Mourning and sentimental jewellery in the 18th and 19th centuries used a lot of black enamel. You might think that this might result in some depressing jewellery but I think most mourning jewellery is beautiful. Set in gold, with enamel highlights, decorated with gems such as seed pearls and garnets, mourning rings in particular are very charming. Also, it was not all black. Sometimes, white and blue enamel were used. White enamel represented the death of a child or an unmarried female or male. Pale blue could also represent an unmarried female.
As the centuries progressed, styles of mourning jewellery changed, reflecting the mourning conventions of the time and the way the enamel was used changed as well. I have selected a few mourning rings from the 19th century which illustrate the different styles and also how enamel was used to add beauty to a piece.
This first ring is Georgian, about 1820, with a slightly rounded oblong bezel containing a central foiled garnet and a black enamel surround painted with a gold weeping willow tree. There is a white enamel border around the bezel, and it is supported by a three strand reeded shank.
The second ring is an 18ct gold and enamel mourning ring, hallmarked London 1838. The words ‘In memory of’ are inscribed in the outside black enamel band but there is no inscription inside the ring. This ring is typical of the period, being a gold hoop with a decorative rim inset with black enamel and an inscription on the outside band. The ring is in perfect condition and was likely one gifted under the terms of a will to relatives and friends and so possibly never worn.
The next two rings are dated the same year, 1869, and yet are quite different in look. The first is a very pretty mourning ring made of 18ct yellow gold, The central feature of the ring is a shield bordered by seed pearls and with a black and gold enamelled center. The shield has the initials ‘IMO’ (In Memory Of). The shoulders are bordered in light blue enamel, around gold and black enamel work. The band is plain from the shoulders. There is no name inscribed but the use of pale blue enameling usually meant that the dead person was a maiden lady (pale blue represented purity).
The next ring is inscribed 1869 but is a more sophisticated ring. It has cushion cut and rose cut diamonds flanking a sapphire. Black enamel, some of which has worn, decorates the shoulders. The inscription inside the band is hard to read but it appears the deceased person died at age 65 years.
The final ring is actually from 1909 and was made at a time when mourning conventions had greatly eased. It is perhaps less imaginative than earlier rings. It is set with black enamel on the top and shoulders and has a centrally placed split pearl in a star setting. It is simple but striking.