Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Human Hair Jewelry

Human hair jewelry?  I had never heard about this before until reading the Etsy forums.  Someone started a post about making human hair jewelry.  Another person commented on the fact that people used to make memorial jewelry including the hair of a deceased loved one, to remember them by.

Finding this intriguing, I decided to do some research, and this is what I found.

Victorian Pendant - Gold, Pearls and Human Hair

Jewelry fashioned from hair actually began in Georgian times, but it became very widespread during the Victorian era. Victorian hair work jewelry was produced not only by professionals, but also as a pastime by Victorian ladies and gentlemen.  Hair work was as popular as crocheting or tatting in the late 1850’s.  Victorian hair work jewelry served not only as a memento to remember the dead, but also as “love tokens” to keep dear ones close. These precious locks of hair were often kept in special compartments on the back of brooches, rings, lockets or watch fobs.

Victorian Locket - Photo courtesy of SmithsonianMagazine.com
There are two different kinds of Victorian hair work. One is where small designs are made on an artist’s palette. This is referred to as “palette” work. Here, the hair is placed within a crystal. Sometimes only a curl was used. Other times elaborate designs or pictures were fashioned out of the hair.  The finest of these Victorian “palette” hair brooches ever produced were made in the 1840’s and 1850’s in England.
Victorian hair bow pin.  This photo is from the reprint of "The Art of Hair Work, 1875" by Mark Campbell, page 144. 
The second type of Victorian hair work is called “table worked” hair. The hair was actually woven and worked like lace. This hair weaving technique is done using a special table with a hole through the center. The hair is weighted with bobbins and the weaving is similar to bobbin lace. The hair is prepared, counted, weighted and placed on the table. With this technique, the hair was woven into coils and threads used to make chains, bracelets, earrings, crosses, rings, etc.   Not all hair used in these designs was human hair.  Occasionally coarser horse hair was substituted.

Hair woven on gold cross pendant.  From Bell's "Collector's Encyclopedia of Hairwork Jewelry" page 124.
Victorian hair double dangle earrings of table work and gold fittings.
These woven pieces of hair were then sent to a Victorian goldsmith who would fashion fittings for them so they could be worn as jewels.  The process was reasonably priced, so these pieces were often given as gifts to a loved one.

After the death of Prince Albert of England in 1861, hair was often taken from the deceased (both adults and  children) and incorporated into pieces of mourning jewelry.

You can find many more examples of hair jewelry on the website, Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry. 

This information is courtesy of The Antique Jewelry University  

Photos courtesy of Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry.

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