Jewelry Containing Hair
Items made especially for mourning followed the trends shaping jewelry design. Funeral rings were a subset of a larger convention of love and friendship tokens. Locks of hair were traditionally exchanged as a keepsake, sometimes inserted in the back of a miniature portrait or in a piece of jewelry.
The ring and the brooch that Abigail Adams commissioned in 1812, as a gift to honor her and John’s renewed friendship with Mercy Otis Warren, are perfect examples of hair being exchanged as a keepsake. The brooch contains a lock of Mercy's hair (see below), an earlier gift to Abigail. Beneath the crystal on the ring rest a few snippets of John and Abigail’s hair. Both pieces are true relics of the Revolutionary generation.
Memorial jewelry, along with other decorative arts of the period, became particularly ornate in the mid-19th century, when Queen Victoria’s deep mourning for Prince Albert set a rigorous standard for mourning and the Gothic revival took hold. Large gold bands and brooches, intricately chased and studded with jet stones or pearls, became the common currency of mourning, and hair woven into neat patterns or astonishingly detailed designs became ubiquitous.