Hair Jewelry

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"And are you beautiful and pale, with yellow hair, like her? I want you beautiful and pale, the way I've dreamed you were, Johanna. And if you're beautiful, what then, with yellow hair, like wheat? I think we shall not meet again, my little dove, my sweet Johanna. Goodbye, Johanna. You're gone, and yet you're mine. I'm fine, Johanna, I'm fine."

Human hair was incorporated in jewelry since the late 18th century in memento mori pieces, to remember a loved one. It was taken from the person when still alive and worked in small pieces of art as an inlay for rings and lockets/pendants. Jewelry of mourning and sentiment flourished in Victorian Britain.

Jewelry fashioned from hair actually began in Georgian times, but it became very widespread during the Victorian era. Victorian hairwork jewelry was produced not only by professionals, but also as a pastime by Victorian ladies and gentlemen. Hairwork was as popular as crocheting or tatting in the late 1850’s. Victorian hairwork 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.

Brooch featuring feathers of human hair

There are two different kinds of Victorian hairwork. 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. Sometime only a curl was used. Other times elaborate designs or pictures were fashioned out of the hair. The favorite motifs of these palette designs were Prince of Wales feathers, landscapes, basket-weave patters, weeping willows and departing ships. The finest of these Victorian “palette” hair brooches ever produced were made in the 1840’s and 1850’s in England.

Braided hair watch chain

The second type of Victorian hairwork 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.

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.

In December 1850, Godey’s Lady’s Book printed instructions on how to prepare and weave the hair on a worktable, for distribution in America.

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

In Africa bracelets and rings are made of elephant hair, these are usually black.

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