A mourning ring is a finger ring worn in memory of someone who has died. It often bears the name and date of death of the person, and possibly an image of them, or a motto. They were usually paid for by the person commemorated, or their heirs, and often specified, along with the list of intended recipients, in wills. Stones mounted on the rings were usually black, where it could be afforded Jet stone was the preferred option. Otherwise cheaper black materials such as black enamel or vulcanite were used. White enamel was used on occasion particularly where the deceased was a child. It also saw some use when the person being mourned hadn't married. In some cases a lock of hair of the deceased person would be incorporated into the ring. The use of hair in morning rings wasn't as widespread as it might have been due to concerns that the hair of the deceased would be substituted with other hair.
The use of mourning rings date back to at least the 14th century although its only in the 17th century that they clearly separated from more general Memento mori rings. By the mid 18th century jewelers had started to advertise the speed with which such rings could be made. The style largely settled upon was a single small stone with the deceased's particulars recorded in enamel on the hoop. In the latter half of the 19th century the style shifted towards mass produced rings featuring a photograph mounted on the bezel before the use of mourning rings largely ceased towards the end of the century.
People who bequeathed mourning rings
- Cesar Picton, d. 1836, bequeathing 16 rings
- Sir Anthony Browne
- Col. Nicholas Spencer
- William Shakespeare (mourning rings cited in Shakespeare authorship question)
- Tait, Hugh, ed. (2006). 7000 Years of Jewellery. British Museum Press. p. 239. ISBN 9780714150321.
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- Church, Rachel (2014). Rings. V&A Publishing. pp. 67–73. ISBN 9781851777853.
- "Mourning ring". ashmus.ox.ac.uk. University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
- Wall, Josie (19 Jan 2015). "Mourning Jewellery:Remembering the Dearly Departed". birmingham museums. birmingham museums. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
- Byrne, Eugene (30 March 2012). "When did the practice of funeral rings begin/end and how widespread was it?". Historyextra. Immediate Media Company Ltd. Retrieved 11 February 2015.