Going back to the definition of ‘costume jewellery set out in Part I, you will recall that it includes jewellery made from inexpensive materials and there was no area which illustrates the use of such materials as mourning jewellery. Prince Albert died in 1861 and Queen Victoria really mourned for him over the next 40 years. If the Queen was in mourning, then her subjects also went into mourning.
The mourning industry was a thriving industry. The clothing and jewellery that was worn, the length of time that mourning was to occur, the funeral services, were all set down in etiquette books. But mourning was an expensive business, particularly if you wanted to remain fashionable at the same time. For those who couldn’t afford their own dressmakers, vast mourning emporiums were established to cater for the less well off. As well, a substantial second-hand clothes industry existed so that widows could sell their weeds and newly widowed women could sell their coloured clothing. Burial and Friendly Societies were created to allow members to borrow mourning clothing and accessories.
As the manufacturing sector grew in 19th century England and America, mourning jewellery became more affordable. Jewellery could be machine-made in volume. A mourning brooch could be stamped out by machine in the hundreds and all that had to be added by the customer was some hair. Many brooches and lace pins were sold as kits, like the brooch at the top of the page.
As well, the materials used could also be less expensive. The key materials used in mourning jewellery were whitby jet, seed pearls, onyx, human hair, sometimes set in gold. As gold was costly, it was often replaced with cheaper materials so that the jewellery was affordable by less wealthy people. What was used instead? As a result of the UK Lower Standards Act in 1854 which legalised 9ct, 12ct and 15ct gold, lower carats of gold were able to be used. As well, pinchbeck and its equivalents, rolled or lined gold, or brass were commonly used.
Material like whitby jet was not particularly expensive but supplies were limited. Natural substitutes for whitby jet were used, like bog oak, horn and tortoiseshell, then synthetic materials like vulcanite, gutta percha, French jet and Vauxhall glass.