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Not currently on display at the V&A

Ring

late 18th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

From the early seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, testators left money in their wills to have rings with commemorative inscriptions made and distributed to their friends and families. Simple bands enamelled with the name and life dates of the deceased were frequently made, sometimes set with a gemstone or a bezel set with a rock crystal covering a symbol such as a coffin or initials in gold wire. In the later 18th century, rings followed neo-classical designs, their oval bezels often decorated with the same designs as funerary monuments such as urns, broken pillars and mourning figures. Hair from the deceased was incorporated into the designs or set in a compartment at the back of the ring to give each jewel a uniquely personal element. Black or white enamel were favoured though white enamel was often, though not universally used to commemorate children and unmarried adults. By the end of the 19th century, memorial ring designs were becoming more standardised. The hoops were often inscribed with phrases such as 'In memory' whilst a commemorative inscription could be added to the inside of the hoop. The custom of giving rings as memorials gradually declined in the early 20th century, although the Goldsmiths Journal suggests that some were still being sold in the 1930s.

The inscription on the back of this ring tells us that it records the death of two children - Sarah Hetherington, who died aged 7 months on the 7 April, 1786 and her brother William who died just a few months later on 31 July, 1786. His age is recorded as 8 years, 9 months, showing that every moment of his short life was to be counted. The bezel of the ring is formed of a pointed oval holding a panel of plaited hair, possibly taken from both children, with the initials SWH set upon it. The design is formed of tiny seed pearls - pearls were associated with purity and grief, whilst white was often used to mourn children.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Engraved gold decorated with seed parls and worked hair
Brief Description
Gold mourning ring decorated with seed pearls. The marquise bezel with 'SWH' and willow leaves partly worked in hair, over plaited hair and inscribed behind, England, late 18th century
Physical Description
Gold mourning ring decorated with seed pearls. The marquise shaped bezel with 'SWH' and willow leaves partly worked in hair, over plaited hair. Inscribed behind Sarah Hetherington Ob: 7 Apr.1786 Aet. 7 Ms Wm Hetherington Ob 31 July 1786 Aet 8 Yrs 9 Ms.
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.7cm
  • Width: 2.3cm
  • Depth: 3cm
Marks and Inscriptions
  • Inscribed Sarah Hetherington Ob: 7 Apr.1786 Aet. 7 Ms Wm Hetherington Ob 31 July 1786 Aet 8 Yrs 9 Ms. (behind)
  • Unmarked
Object history
Part of a group of memorial and mourning jewels bought from Dr Marco Guastalla, acting on behalf of 'an English lady residing in Italy' (museum numbers 846-1888 to 989-1888)
Subjects depicted
Summary
From the early seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, testators left money in their wills to have rings with commemorative inscriptions made and distributed to their friends and families. Simple bands enamelled with the name and life dates of the deceased were frequently made, sometimes set with a gemstone or a bezel set with a rock crystal covering a symbol such as a coffin or initials in gold wire. In the later 18th century, rings followed neo-classical designs, their oval bezels often decorated with the same designs as funerary monuments such as urns, broken pillars and mourning figures. Hair from the deceased was incorporated into the designs or set in a compartment at the back of the ring to give each jewel a uniquely personal element. Black or white enamel were favoured though white enamel was often, though not universally used to commemorate children and unmarried adults. By the end of the 19th century, memorial ring designs were becoming more standardised. The hoops were often inscribed with phrases such as 'In memory' whilst a commemorative inscription could be added to the inside of the hoop. The custom of giving rings as memorials gradually declined in the early 20th century, although the Goldsmiths Journal suggests that some were still being sold in the 1930s.



The inscription on the back of this ring tells us that it records the death of two children - Sarah Hetherington, who died aged 7 months on the 7 April, 1786 and her brother William who died just a few months later on 31 July, 1786. His age is recorded as 8 years, 9 months, showing that every moment of his short life was to be counted. The bezel of the ring is formed of a pointed oval holding a panel of plaited hair, possibly taken from both children, with the initials SWH set upon it. The design is formed of tiny seed pearls - pearls were associated with purity and grief, whilst white was often used to mourn children.
Bibliographic References
  • "Surrounded with Brilliants": Miniature Portraits in Eighteenth-Century England; Marcia Pointon; The Art Bulletin Vol. 83, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 48-71
  • Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 856
Collection
Accession Number
864-1888

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record createdApril 25, 2006
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