Fashionable Death: Eighteenth-Century Mourning Rings

The dear memento of a friend that’s gone,

Whose lov’d remembrance time can ne’er destroy;

How much I prize it never can be known,

Tho’ not the emblem of soft smiling joy.


Mourning Ring A Mourning Ring A 2     FIGURE A

Death remained a familiar facet of life in eighteenth-century Western Europe and British North America, and it discriminated neither by gender nor by social class.  Similarly, fashion left few facets of society untouched during the 1700s, since the consumer revolution allowed all the classes to take pleasure in some luxury items.  Therefore, even death came under fashion’s influence, exemplified by the presence and popularity of mourning rings.  Remembrance jewelry not only served as a tangible tribute for lost loved ones, but also revealed the widespread availability and fashion of mourning rings, despite that jewelry was once a luxury item, and the importance of familial relationships during the eighteenth century.

The mourning ring in Figure A, dates back to 1733 and its provenance is Mrs. J. Amory Haskell of New York until 1941.  “CAT.D.PEYSTER: OB 8. DEC. 1733 AE 69” is inscribed on the outside of the band, “AP + CP” and “ADP * obiit 2 Aug * 1728 AE 71” are inscribed on the inside of the band and “CH WH” is also scratched on the inside of the band.  Thus, it commemorates the deaths of Cat D. Peyster on December 8, 1733, at age 69, and A.D.P. on August 2, 1728, at age 71.  Composed of gold, enamel, glass, and human hair, the ring measures 1.9 centimeters in diameter.

Mourning Ring B     FIGURE B

Essentially, a mourning ring was a token that commemorated the death of a loved one.  The mourning ring in Figure B features a miniature painting of an eye, most likely cut from a portrait of the deceased, as a sort of keepsake.  Similarly, the mourning ring in Figure A features an inlay of the hair of the deceased, another form of keepsake.  In this way, mourning rings emphasized the close familial connections between the wearer and the subject of the ring, utilizing a piece of the deceased as remembrance.  The rings were personalized to remind the wearer of his lost loved one, as evidenced in On a Mourning Ring:

Oft as I view it will the starting tear

Unbidden flow, and fancy will retrace

Those hours when thou, lamented shade, wert near

To charm with every mild attractive grace (S.B.R.).

Therefore, mourning rings inspired emotions and memories in the wearer.  However, while mourning rings revealed the presence of sentimental and familial connections in eighteenth century society, their popularity also exposed the vast reaches of the consumer revolution.

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Although Western Europeans symbolically wore mourning rings throughout the Middle Ages, a breakout of the Black Plague in London in the early seventeenth century increased their prevalence (“Gold mourning ring”).  With the rise of the consumer revolution throughout the mid-eighteenth century, in which more members of society had the ability to buy consumer goods, producers not only offered a greater quantity of items, but also a greater variety.  Although most mourning rings featured custom inscriptions, they varied from simplistic gold bands to extravagant pieces set with diamonds, pearls, and other stones, in a design dependent on the popular styles of the time.  For instance, early and mid-eighteenth century jewelry represented the popular, Parisian, Rococo style, evidenced by the asymmetric cut of the glass stone in the mourning ring in Figure A.  However, when Republicanism took hold during the American Revolution, jewelry embraced the simplicity and symmetry of Neoclassicism (“Not Lost But Gone Before”).   Miniature portraits of neo-classical symbols, such as urns and weeping people, painted on ivory also appeared on rings dating to the late 1700’s, such as in Figure C.

Mourning Ring C     FIGURE C

The variety of ring designs and stone selections of mourning rings attested to the widespread reaches of the consumer revolution.  The fact that the inscribed names in the simple mourning ring in Figure A were not well known suggested that customized jewelry was available and affordable to many classes, not limited to the aristocracy.  While mourning rings traditionally memorialized those who passed away, jewelry was still subject to the evolving fashion, novelty, and superfluity that characterized the consumer revolution on both sides of the Atlantic.  Originally “the dear memento of a friend that’s gone” (S.B.R.), mourning rings not only served as a peaceful reminder of those who were lost, but they also signified the wealth and social status of the wearer through the elaborateness of their designs and the use of coveted stones.

Wills commonly contained instructions and money for the creation of mourning rings, which were then distributed to relatives and friends.  For instance, an article in London’s Telegraph newspaper from February 2, 1797, reported that in Mr. Bushnan’s, the Comptroller of the of the Chamber of London, will, he desired to give mourning rings to three hundred of his brother officers (Telegraph).  In this case, not only did family members receive mourning rings, but also those who worked with Mr. Bushnan during his lifetime, such as the mayor of London.  Therefore, these rings revealed their wearers’ political and social ranks because they wore the mourning ring of the wealthy Mr. Bushnan.  Yet, this article also suggests that among the upper classes, mourning rings seemed to lose much of their sentimentality and intimacy and instead, conveyed patronage and fashion.  Essentially, all three hundred recipients of mourning rings could not have been Mr. Bushnan’s closest family and friends.  Mr. Bushnan maintained the propensity to impress even after his death.  In The Birth of a Consumer Society:  The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, author Neil McKendrick quoted critic Cobbett, mentioning Europeans’ “constant anxiety to make a show” (quoted in McKendrick, 28).  During the consumer revolution, possessions and clothing symbolized one’s social rank, and mourning rings were of no exception (20).  Michael Kwass, in Big Hair:  A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France, argued that while fine fabrics and other luxury goods did not permeate the middling classes, “secondary accessories,” in which jewelry can be categorized, “became widely available and, to the consternation of many a moralist, helped to change the appearance of the middling and to some extent the lower classes” (Kwass, 640).  These intermediate goods, such as mourning rings, straddled the line between luxury and necessity.  They could be elaborate, and at the same time, symbolize the death of a loved one.  Thus, although mourning rings served an essential purpose beyond appearance, wearers still realized that the style and quality of the rings conveyed social class.

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However, because death visited all social classes, mourning rings showed a sense of equality in that both the wealthy and the impoverished wore mourning rings.  As McKendrick stated, “Some designers managed to impose a remarkable uniformity of style on all classes in the last decade of the century – the rich had Adam and the rest had Adamesque” (McKendrick, 12).  In this way, while more expensive mourning rings featured more intricate designs and more expensive stones and metals, the less expensive mourning rings achieved the same effect, for instance, by replacing diamonds with enamel and glass, such as in Figure D.   Although the increased availability of luxury items suggested greater social equality during the consumer revolution, the propensity for social emulation of the upper classes, such as striving for the appearance of diamonds in a mourning ring, nonetheless, engendered greater social competition (11).

Mourning Ring D     FIGURE D

Although mourning rings possessed a sense of sentimentality and intimacy, they did not exist outside the fashionable world of the consumer revolution.  Rather, these symbols of death embraced the age of materialism and luxury, so that death became a fashion statement in itself.


“Gold mourning ring with a painted eye.” The British Museum. The British Museum, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.  (Figure B)

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review (2006): 631-59. Print.

McKendrick, Neil. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-Century England.” The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England. London: Europa, 1982. 9-33. Print.

“Mourning Ring.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;. Museum Accession Number: 41.42.1 (Figure A)

“Mourning Ring.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;. Museum Accession Number: 50.187.1 (Figure C)

“Mourning Ring.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;. Museum Accession Number: 41.42.2 (Figure D)

“Not Lost But Gone Before: Mourning Jewelry.” Historic New England. Historic New England, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.

R, S. B. “On a Mourning Ring.” The European magazine, and London review; containing the literature, history, politics, arts, manners and amusements of the age. By the Philological Society of London 1782-1826: 51. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.

“Skeleton Ring.” The British Museum. Trustees of the British Museum, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.

Telegraph [London] 2 Feb. 1792, Arts and Entertainment. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <;.


The Farewell locket

Location: British Museum

Production Place: England

Museum number

Materials: Rock (crystal)

Dimensions: Width: 4.65 centimetres

“Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! Farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.” Marie Antoinette October 16, 1793.

Image of Marie Antoinette’s last letter:

Love, compassion, loyalty, and chivalry, what value do theses different acts of affection have on us? During the eighteenth century, the verities of ways in which affection can be expressed from one to another, can be displayed in the form of commemorative objects. Despite the economic crisis that spread throughout France, which led to the increasing desire for social reform, commemorative objects played a significant role in the experiences of subject and state matters. The rights of common men in relations to the matters of state will eventually be the cause in the decrease of monarchy’ power in French society. In 1770 Marie Antoinette was sent to France to wed King Louis XVl, both were executed for treason in 1793. However, the objects representing this time in history will live on, and give us a true insight into the lives of these individuals, and the legacy they left behind. This heart shaped locket of Marie Antoinette displays the acts of love and loyalty she had for her family, however these acts of compassion have hardly been told. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) states in his reaction to The Death of Marie Antoinette “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” The misconceptions about material objects, in relation to Marie Antoinette character, and that of social and personal relations in the eighteenth century, is the topic of this blog.

Heart shaped silver lockets, were often a cheap enough item for middle age classes to obtain and were design to declare a formation of successful reunion with another. Even though Marie Antoinette’s locket has more luxurious features, than that of a simple silver locket, a locket in general is a symbol of courtship, an offering of ones affective interpenetration between public and private matters (McShane). In Angela McShance Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in 17th century England, she argues the value of objects such as jewelry, ballads, coins, and the impact it has over ones identity in society. In Belinda by Marie Edgeworth, we see how a simple lock of hair (Virginia’s) can interfere with Clarence Harvey identity in correlations with Belinda’s emotions towards him, due to the fact that she thought he was in love with another. This heart shaped locket, which obtains a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair, was given by her to Lady Abercorn by whom it was given to her sister Lady Julia Lockwood, whose daughter Lady Napier gave it to W.S. 1853 (British Museum), is a form of compassion and loyalty expressed without words. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Hair is essential to a face as a frame is to a picture.” Ones hair can be essential to ones political presence, or to commemorate ones union with another (Chertsey Museum).

Gold locket with hair:

In the mid-to-late 1600s, the general increase of manufactures, and the production of cheep political commodities, demonstrates the link between object and politics. For example the state had no legal control over the use of royal images in England, which led to the depletion of royal power over the people. (McShane, pg.879). The image below demonstrates the impacts the appearance of Marie Antoinette in the eyes of the French people. They look at her in disgusted, and depicted her as being an unwanted queen of France, in the sense of devaluing her over all persona as member of royal nobility (British Museum). Marie Antoinette was not executed in this manner that is depicted in this image below, in fact, she was in a plain white gown and her hair had been completely cut off. As stated in her letter, that if brought a persist she would treat him like a stranger, she protested in giving the people the satisfaction of seeing her fall by keeping her dignity intact, which Burke expresses in is reaction that never will we see the generous of loyalty to rank and sex, which exemplifies Marie Antoinette’s respectable characteristics.

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution

Silver coins of Marie Antoinette’s execution

Political ballads and silver coins, expressed the support, or the lack of support, in contexts to political leadership and loyalty. Shortly after Marie Antoinette’s execution, Conrad Heinrich Küchler and Matthew Boulton produced coins displaying the portrait of the queen on one side, and the seen of her being paraded through the crowd on the day of her execution, which severed as reminder of her unpopularity to the French people (London, The British Museum Press, 1989). The lack of sympathy for the former queen of France is presented in these kinds of material objects, which weakened the overall obedience to Monarchy’s power. Edmund Burke expresses a sympathetic light towards Marie Antoinette, in fear that the spread of overthrowing royalty would be a recurring theme throughout Europe. Burke states “Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom!” This heart shaped locket can be used to symbolize the passion embedded in the form of constructional obligations between public and private affairs, and shed some light on Marie Antoinette’s true self-image and not that of the image depicted by French society.

Diamond Necklace

Michael Kwass states in Big Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France, the value ones wig can influence a person’s idea of character. This can be applied to the material objects used to identify the true nature of Queen Marie Antoinette, and the miss representation of her ideal character. The historical significance, and the simplicity of this particular locket, does not fit the image of Marie Antoinette. Nancy Barker states in “Let them eat cake,” The Mythical Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, “by the beginning of the 1780s, the basic repertoire of the pamphlets attacking the queen was already established. She was foreign; she hated and disdained the French; she was extravagant and luxury loving, deplet- ing the royal treasury by her expenditures and her lavish rewards to her favorites; she intrigued to manipulate the king; and she was profligate, capable of sexual excesses without limit (pg. 715).” The Diamond Necklace Affair, involving Jeanne de la Motte, was a drastic turning point for Marie Antoinette, with the increasing anxiety during the Old Régime and the conception of the aristocratic body; she was depicted as a threat to the degree of nobility, which only the rights of men could dominate (Koscak, 2/13/14). The empowerment of her presents began to impact the relationship between dress and political identity, by which she was call “the female monster of the Revolutionary years (Barker, pg.715).” The depiction of her as a monster is hard concept to acknowledge considering her last wishes was to her sister in-law asking for her to forgive her nephew based of the his accusations against his mother in court. She writes, “Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it.” These are the last words of a woman who, at most could have been deemed misguided, but never the vain and sinister creation that the French Radicals had described her to the people of France.

In the course of the French Revolution, different opinions that were stated throughout this blog, Marie Antoinette is seen as a key member of the French Revolution, and the fashionable statements during that moment in time. The wide range of opinions of the French radicals of Marie Antoinette, displays the power of people over the rights of royals, and the power embedded in these objects enforce these opinions. However, objects that hold sentimental value, such as this heart shaped locket, add in other opinions of Marie Antoinette being represented in a more sympathetic light. These objects continue to contribute to the distinctions between dress and political identity.


Coin of Marie Antoinette

Print of Marie Antoinette’s execution

Diamond Necklace


Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” The American Historical Review 111.3 (2006): 631-659.

Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: An Introduction in to the French Revolution” 2-11-14

D. Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)


Edmund Burkes

The importance of hair in the eighteenth century:

The last words Marie Antoinette spoke

Cited Quote from her last letter:

Images of Letter:


A Girl’s Best Friend: A Pearl Bracelet – Leticia Alvarez

Bath Fashion Museum. 1800-1810. BATMC 2003.524 A

Bath Fashion Museum. 1800-1810. BATMC 2003.524 A

Author: Great Britain

Author: Great Britain

“Hereas this kingdom is now become a great part for Diamond and other precious Stones and Jewels, from whence moft Foreign Countries are fupplied, and great Numbers of rough Diamonds are fent from Abroad to be cut and polifhed here, which is a great Advantage to this Nation…” (Great Britain).

Diamonds, jewels, and stones — due to their uniqueness and limited quantity — became important products to the economy of England.  Therefore, since they held a high economic value, they became associated with the elite class. Diamonds, jewels, and stones alone do not carry an aesthetic or consumer appeal, but jewelry does, such as the pearl bracelet. Since the materials used for the pearl bracelet are unique, elegant, and have rare beauty, the pearl bracelet is used to make a statement of wealth, status, and power in society. In addition, the pearl bracelet serves as an example of the gender distinction present in the eighteenth century.

This bracelet is made of pearls, cat gut, and mother of pearl. The pearls are delicately lined up by the use of cat-gut and pieces of the mother of pearl are sparingly placed along the strings of pearls. The largest piece of the mother of pearl is located in the center of the outline shape of a whole flower (Bath Fashion Museum).

During the eighteenth century, the consumer revolution took place in England. Initially, only the elites were able to partake in the consumer economy, but due to various factors (increase in wages, desire to obtain goods, new production and manufacturing techniques, and so on) paved the path for middle-class and working-class to afford consumer goods. As Neil McKendrick declares, ‘…More men and women than ever before in human history enjoyed the experience of acquiring material possessions…’ (Koscak, 2014). However, hierarchies are always present in society. Therefore, the symbols of wealth, power, and status must be represented to establish class differentiation and to maintain order in society. One of the various ways to represent wealth, power, and status is through the use of fashion accessories, more specifically the use of a pearl bracelet.

An example of the representation of wealth, power, and status through fashion is illustrated in Maria Edgeworth’s novel, Belinda. Lady Delacour invites Belinda, the protagonist and Mrs. Stanhope’s niece, to live with her temporarily in London. At Belinda’s arrival, she receives a letter from Mrs. Stanhope. She states that she sent Belinda’s bracelet with Mr. Clarence Hervey; this act is a way of introducing her to a man of a high rank in society. Mrs. Stanhope describes Mr. Hervey as a fine man who has connections and is wealthy (Edgeworth 2). Only the wealthy are associated with what the British government names as “precious stones.”

In Amanda Vickery’s article, Fashioning Difference in Georgian England, she discusses the creation of eighteenth century designs for both women’s and men’s objects in luxurious furniture. Vickery argues that both consumers and producers expected for gender distinctions to be visible in products and appearances, but this expectation expanded in the eighteenth century. For instance, a geometric design was attributed to men and graceful, irregular designs to women (Vickery, 345). Likewise, the pearl bracelet was designed for women with an emphasis on femininity by using elegant, smooth pearls and more importantly, by placing an intricate flower placed on the center of the bracelet.

In addition to the present expectation of gender differentiation in products, “educational literature advised that young gentlemen be taught to judge architectural and landscape improvements, while girls were trained to give order and neatness, color and texture indoors” (Vickery 345). This is a clear example of the specific gender roles in society: men’s role is to construct and the women’s role is to design. This is directly related to the pearl bracelet because it depicts the woman stereotype of neatness and soft color which is what the women were trained to do.

1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

1775-1800.  Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections.

Brooches and bracelets are both organized under the category of accessories/jewelry. As mentioned above, the pearl bracelet was worn to signify power, wealth, and status and was a product of the consumer revolution. Pearls were also used in brooches, but the accessory itself had a deeper and sentimental meaning than the pearl bracelet. Hair had been used in sentimental jewelry, but in the eighteenth century, hair was placed prominently at the center of an accessory. The reason for wearing hair brooches was to remember the dead and to cherish the living (Victorian and Albert Museum). Similarly, the “L’amour” brooch was worn to appreciate and express love for the living. In brief, the pearl bracelet had a hierarchical and political meaning whereas the brooches had a sentimental and personal meaning even though both are placed under the same category of fashion, accessories.


Edgeworth, Maria. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.

Great Britain. An Act for the free importation and exportation of diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, and  all other jewels and precious stones. [London ],  [[1732 [i.e. 1733]]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. UC Los Angeles. 11 March 2014

Koscak, Stephanie. ‘“The Great Renunciation”? Commercialization, Politics, and Gender.” University of California: Los Angeles, CA. Lecture. 9 January 2014.

Unknown (production). Hair Brooch. 1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections. Museum number: 958-1888. Online. 11 March 2014.

Unknown (production). L’amour Brooch. 1775-1800. Victoria and Albert Museum Online Collections. Museum number: 970-1888. Online. 11 March 2014.

Unknown (production). Pearl Bracelet. 1800-1810. Bath Fashion Museum, Bath. Fashion Museum. Museum number: BATMC 2003.524 A. Online. 11 March 2014.

Vickery, Amanda. “Fashioning Difference in Georgian England: Furniture for Him and for Her,” in Early Modern Things: Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800, ed. Paula Findlen (Routledge, 2013), 342-59.

Natural Goods



Figure 1. Mid eighteenth-century Rococo watch

Paris of the eighteenth century was quite different from the modern romanticized version that is often thought of today. The city was overcrowded and dirty, and was an inhospitable environment for people of all classes. In his book Tableau de Paris, Louis-Sébastien Mercier describes Paris as: “The middling state, and our populace in their ignorance, wretchedness, and absurdities; and Paris remain to the end of its existence, the dirtiest, most debauched, poorest, and yet the most ridiculously proud and presumptuous of all the cities built since the destruction of Babylon (Mercier,242).” In response to the negative atmosphere of the growing metropolis, many people were drawn to a more natural artistic style, such as Rococo. Rococo styled objects became very popular because they were designed to represent nature through the use of ornate foliage and animals, and they often displayed scenes of people in leisurely situations in nature. The Rococo style originated from a movement away from the grandeur and rigidness of the Baroque style of Luis XIV and the Catholic Church. Rococo often consisted o lighter colors, and tended to be more playful in nature than Baroque. Rococo was originally adopted by aristocrats who were moving away from the style of the court at Versailles. But with the availability of consumer goods to the middle-class, Rococo became very popular amongst common citizens as well.


Figure 2. Mid eighteenth-century Rococo watch


Figure 3. Covered bowl and stand, ca. 1765

An example of the Rococo style is a French watch (figure 1 and 2) made sometime around the mid-eighteenth century. The outer casing is made of gold and it has an enamel back that is painted in the Rococo manner of a Jean-Honoré Fragonard painting. Since it was common for men and women to wear ornate objects, this could have either been a pocket watch for a man or a necklace watch for a women. The case is molded with round shell-shaped edges that are common in Rococo, and it also has diamonds in the shape of flowers. The painting on the back is a scene of two men and three women sitting on a log surrounded by trees. This scene is a prime example of the desire for the consumer to feel closer to nature. Examples of Rococo can be seen in many other types of objects, such as dishes (figure 3) and vases (figure 4). In his essay “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France,” Michael Kwass describes the evolution of wigs in eighteenth-century France, and how the more natural and practical wigs were chosen over the larger ones that were used at royal court. In his essay, Kwass writes: “Indeed, the language of eighteenth-century taste leaders suggests an attempt to move beyond a courtly consumer culture in which the main purpose of goods was to mark social rank. Through the printed word, taste leaders carved out a new set of consumer values—convenience, natural authenticity, and self-expression—to mediate the relationship between consumption and status (Kwass, 634).” Like wigs, Rococo styled goods became more popular as commoners began to desire more natural forms of artistic expression. Another important point Kwass makes here is the influence of the “taste leaders.” These were fashion critics that used printed articles to discuss current fashion trends. As Kwass notes, it is more likely that these people influenced consumers towards a certain style rather than the theory that it was “consumer emulation” of the wealthy that shaped fashion trends.


Figure 4. Potpourri vase/figure, ca. 1755

Much like what was seen in the Consumer Revolution in England during the eighteenth century, luxury consumer goods became much more accessible to the middle-class in France. Rococo style goods such as dishes, paintings, and furniture became increasingly popular. In his book The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England, Neil McKendrick writes: “The pursuit of luxury could now be seen as socially desirable, for as the growth of new wants stimulated increased effort and output, improved consumption by all ranks of society would further stimulate economic progress (McKendrick, 8).” In this passage, McKedrick notes that desire for consumer goods increased the demand for further production in England, which had a “trickle down” affect to the lower-classes. The result of this was that the accumulation of non-subsistence goods became more socially acceptable for commoners. Though the influx of goods in France was not as vast as it was in England, the point McKendrick makes here is just as relevant as it is in the case of eighteenth-century England. Objects such as wigs, watches, furniture, and art work were in high demand by middle and upper-class consumers, and the movement away from courtly fashion and towards a more practical and natural style continued into the next century. In reflecting on the consumer trends of his time, Mercier makes an interesting point when he writes: “The excessive expenses which luxury requires, have beggared all ranks of people, and they exhaust all manner of resources for the ruinous purpose of supporting a mere shew (Mercier, 11).” It is curious how relevant those words still are in light of the increasing debt accrued by the masses in this modern world of endless consumerism.


Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review, 2006.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and P.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications, 1982.

Mercier, Louis-Sébastien. Tableau de Paris. Dublin. 1781 Web source.


Figure 1 and 2: Watch : Gallant Scene in the Fragonard Manner, ca. 1758-65. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Accession Number: 1975.1.1245, Gallery 951.

Figure 3: Covered bowl and stand, ca. 1765. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Accession Number: 2007.254.1a, b, .2, Gallery 508.

Figure 4: Potpourri vase/figure, ca. 1755. The British Museum: Museum Number: 1930,0419.1.CR, Location: G46/dc17.

Watches Tell Us More than Just Time by Marc Ferrer

Observing the role of watches during and after the consumer revolution of Eighteenth-century Europe provides insight into the historical trends of the period. Watches can be used to tell time in the obvious and literal sense, but they can also be used to tell us about time. As different watch styles change, they also come and go because tastes themselves change as a result of the social-economic politics of fashion. Specifically, we will see how these watches embody the effects of the consumer revolution (1700s) and French Revolution (1789-1799) on the transformation of watch fashion.


Figure 1: Gold cased verge stop-watch surrounding a white enamel dial. The dial is marked with hours from I-XII, minutes from 5-60, and a winding hole located on “II.” The hour and minute hands are composed of gold while the centre-seconds hand is composed of blue-steel. Made by: Ferdinand Berthoud. Date: 1763. Place of Origin: Paris, France. (The British Museum: 1958,1201.276)

It is important to note first that the changes in consumption habits that pervaded throughout the Atlantic were a direct result of the industrial revolution. In “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England,” Neil McKendrick argues that the “democratization of consumption” was essentially reflected in the increase in demand during this period and that consumption of certain goods rose to staggeringly high numbers while only having a minimal increase in the population (29). As such, we can see that as industrialization, production, and wages increased, so too did the taste for consumption and consumer goods. What this also means is that with more wealth in circulation, the general public would then be better able to influence and popularize new style innovations. Likewise, historian Michael Kwass uses the case of taste leaders in “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France” to argue that the process of creating “a new set of consumer values… mediate[s] the relationship between consumption and status” (634). Because of this, McKendrick’s and Kwass’ arguments inherently enhance each other to show how constant changes in demand and taste affect the economic and social value of an object or commodity.

Applying this understanding to the gold watch (Figure 1), we can construct a general outline of the social-economic politics of its particular style. Having been made in 1763, the watch was produced in the latter half of the consumer revolution. By this time, the extravagant tastes characterizing the earlier part of this revolution has been faced with both supporters and dissenters. This leads me to argue that those who sought to appear to have good taste would wear attractive adornments while simultaneously refraining from lavishness. Noting this watch’s style, we can say that it has a fair amount gold which serves to frame the main enamel dial. As for the dial face itself, the presence of both Roman numerals and Arabic numerals may however also be an indicator of higher social-economic status, i.e., the proper amount of extra detailing on a person’s watch would serve as a mark of rank or prestige.

watch2Figure 2: Gilt-brass cased verge watch. The dial is also gilt-brass, with applied enamel chapters. Attributed to: Louis Gauthier. Date: 1705-1715. Place of Origin: Paris, France. (The British Museum: 1958,1201.263)

In comparison with Figure 2, a watch made during the early consumer revolution (early to mid 1700s), it becomes easier to picture how the watch fashion transitioned to the style in Figure 1. The prominence of the etching all over Figure 2 indicates that it may have been a higher quality piece due to the amount of labor needed for precise detailing. Furthermore, despite being brass gilded with gold, the metal case serves as the main attracting component as opposed to the dial’s presence in Figure 1. While Figure 1’s dial is framed and accentuated by its gold case, the watch casing for Figure 2 by contrast is embellished with enamel numbering. This means that even though one of the main facets of the consumer revolution was the ability to show one’s wealth, there is constant development and redefining of said ability in the politics of fashion.

During the time of the French Revolution, new standards of consumption had been enforced which is not just reflected in watch styles, but also in the value of watches. From “Police Reports on Disturbances over Food Supplies (February 1793),” Paris police had said, “the way we knew she had one [a watch] was that when she emerged from the crowd and came over to the counter, she looked for her watch, [and] drew it out, saying, ‘I thought it had been taken.’” By this time though (late Eighteenth Century), watches had begun to exhibit more simplistic tastes (see Figure 3). This leads me to argue that the person’s attachment to the watch was therefore rather pretentious for the time. Eventually by 1810, some people “would have given [away a] watch for a good meal and a dry shirt” indicating that the value of watches had dropped significantly (An Ordinary British Soldier Recounts the Portuguese Campaign (1810)). However, it is also a possibility that for a soldier on the battlefield, a meal would naturally be more valued than a watch given his particular situation. Nonetheless, these accounts still show that with conservative consumption ideals pervading France during its revolution, watches and other luxuries would have been minimalized as a reflection of both modesty and support for a more egalitarian society.

watch3Figure 3: Silver and gold cased watch. White enamel dial, secret signature. Single blued-steel Breguet style moon hand. Silver case, gold bezels. Made by: Abraham Louis Breguet. Case made by: GM. Date: 1798 (case). Place of Origin: Paris, France. (The British Museum: 1927,0513.2)

Watches tell us more than just time. Understanding that watches also tell us about time allows us to understand the social-economic politics of fashion in the age of Atlantic Revolution.


Applewhite, Harriet Branson et. al: editing and translation. “Police Reports on Disturbances over Food Supplies (February 1793),” Women in Revolutionary Paris, (1789–1795). University of Illinois Press: 137–141. Web: Mar. 2014.

Hibbert, Christopher. “An Ordinary British Soldier Recounts the Portuguese Campaign (1810),” ed, A Soldier of the Seventy-First: The Journal of a Soldier of the Highland Light Infantry, (1806-1815). London: Leo Cooper, 1975. 48-53. Web: Mar. 2014.

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France,” American Historical Review 111.3 (2006). 631-59. Print.

McKendrick, Neil. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England,” The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London Europa Publications Limited (1982). 9-33. Print.

Image Links

Figure 1:

Figure 2:

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Rococo in 18th Century Europe- Emma Manoukian


It is October 25, 1760 in London, England. Throngs of people are gathered together waiting to get a glimpse of the newly crowned King and Queen. As King George III and Queen Charlotte slowly make their way out of Westminster Abbey, you think to yourself “How much longer before we get to see the divine King?” Suddenly the audience notes a change in the air, its like a charge of electricity, and all at once roars of applause are heard all around you. People squish closer together as they try to peer at the monarchs. You strain your neck towards the awaiting carriage when something suddenly catches your eye. There on the floor amongst the feet of what seems to be all of Great Britain lies a glittering object. It glints in the sun and you walk over to see what it is. Soon you discover that you are holding a very elegant and beautiful ring that must belong to a genteel woman. It is an exquisite array of diamonds fashioned to look like a cluster of flowers. Unsure of how to contact its rightful owner, you take the ring promising yourself that your eyes will dutifully glance at the classified section of the newspaper until someone posts an ad about a missing ring.

Here is an example of an advertisement taken from the London Chronicle from 1761. The owner had posted about an earring that was lost during the Coronation.

LOST, by a PEERESS at the Coronation on Tuesday last,A drop of an earring: Consisting       of a large brilliant in the middle, set round with eleven smaller, encompassed with eleven   leaves made of small brilliants.Whoever will bring it to Mr. Dutomps, Jeweler, at Leicester  fields shall receive FIFTY GUINEAS Reward: If offered to be pawned or sold the same Reward will be given for shopping it

LOST, by a PEERESS at the Coronation on Tuesday last,A drop of an earring: Consisting of a large brilliant in the middle, set round with eleven smaller, encompassed with eleven leaves made of small brilliants.Whoever will bring it to Mr. Dutomps, Jeweler, at Leicester fields shall receive FIFTY GUINEAS Reward: If offered to be pawned or sold the same Reward will be given for shopping it    (Figure 1)

  Scenarios like the one mentioned above were not an uncommon phenomena during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Many prized jewels and fineries would get lost or even stolen during large public events. Those who had lost a “prized” object would have an ad published in the newspaper in hopes that someone would find the lost item and return it. Unclaimed items, like the ring in Figure 2, create conundrums for modern historians.  Who did this ring belong to, why was it given to this person  and what did it signify are all question that historians try to answer. They must work with primary and secondary sources to link together facts about these items. We may never know if the ring in Figure 2 was lost or stolen because there are no records on ownership.

Figure 1

Figure 2


The Rococo style of fashion was a classic hallmark of eighteenth century Europe. This fashion sense highlighted the beauty of nature and floral gardens through clothing, jewelry, paintings and sculptures amongst other things. Gowns were made with vivd colors and prints while jewelry was assembled to look like a bouquet of exquisite flowers (Figure 2).

The ring shown above was made in England around 1730-60. Its materials consisted of gold, silver, and it was accented with rose cut diamonds, rubies and emeralds. These opulent rings were made for the noble and aristocratic women of England. Wealthy families were able to accessorize in a manner that showed their class status while remaining up to date with the latest fashion. Rings were exchanged between loved ones as symbols of affection and admiration. Middle and lower class  commoners were not able to afford such goods like diamonds and rubies.  Thus, a man may have given his intended an inexpensive jewelry item instead. Angela McShane’s  Subjects and Objects: Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century England, analyzes how middle class people displayed their affections towards one another during the seventeenth century. According to McShane, marriages were marked by receiving inexpensive, personalized items like “slipware mugs and cups, earthenware jugs and chargers, wriggle-work pewter tankards, and engraved glasses” (873). These personalized items symbolized the same unity and love in the household. Regardless of income status, both classes found ways to display affection through symbolic accessories.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, major European cities were engulfed by the Industrial Revolution . As cities became more mechanized, there was a disassociation between humans and nature. Jewels that showcased flowers allowed women to show their “natural” selves amongst society. It seems absurd in hindsight but accessories were believed to “make” a person. It allowed individuals to display a “naturalness” which was very important at that time.

Renowned eighteenth century jeweler James Cox, wrote that the faux flowers in accessories, like rings, were arranged in an “elegant bouquet of flowers, copied from nature : the colours of the flowers [were] curiously imitated in the colours of the stones with which they [were] set. Large tulips are seen unfolding and closing, as if actually growing in a garden…” ( In The Mechanisms of Jewelry Cox 39). Using flowers and bright colors as inspiration for mundane items like a tureen stand (Figure 3) and a sugar tureen (Figure 4) brought the pure elements of nature into the home. The Rococo era may have been an attempt to bring humanity closer to nature again. Like the ring, these tureens were ornately designed and used as a symbolic establishment of one’s “naturalness” in society.

Figure 3, Tureen Stand
Figure 3, Tureen Stand

Figure 4, Sugar Tureen
Figure 4, Sugar Tureen

Anxieties regarding the inevitable deviation from nature was a common theme that eighteenth century authors focused their writings on. The question on many people’s minds was “what was ‘natural’ during a rapidly changing society?”  Maria Edgeworth, author of Belinda, used various examples illustrating how defying nature can bring ill consequences to the individual.  Lady Delacour, a character in Edgeworth’s novel took part in a duel against another woman over political matters. This was seen as an unnatural activity for women to take part in during the 18th century. After firing the gun Lady Delacour recounted that “when [she] fired, it recoiled, and [she] received a blow on [her] breast… the pain was nothing compared with what [she had] experienced…” (56). Lady Delacour’s pain can be seen as punishment for her conduct during the duel. There is a reiteration on the importance of staying natural in an environment that was rapidly altering.

Changing times may illicit the worst in people. Fears and anxieties about what may come can directly influence how people dress and how they choose to accessorize themselves. Fashion allowed people to cope with the changing times.


Cox, James. A Descriptive Inventory of the Several Exquisite and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery. London. 18th century.

Edgeworth, Maria, and Kathryn J. Kirkpatrick. Belinda. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

Gowland, R. A. “Postscript.” The London Chronicle [London] 09 Sept. 1761. Print.

McShane, Angela. Subjects and Objects: “Material Expressions of Love and Loyalty in Seventeenth-Century England”.  _and_Loyalty_in_17th_cent_England

Figure 2

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1730-60 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold and silver, set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies and emeralds

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, room 91, case 12, shelf A, box 8

Figure 3

Memorial Hair Jewelry- Allison Fleming

Place of origin:
England, Great Britain

1775-1800 (made)

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques:
Gold set with pearls and green glass pastes, plaited hair

Museum number:

Gallery location:
Jewelry, room 91 mezzanine, case 81, shelf D5, box

2006BG8986_jpg_l 2006BG8987_jpg_ds

Sentimental Hair Jewelry

The Industrial Revolution in England increased wages, which created a growing desire for consumption within the middling class (McKendrick, Consumer Revolution, 3). During this expansion of consumer culture, sentimental hair jewelry became a centerpiece in women’s fashion. With the growing access to higher wages and the growth of consumer desires, the middling class could now purchase more exquisite and intricate sentimental hair jewelry. The growth of the middling classes’ consumer culture and their newfound access to luxury goods resulted in societal anxieties about decreasing class distinctions in England.

The consumer boom established a new emphasis on material objects. This emphasis can be observed in the classified ads in the Daily Courant (see below text). There are countless ads describing sentimental lockets that had been lost, which signify the importance of material objects (Daily Courant, July 1767). The locket described in the ad, similarly to the one pictured above, had intricate gold workings and details. The ad states that there was a reward for any part of the locket returned, with no questions asked. Beginning in 1760, memorial hair jewelry, especially lockets, began to be bought as ready made and many designs became standardized. Therefore making them easily available to the growing middling class of England. This particular locket is gold set with pearls and green glass pastes which surrounds interweaved hair. Memorial hair jewelry had long been important way to remember and cherish those who had passed (V&A, Locket). Previously many women of the middling had to work the hair of loved ones themselves, using gum to secure their creations (V&A, Locket). But the boom of consumerism enabled these women to purchase more intricate and pre made lockets, which had previously been exclusive to the upper classes (V&A, Locket). This made it difficult to accurately identify classes based on their sentimental hair jewelry. A similar phenomenon occurred in England with macaroni style. Previously in England, macaroni style had been an exclusive pleasure of the upper class because of its exaggerated fashions and over-the-top wigs (Rauser, Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni, 110-111). However, macaroni style eventually transcended class boundaries and became commonplace rather than a unique extravagance (Rauser, Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni, 105).   Both of these incidents created anxiety amongst the upper classes, who could no longer distinguish themselves from lower classes through fashion. The anxieties about the middling class having access to luxurious items was not just about fashion. With a larger portion of the population having access to upper class privileges, there was concern about what other types of privileges this portion of the population would want to have access to on top of luxurious fashions.

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Daily Courant July 1767

Below are three other pieces of sentimental hair jewelry. Another locket depicts not only braided hair but also a memorial motif of a women. The brooch and ring are other examples of how memorial hair jewelry became part of everyday displayed fashions during the eighteenth century. These items further contributed to the blurred distinctions between upper and middling class fashion, therefore heightened the anxieties of the upper class.


Hair Ring: 1775-1800


Hair Locket: 1775-1800


Hair Brooch: 1775-1800


“Brooch.” Victoria & Albert Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. <;.

“Classified Ads.” Daily Courant [London] 12 July 1767, 5907th ed.: n. pag. Web.

“Locket.” Collections. Victoria & Albert Museum, n.d. Web. Jan. 2014. <;.

“Locket.” Victoria & Albert Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. <;.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society. London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982. Print.

Rauser, Amelia. “Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni.” American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.1 (2004): 101-17. Jstor. Web. <>.

“Ring.” Victoria & Albert Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. <;.