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Posts Tagged ‘Queen Victoria’

Carved jet bracelets from the mid-1800s. Image from Jet Jewelry and Ornaments, by Helen Muller (Shire Publications). How chic it would be today to where two or three of these at a time.

I have been collecting jet jewelry for decades. I learned about it through my mother who was an antique jewelry dealer. I’m attracted to the feel of polished jet and I appreciate its long history. I have beads, several brooches, a bracelet, and a fabulous carved jet ring. It’s getting harder and harder to find now, even in the UK.

Jet is a type of coal, a fossilized wood of an ancient tree that covered the earth in the Jurassic period (about 180 million years ago). Jet was used as a jewel and talisman by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Later in England and Europe, it was used in religious jewelry. In America, jet was found in Utah and Colorado and used by the Pueblo people in their jewelry.

Jet is black, lightweight, and although smooth, it has a bit of a tacky feel. Polished it reminds me of patent leather.

It was in Victorian England that jet became associated with mourning. Prince Albert died in 1861, after which Queen Victoria went into a deep and long period of mourning. She wore nothing but black, including jewelry. And with that, jet jewelry was all the rage.

Part of my collection of jet jewelry.

When my mother died in April, I searched my mind for a way to reflect my grief. In our modern world, there is no way to indicate one is in mourning. There used to be traditions – only black clothing for the first year, then mauve in the second year. Everyone wore black to funerals. Now no one does. A black band around the arm was an indication of mourning.

(I did notice that after Queen Elizabeth’s recent death, broadcasters in the UK and of course the royal family immediately started wearing black and some British citizens sported black bands.)

I thought about jet and how it had once been more than just lovely pieces of jewelry. Jet was used as a symbol. I pulled out my collection, chose a brooch and pinned it on to my dress. Every day since, I wear this jet brooch on my right shoulder as a reminder that I have lost someone important to me. No one knows what it means, but I do. The practice of pinning it on every morning is part of my grieving process and I find it comforting. I plan to wear it every day up until the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with five of their eventual nine children. 

… the one outward sign from which people can and often do judge the inward state of mind of a person, and it’s of particular importance in persons of high rank … we do expect that you will never wear anything extravagant or slang because that would prove a wont of self-respect and be an offence against decency. 

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)

This quote is part of a letter written by Queen Victoria in 1851 to her son, Prince Edward, who would later become King Edward VII.

She uses the word – slang – which meant casual.

May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. What might she think of today’s royal family? (And the name Archie for the latest addition?)

Fans of Victoria, the PBS television show, might be interested to know that there will be a season 4 and perhaps a season 5 but no one is sure beyond that. Another tidbit – the actors playing Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) are dating in real life.

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