In our modern culture, where death is tucked out of sight, it seems extraordinary that we would create or wear jewels specifically to commemorate the dead. However, only two to three hundred years ago, such jewels were commonplace. For Hallowe’en, I find this one particularly heart stopping as it was made to honour the death of a 3 year old child.
This ghoulish piece from around 1700 is made in enamelled gold with woven human hair (I imagine from the dead child) under a rock crystal dome, and would have been looped onto a ribbon and worn around the wrist or neck. The skeleton is clutching an arrow and an hourglass - symbolic of the victory of death over time. It is too ghastly an image to be of much comfort to a grieving mother…
This and a host of other jewels of death are found in the collections of the V&A Jewellery Gallery, encompassing a wide array of beliefs about life after death from the Neolithic to the Neo-Classical. From 15 November, I will be hosting a monthly guided talk in the V&A Jewellery Gallery for small groups, so please book on Eventbrite (link below) or email me for futher details. firstname.lastname@example.org