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Ring

Although everyday material comforts became more widely available during the seventeenth century, mortality rates remaining high across Europe’s population. Around 1650, the popularity of mourning jewellery as a coping mechanism began to increase, especially in England. 

Dressed in sombre black for the mourning period, usually only those closest to the departed wore memorial jewellery, often a ring. Some funeral-goers accumulated a quantity of mourning rings, forming commemorative collections to pass down to future generations. Mourning rings might be costly, made of gold decorated with precious materials – pearls, amethysts or garnets – while others were fashioned from more affordable gilt-metal. Memorial jewellery containing hair delicately woven into beautiful patterns, a physical remnant of the deceased, became increasingly popular during the eighteenth century. 

Despite this commodification of bereavement, many objects still represented tragic loss, such as a humbler ring that memorializes two young siblings who died two years apart: N.B. and W. Toms. This dainty ring, possibly made for their mother, holds two different coloured locks of hair. Minute stars that punctuate the ring’s octagonal glass surface are its only embellishment, perhaps meant to catch the light. On the underside, the inscription recording the children’s names touched only the wearer’s skin – another poignant reminder of their presence.