Garnet for January
During the Victorian era (1837–1901), jewelry was an important part of being correctly dressed. It was worn as decorative adornment, but it also conveyed messages through symbols on behalf of the wearer. For instance, garnet, the birthstone for January, is believed to protect the wearer during their travels and was often exchanged between friends with the hope that they would meet again.
This necklace (c. 1845), with a chain made of finely braided blond human hair, has many design elements that would have been easily decipherable to people in the nineteenth century. The gold pendant features scrollwork with four small garnets set in a clover form at the center. From the pendant hangs three golden drops shaped like acorns, which were popular in Victorian jewelry and had various meanings, including fertility or immortality, depending on the use and wearer. The two clasping hands shown in the fastener was also a popular symbol in Victorian jewelry―they could be clasped in love or friendship or, in mourning jewelry, represented hands clasped across the divide between life and death. This particular necklace is notable because natural blond Victorian hair jewelry is very rare.
The hair used in jewelry was usually human, although horse tail hair was also used. Hair jewelry (or hairwork) was created for a variety of reasons, most often as memorial pieces of a deceased family member. However, it could also be exchanged as tokens of affection and sometimes, when made of hair from unknown persons, used as fashionable jewelry. The hair would be intricately braided into various patterns and used to make bracelets, necklaces, brooches, buttons, beads, earrings, watch chains and fobs, and pins, which were often mounted in golden settings and fittings. Hair jewelry predates the Victorian era, but this style of hair jewelry became popular in Europe, England, and the US during that time.
Necklace, c. 1845. Human hair, gold, garnet. United States. Gift of Miss Alice Gerstenberg. 1945.46. Clockwise from top: ICHi-175947, ICHi-175951, ICHi-175950. All images by CHM staff.