Since it’s close to valentines day I feel like I should write something romantic..ish.
Maybe about some lovely jewelry.
So lets just jump right in to the subject.
Over the centuries, designs of death in jewelry (mourning jewelry) have been constantly evolving. In the Western world, seeing symbols of death combined with jewelry began in the 1500s. At this time, Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation introduced challenges to ecclesiastical belief as well as destabilization England and other parts of Europe. This enhanced the artistic value of English jewels through the Huguenot emigration, and the goldsmith knowledge that these immigrants took with them. It was around this time that memento mori were being introduced into jewelry design. Presenting these symbols of death melded with fashion only amplified the message that mortality is temporary, time is fleeting, and one must “seize the day”.
How they were used as fashion depended on the wearer, and this changed over time, from a literal sign of death (of a recently passed love one) in early days, to more of a symbol of self-awareness by the time of the Enlightenment. These items acted as material substitutes for dead loved ones, physical reminders meant to either literally or figuratively keep the dead in the living world. Memento mori in jewelry came sometimes in obvious forms, such as skulls or skeletons found on the jewelry. However, it was also common to see pieces with locks of hair from dead loved ones, or jewelry made primarily of hair. Many memento mori jewelry pieces also had Latin reminders of death etched into the metal. For example, “Tempus Fugit” (Time is Fleeting) was often inscribed on the inside of rings. There are many examples we can look at more closely. This Skeleton Pendent found in Torre Abbey (1550) is one such piece.
This pendant is a good representative of the basis of what mourning jewelry would become. It has a skeleton depicted in a grave, decorated with medieval and Celtic patterns. The skeleton doesn’t look to the heaven, or towards the viewer, but instead looks north. This piece shows the personal sentimentality of life and death. Another great piece is JC Vuolf’s Skull Watch from 1665.
This is in the shape of a skull, which opened on a hinge to reveal the watch face within the head. It was intended to be worn on a chain. The skull and watch are two popular vanitas reminders of the passage of time, and it is fitting that the two are combined into one. The watch is inscribed with Latin which translates to “Life is fleeting, look down upon a fallen thing, look upon eternity, the hour of death is uncertain”
Maybe you can get something nice for your partner this valentines day and to those who are strong and independent, just grab yourself some jewelry and celebrate the death of St. Valentine. (maybe not with mourning jewelry)