Recently, I bought an exquisite antique mourning brooch. It has a number of different parts to it which I thought I would discuss. First of all, the brooch is made of table-worked hair as a border, with black and gold enamel bands attached to a gold oval ring, gold initials in the centre and a black and gold hanging heart locket. The gold has tested as 14ct. There is very slight damage to the top of the hair mount but otherwise the condition is very good.

Starting with the hair border, which is in the shape of a square and comprised of finely woven brown hair. The hair was done using the table-work method which involved a round table top with a hole in the middle. The top of the table has numbers on it, marking off segments. A pattern is needed which sets out which number of bobbin should be use, and when. Hair with bobbins attached ate secured through the centre hole. Usually a mould is placed in the centre hole and the hair is woven around it. Once complete, the hair object is boiled in water, then dried in the oven. The mould is then removed.

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Back of mourning brooch

Table working of hair and palette work (that is, turning hair into curls, feather designs and woven plaits) became popular pastimes for women during the 19th century but hairwork jewellery was also a serious commercial business. Even commercially, it appears that hair work was done by hand rather than machine, according to Helen Sheumaker in her book ‘Love Entwined’. Certainly, the finishing was done by hand. A brooch of quality such as this one was not produced in a home but by a jewellery company. A Bernhard & Co in New York were wholesaler jewellery manufacturers. In 1870, they produced a catalogue for retailers which listed pages of hairwork jewellery. It contained a number of illustrations of brooches which had a similar square hairwork border around a central oval gold frame which allows me to date the brooch. The 1879 catalogue contained slightly different styles of brooches.

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Victorian mourning brooch, with gold and black enamel bands (in Navette on Ruby Lane)

There are four gold bands clinching the hair border, with the bands attached to a gold oval ring in the centre of the hair border.The bands are decorated wit black enamel. On two of the bands, there is a forget-me-not flower, and on the other two, there is a carnation. Forget-me-not flowers symbolise faithful love and memories while carnations symbolise pure love and innocence.

In the centre of the oval gold ring are the initials ‘TCL, in gold with black enamel decoration. At the back of the brooch, there is a C-clasp and pin.

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Victorian mourning pendant (in Navette on Ruby Lane)

At the bottom of the hair brooch is a tiny hanging heart gold locket, with black enamel and a forget-me not flower on the front and back. The locket opens to reveal a glazed compartment on one side containing a braided lock of hair. It is such a gorgeous little locket and still complete.

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Beautiful little enamel locket

That’s my little mourning brooch – a delicate sentimental piece, beautifully made – to remember TCL.