Tiffany & Co.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 706

Mourning jewelry, commemorating a deceased family member or friend, was commonly commissioned by nineteenth-century Americans. This mourning brooch features a lock of plaited hair beneath a crystal face. The hair is mounted in a circular gold setting with a border of alternating natural pearls and gold rays with black enamel detailing. The underside of the brooch is engraved "Cornelia Ray Hamilton. /BORN DEC. 26TH.. 1829. DIED DEC 1ST.. 1867." The brooch retains its original hinged, maroon leather case, lined with burgundy satin and velvet. Gilt lettering inside the cover reads "TIFFANY & Co / 550. Broadway. New. York." A paper label adhered to the underside of the box bears the handwritten inscription "Gold & pearl breastpin/ with C. Hamilton’s hair - / given to me by Mother/ January 1868."

Though it might seem macabre today, in past-centuries the hair of a departed loved one was cherished as a part of the body that did not decompose after death, thus becoming a lasting remembrance in a time before photographic portraits were widely-available. Locks of hair were also exchanged between friends and lovers as tokens of affection, and their inclusion in a piece of jewelry does not always denote mourning. In this instance, however, the use of black enamel, pearls (symbolizing tears), and the obituary inscription confirm the original sentiment behind this brooch.

Brooch, Tiffany & Co. (1837–present), Gold, pearls, black enamel, and hair, American

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