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Victorian Hair Work Jewelry

hair jewelry Hair work Jewelry is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented art forms to come to us from the Victorian era. Let me begin by saying that VHWJ should not be confused with mourning Jewelry. During Shakespeare’s time it was fashionable to set aside a sum of money for tokens, called memento mori, to be handed out at one’s funeral. This was a sign of a life well lived. Often these items would contain the image of an urn or a skull. They might also contain a few strands of the deceased’s hair.

While mourning jewelry may contain a hair memento, the majority of VHWJ is commemorative, sentimental, a fashion statement, or a love token. Hair jewelry has been with us from the beginning of time. In an era before photography hair was the most personal token one could bestow on a loved one who may be traveling far away. Eventually these locks of love were set into rings or lockets and such.

There are two types of Hair jewelry, pallet worked and table worked. Pallet worked is flat and displayed under a crystal as in a brooch. Table worked hair jewelry is made on a braiding table. A series of weights and bobbins which feed through a hole in the center of the table create a three dimensional chain. These pieces may be made over a wooden or brass mold and then boiled to set the different shapes.

By the 1830’s collecting locks of hair from family members had become a popular pastime for young ladies. The hair was tied with ribbons or braided or perhaps woven and then placed in a hair album. Seizing on the popular fashion of the day magazines such as, Godey’s Lady's book and Peterson’s, began to carry instructions for making watch chains, bracelets, earrings and pins, all made from hair. Queen Victoria was very fond of hair work jewelry. She gave the Empress Eugenie of France a bracelet made from her hair. It was said that the empress was moved to tears. The art of hair work jewelry was in full swing!

In 1861 Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died. The queen wore a lock of his hair, in a brooch over her heart, for the rest of her life. In America as young men marched off to fight in the Civil War they left behind locks of hair with their sweethearts and wives. When many of these young men did not come home, the hair became a symbol of love lost. The manufacturers of jewelry findings produced “In Memory Of” cases by the thousands. Collecting hair and fashioning mementos, once a cherished pastime and hobby, had become a symbol of remembrance. While many of these memorial pieces survive today there are many more extraordinary brooches, watch chains and fobs, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, as well as other forms of hair work art that tell the story of an enjoyable, pleasant, pastime lost to history.

Please enjoy the following images used with permission of the owners.

Pallet Worked Brooch c. 1855/65

Whimsical flowers and ferns made from different colors of hair. Set in a gold filled frame with an black enamel Greek key border.Here the presence of black is purely decorative.

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Pallet Worked Hair Brooch c.1855/65

Wondeful fancy work with feathers and leaves with pearls and gold wire. There is some loss to the gold wire work but the hair remains in place. This piece is too fancy to be a mourning brooch. It is in a pinchbeck swivel frame. The other side contains an image of a gentleman in a suit.

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Pallet Worked Hair Brooch c.1865/75

This is a reversible pallet worked brooch. The frame is gold filled and features a black enamel Greek key border with oak leaves and acorns at each end. Since there are two types of hair woven together and since the setting contains oak leaves and acorns which symbloize, longevity,steadfastness, & honor it was probably a wedding gift as would have been common at the time.

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Pallet worked Hair Work Brooch c.1850/65

Yet another example of why all hair work jewlery is not mourning jewelry. This piece contains five different locks of hair 4 of them are worked into knots.The 5th strand, most likely a child's due to the fine texture, is simply braided and laid across the others. This piece was probably a mother's keepsake from her family. Compare it to the mourning piece on the mourning page.

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Table Worked Hair Bracelet c. 1855/65

This is an excellent example of a table worked hair bracelet. The findings are gold filled. The globes of hair are worked on wooden molds and boiled to form the beads. This piece would have sold for $15.00 in 1865. In today's market that would be $250.00.

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Table Worked Hair Bracelet

This is a contemporary piece made by Thomas Tear c.2012. It is from a pattern from Godey's. There are two types of weaves joined together by beads.The findings are silver.

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Table Worked Hair Brooch c. 1855/70

This is a brooch which is made from 3 different hair colors in three different weaves. The word on the gold filled oval in the center is "Adenken" German for keepsake. This piece was probably made from the hair of 3 sisters of 3 friends each of whom may have had one, or it could have been a gift to a mother from her daughters.

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Table Worked Necklace & Cross c. 1860/70

The body of this necklace was woven on heavy cords. The cross was made on a wooden mold and boiled.This necklace could have been worn with an open neck ball gown or with a visiting dress.

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Watch Chain & fob c. 1850/70

A superb example of a gentleman's watch chain made from hair. Three seperate cables are woven together to create a single chain. The findings are 10 k gold. The fob, c. 1900, made from sardonyx stone carved with the image of a Roman soldier is a later addition.

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