Witnesses to Romance
Making and wearing jewellery made of hair is a romantic fashion of friendship and memento. Some of the most beautiful pieces of this kind have their origins in the Biedermeier period and either preserve the hair of loved ones in small medallions or were made directly from hair using a complicated lacing technique. Discover this now forgotten form of remembrance and enjoy the technical finesse of these objects!
We encounter jewellery made of hair for the first time in England in the mid-17th century. So-called “Stuart Crystals” hold a lock of hair from the decapitated King Charles I under a faceted rock crystal. In the Republican period of Oliver Cromwell, the subjects of the House of Stuart wanted to express their loyalty to the old order and preserve the memory of their king. Over the subsequent years, a general form of remembrance jewellery was the result. Intricate small works of art, which often contained initials or family crests woven from gold wire under the crystal, also bore the memory of the non-royal yet beloved deceased.
By the beginning of the 19th century, as part of the cult of sensibility, of devotion to friendship and romantic love, jewellery made of hair reached even larger sections of the population (see also our › Topic Page for Mourning and Remembrance). Wigmakers left unemployed by the French Revolution used their knowledge of how to process this special material and created precious works made of hair. The most tender of images and ornaments were braided and sealed behind glass – even Queen Victoria followed this tradition after the death of her husband Albert. The custom of wearing a long-lost lover’s lock of hair in a medallion emerged around this time.
In the › Biedermeier period, jewellery made entirely of hair was created, too. Mothers wore earrings made from the hair of their daughters. Intricately laced watch chains made of one’s wife’s hair were a constant companion throughout the husband’s day. Out of appreciation for the fine and skilful craftsmanship, jewellery was even made of the hair of total strangers.