Tommy’ was adapted to, rather than being a completely new design. Granted that ‘Tommy’ is a five letter name, the design could accommodate other names if the jeweller had to make another bespoke jewel for another, hence other rings may exist with similar designs.
Looking back to the earlier ring, we have a similar style for the sentiment, but one which is far more standardised. ‘IN MEMORY OF’ is the most consistent statement found in jewels. As a collector or historian, identifying these rings, or any Gothic Revival jewel, is quite easy. Lettering in the enamel inlay is the most telling factor, with the highly decorative Gothic lettering harkening back to Middle Ages illuminated manuscripts (hence its connection to the Gothic Revival period).
Comparing this to the 1881 ring, having the standard ‘In Memory Of’ statement doesn’t relegate the earlier piece to be any less bespoke, as the cultural need for mourning accessories had been producing pre-made mourning rings since the early 18th century, when higher production and reduced labour was introduced along with the Industrial Revolution. Zeitgeists, such as the death of Princess Charlotte, the high mortality rates from the Napoleonic Wars and the cultural unity that resonates from these, create a mourning industry that was emerging as its own commercial entity by the 1820s.
Bands with the black enamel and ‘In Memory Of’ statement were produced in high numbers, with various levels of quality and differ with weight and gold content. Simpler, cheaper ones were produced in two pieces, with the interior band being a separate piece from from the outer casing, which has the gold Rococo embellishments. Heavier pieces, which tend to be earlier (around 1810) are more narrow in the band and one solid piece. It wasn’t until the late 1820s and 1830s that the Gothic Revival was standard as a uniform and popular design that the rings could be produced in such numbers that they would have a steady demand.
As a late Victorian jewel, this ring shows the development of the style. Using pearls and the buckle motif show that the ring was at the height of mourning jewellery for its time; a time when many of the designs in the Arts and Crafts movement led to aesthetic jewellery being produced for decoration, rather than resonating back to mourning jewellery as it would have during the turn of the 19th century and the Neoclassical movement’s influence on jewels.
What can be seen in the Neoclassical example of 1792 is that popular style was part of sentimental jewellery and that acknowledged mortality and life. The 1881 ring was made during a period of Queen Victoria being in mourning for twenty years; a period of standardisation in the monarchy which had not been seen in the early modern era. During the time in which the Neoclassical piece was made, style was influenced by the monarchy and aristocracy, due to the investment of the monarchy into the arts, the new wealth from the Industrial Revolution creating greater mobility for society to invest money within fashion and greater transit and communications between cultures influencing new styles.
The Tommy ring knew its status within society, as morning was identified as a specific style in the public eye. A person wearing this ring would clearly be acknowledged within mourning and the trappings of this would be without any decoration that would make them any less than sombre.
Symbolism within the pearl and buckle/garter motif are two-fold. The pearl represents tears and the buckle/garter is there to denote piety, love, respect and the honour of remembrance for the loved one (a remnant from its chivalrous history), yet the styles are so stylised by the Victorian uniformity in utilising these elements for so long, that they are subtle decoration for a ring that would act more like a tombstone for the wearer to remember the loved one by.
Viewing the continuity of a mourning ring between different eras is often the best way to understand the impact a certain time has on jewellery in general. Knowing that a political, cultural or artistic event may have changed popular fashion in such a way as to relate to mourning and mortality is important to understand the broader context of jewellery design.
Here, we have two rings that were a generation apart, yet tell us a tale of their values and times. Both were made under similar circumstances and both show a firm connection to their cultural sensibilities. From the high production of their style to the black enamel and the inscriptions, these rings were made for necessity and love within culture. Earlier examples can help to show that even these rings are an evolution, but no element about them cannot be understated for their creation and gravity of their meaning.
From two pages of designs from the firm of John Brogden, there is an entire narrative of mourning fashion and the cultivation of symbolic sentimentality. These rings were eventually created and worn by people in mourning, many of their styles you can find in the ‘Ring’ section of Art of Mourning. The idea that a firm can produce such a catalyst of global style in jewellery is a great accomplishment for the firm, as these jewels are still re-appropriated for mourning today.