June 25, 2009

Hair is fascinating stuff – it doesn’t really rot so it keeps for a long time and it contains a certain amount of a person’s DNA.

I didn’t know this, but during the Victorian ages, a lot of mourning jewellery was made that contained the hair of the deceased.

Here’s an example:

Object:  Hair-work Brooch and box

Date: ca. 1842

Techniques: Brooch – human hair and gold / Box – card and engraving

Artist: Forrer, A.

Location: England

“Death was highly visible in Victorian culture. It was a time for communal feeling, studied response and ritual, with people encouraged to give public expression to their grief.

Throughout the Victorian period, there were ‘hair artists’ who specialised in turning locks of hair into jewellery that could be worn as a very physical memorial to someone who had died. Printed catalogues presented customers with a choice of designs and offered discreet guarantees that the locks of hair were not muddled or substituted in the process. The back of this brooch is engraved with the dates of a sixteen- year-old who died in 1842.”

This would’ve been a good one for Avril (the psychic with whom I’m working) to read, but again, the fact that it is a fragile piece of jewellery made it prohibitive.

I’m curious to know what the life of this sixteen-year-old would have been like in the 1830’s and how she came to die so young. 

Here are some other examples of hair jewellery:

Object:  Locket and chain

Date: ca. 1810

Techniques: Gold, cast and chased, painted in watercolour on ivory, hair, enamel, pearl, gold thread.

Artist: Miers, John

Location: England

Not all hair jewellery was associated with death. They were also often used as visual keepsakes, as objects of love and friendship.

About the author

June 25, 2009

Mona Choo is a printmaker working in Singapore and London. She has had a diverse career, working for Singapore's top advertising agency, establishing an Australian greetings card company, and staging...

More from Mona Choo
1 comment so far, view or add yours


I have a hairpiece of my hair made in 1966 and would like to know how to store and preserve it. Made by Peter Isaia Great Malborough St London at the price of £7 10. I would be most grateful if you could advise me.
It looks to be in good condition but smells musty and I think might have been visited by insects of some kind although not badly.
Many thanks and I look forward to your reply.
W Schweitzer

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