As an example of mourning jewellery, this 1826 locket, containing a lock of hair, reflects the ethos of romanticism and sentimentality which pervaded early nineteenth-century Britain. Sometimes seen as macabre and mawkish, the preservation of the deceased relative's hair reflects a different sensibility from the modern sanitised view of death. According to Lou Taylor, mourning jewellery in the nineteenth century had three purposes: to be a 'souvenir', a reminder of mortality or memento mori and to be a 'status symbol'. Mourning jewellery became a major industry by the mid-nineteenth century in England, inspired by Queen Victoria's overt and sustained period of mourning for Prince Albert, who died in 1861.
Mourning jewellery itself was no new thing. For instance, the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649, and the flight of his son to the safety of continental Europe, later to become Charles II, had encouraged a widespread proliferation of royalist mementoes, mourning jewels. The death in childbirth of the popular Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, in 1817, provoked widespread mourning and a similar popular movement of mourning paraphenalia.
This piece is finely worked and probably includes the hair of the sisters it commemorates. The youth of these girls contributes to the sadness of the occasion. Later in the century this was less likely as mourning lockets were often mass-produced. Hair was used in jewellery particularly between 1790 and 1840 both in love tokens and mourning jewellery. Love tokens were generally more elaborate than mourning jewels, although distinctions between the two were often vague. Seed pearls, stones, jet, gold and black and white enamel were characteristic of these. Hair continued to be used in jewellery throughout the century. Holford and Young's Jewellers Book of Patterns of Hair Work (1864), illustrates this widespread use. The production and use of mourning jewellery declined around the end of the First World War.