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Shine bright like a diamond: mourning jewellery

Who said your sparkling personality can’t keep shining after you’ve hit the bucket? Say hello to mourning jewellery.

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Kate Nolan-Burgess

March 24, 2021

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Victorians and death

The Victorians practically invented death as we know it. Death was everywhere: wars and diseases made sure of that. Life expectancy was much lower, with people at the time only expecting to hit 40 or 45 at best. Tragically, 1 in 3 children also died before the age of 5. Life was short and cruel.

But knowing how to make the best of a bad situation, the Victorians made mourning fashionable. Because there was no social media, no one knew if your loved ones had died, so you literally wore your grief on your sleeve. Or lapel. Or on a necklace.

The family jewels

Mourning jewellery, although not a Victorian invention, had a huge surge in popularity when Victoria was in mourning for Prince Albert. People took to wearing elegant and elaborate pieces of jewellery that would indicate they were grieving.

Black enamel pieces were the most common, but other precious stones were used and signified who had died: pearls were for children, and white enamel was used to memorialise unmarried women. Locks of hair were also used – the Victorians believed hair held the essence of a person [insert herbal shampoo joke here].

In fact, hair was in such high demand that by the mid-1800s, England was importing up to 50 tons of hair a year to create memorial jewellery.

Death photography started to take off and people combined the pictures with lockets. The long exposure time of daguerreotypes made them ideal for dead portrait sitters.

The candies fell out of fashion due to sugar rationing in WWII, but some surviving Swedish death sweets have decorative wrappers and even poems printed on them.

Ashes to ashes, diamonds from dust

The Cremation Society first formed in 1874, but being cremated only really became common in the 1960s. Since then, people have been keeping the ashes of their loved ones as a way to remember them.

Thanks to modern technology, we can now extract the carbon from great aunt Hilda and use the dusty bits to create a diamond, allowing people to memorialise their dead loved ones forever. Prices start from a few hundred pounds and skyrocket to £10,000 for 2 carat options.

Shine bright like a diamond

You should get exactly what you want out of your death. That’s why we let you make deathwishes so you too can be a snazzy diamond ring for all eternity. Or until someone leaves you on the sink at Watford Gap services by mistake.

TURN ME INTO A DIAMOND