Hairwork – Jewelry Using Hair
It was not uncommon for Victorian women to use locks of hair from a child held in a special compartment of a locket, brooch or ring. This sentimental feeling brought about an increasing interest in hair jewelry. According to Godey’s Lady Book, in 1850 hairwork became a drawing-room occupation. “By acquiring a knowledge of this art, ladies will be themselves enabled to manufacture the hair of beloved friends and relatives into bracelets, chains, rings, earrings, and devotees, and thus insure that they do actually wear the memento they prize, and not a fabric substituted for it, as we fear has sometimes been the case.” Hairwork was generally done standing at a table vs. sitting as their long dresses got in the way.
To make this jewelry, hair must be boiled in soda water and then sorted by length of strands containing 20 to 30 hairs. The watch chain was the most popular piece of hairwork jewelry. By giving a gift such as this to her loved one, she knew she would be in his thoughts throughout the day. Bracelet hair jewelry for women containing the hair of her children was also popular. Guard chains, openwork crosses and earrings were also the rage. When this trying task was completed, it was sent to a jeweler who would add lovely clasps with a compartment for a photograph or closures mounted with stone.
When making long necklaces, the jeweler would use long tubes of gold to connect the pieces. If the lady did not feel confident enough in the making of hair jewelry, she could send the hair into the editor of the above mentioned book for completion. She had only to select the design, anything from breast pins, hair studs, sleeve buttons, bracelets, necklaces, earrings or fobs. In March of 1859, the cost to produce this special jewelry was from $4.00 - $12.00 per item. At the Crystal Palace Exposition of 1853, in addition to its full line of hair jewelry, the company displayed a full size tea set completely made of hair. Believe it or not.