• Open the museum's jewellery box and find out about the fascinating stories these objects tell.

Wedgwood and jewellery

  • by Rebecca Klarner

Mourning hair bracelet

Theme

This bracelet has a band of interwoven human hair mounted on a decorated gold clasp. The clasp features a setting with faceted crystal to protect two different sets of hair, its rear is engraved:

Josiah Wedgwood

died July 12th 1843

aged 74

Elizabeth Wedgwood

died March 31st 1846

aged 82

It relates to the death of Bessie (Elizabeth) Allen and Josiah Wedgwood II. The bracelet is probably made of Bessie’s hair and the two locks under the crystal are probably hers and her husband Josiah’s. It was probably commissioned after their death by their eldest daughter Sarah Elizabeth. Taking into account the good condition and the apparent traces of wear it must have been a highly cherished sentimental piece of jewellery.

Hair incorporated in a piece of jewellery like a brooch, a locket or a ring was a traditional token of affection as it was a way to have a part of your beloved close to you every day. In the early years of the nineteenth century plaited or woven hair jewellery became popular and although they had no intrinsic value, items such as this were very fashionable.

Jewellery using human hair was made by professionals as well as by Victorian ladies who turned this into a drawing room pastime just like crocheting or tatting. In 1871 Mrs Alexanna Speight published 'The Lock of Hair – The Art of Working in Hair'. Mrs Speight was a professional London hairworker herself and her book comprised both the history of hairwork and a manual. Special equipment such as curling irons or tongs, scissors, knifes, tweezers, brushes and weights were required, which could be purchased from professional hairworkers like Mrs Speight. For practising purposes choosing horsehair was very helpful because it was easier to handle than human hair due to its coarseness. And even if you were not able to, or just did not want to do it yourself, you could simply send the hair to a professional hairworker and choose from the various designs.

Sentimental hair jewellery like this, with or without metal fastenings, was still made in the early 1900s.

Catalogue

This mourning bracelet has a band of woven human hair and relates to Elizabeth (Bessie) Allen and Josiah Wedgwood II. Its decorated gold clasp is inset with human hair, which is possibly a mixture of Bessie's and Josiah II's protected by a layer of glass or rock crystal. The clasp is engraved on the reverse: 'Josiah Wedgwood: dies July 12th 1843 aged 74. Elizabeth Wedgwood died March 31st 1846 aged 82'.