Commemorative Jewelry: Mementos from Yesterday for Today's World

Design Idea C373 Necklace
by Barbara van Look, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

First used during the 15th century and made popular by the Victorians, commemorative jewelry has reappeared as a method of creating truly unique and one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Commemorative jewelry--also known as "friendship jewelry," "mourning jewelry" and "hairwork"--uses images or hair of loved ones to create mementos of family, personal achievement, affection and remembrance.

Memory and Celebration

Now, as then, a lock of hair can be a significant signpost: a baby's first haircut, a young adult joins the armed forces, an engagement is celebrated, a parent or grandparent passes away. And images of those we care for have always found a place on the walls of a home, within a locket, inside photo albums and on the computer.

While most people today believe historical jewelry and décor of this type was only used to remember a deceased loved one, commemorative pieces back then also marked happier occasions: births, friendships, graduations, engagements, weddings and more. Schoolgirls often exchanged pins, each with a lock of her hair underneath clear crystal or glass. Weddings marked the occasion for adding a tress of the bride's hair to a family tree of braided hairwork. Soldiers parted from their sweethearts by leaving a lock of hair for her to place in her locket, along with his miniature portrait. During and after the American Civil War, they were profound tokens of mourning, remembrance and celebration of a happy return.

Commemorative Jewelry: Mementos from Yesterday for Today's World These days, digital photography and graphics programs make creating commemorative jewelry and décor even easier. Transparent media such as Omni-Gel™, Mod Podge® and resin can be used to create layers of memories, while beads and findings can be added to embellish hairwork.

Modern commemorative jewelry and household décor is exchanged for all the same reasons as the Victorians had. While many people now find hair jewelry--especially in memoriam pieces--morbid or macabre, in the days before widespread photography, hair jewelry was as cherished as a favorite webcam image is now.

Recreate This Style

Hair-weaving techniques are easier than ever with the prevalence of kumihimo cord-braiding supplies and techniques, as well as French knitting and standard braiding. You can find tutorials for preparing the hair on the internet or in books on loan from libraries. Hair braiding and weaving styles work best for longer hair, of course, although short locks can be woven into plaid-like patterns.

Then there are a few techniques and supplies the Victorians didn't have that modern artists do: Commemorative Jewelry: Mementos from Yesterday for Today's World
Commemorative Jewelry Design Ideas
  • Baby's First Haircut: Baby picture with lock of hair necklace
  • Engagement: Smiling couple pendant
  • Wedding: Woven hair pendant
  • Military: Soldier's image under glass cabochon, soldered foil bezel
  • Family History: Earring with vintage photo transfer
  • In Memoriam: Double-sided glass cab pendant necklace with man's picture on front and hair on back, sliding knot closure on satin cord

Design Ideas with Lockets and Picture Frames Commemorative Jewelry: Mementos from Yesterday for Today's World Commemorative Jewelry: Mementos from Yesterday for Today's World
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