Contrary to popular belief, hair jewelry was not always mourning jewelry. Sometimes these intricately woven pieces were created as love tokens from sweethearts, family members and cherished friends as a way to feel closer to the other.
Gaining in popularity during the Civil War, hair work was an affordable and common at-home drawing room past time, much like knitting. Patterns and templates were widely available in newspapers, fashion magazines and periodicals. Many young women earned a living making hair jewelry at home.
For those less skilled or crafty, ready-to-wear hair work jewelry could be purchased through catalogs or from jewelry stores, or you could send hair off to a professional weaver to have a custom piece created.
Traditionally, there were two different types of hairwork techniques: table-worked hair and palette-worked hair.
Table-worked hair involved the use of a small, flat braiding table (a top hat or bandbox would suffice in a pinch) with a small finger-sized hole cut into the middle and small leaded weights. Hair was then plaited and woven into a tube-like shape using a number of intricate patterns and knots. From there, these woven tubes of hair would be made into jewelry.
Palette-worked hair was a bit more challenging. This technique utilized an artist's palette, a paintbrush and a glue wash to create patterns and pictures with hair. The most common form of palette work is the hair curl. More advanced and ambitious designs included wreaths, flowers and bouquets, like the one you see here.
This stunning miniature work of art features a bouquet of four petite flowers with gold wire wrapped seed pearl centers and leaves -- all made of honey blonde human hair -- set against an iridescent mother-of-pearl background.
This piece is beautifully encased in a 14k gold glass front pendant with a matching floral motif and comes with a newer vintage Barton A Ballou 14k gold chain.
It truly is one of the sweetest sentimental hair pieces we've encountered and a real show stopper!
Date: 1890s Materials: 14k gold, human hair, seed peals, wire, glue, mother of pearl Measurements: Pendant: 1.25" x 1" Chain: 18" Markings: Chain marked 14k BAB, Pendant gold content verified by a certified GIA gemologist Condition: Very Good Glass and gold casing have faint surface scratches consistent with age and use. Back has two small shallow dents from where the piece pressed up against something most likely in the original owner's jewelry box.