Memento Mori: Goldengrove & Modern Mourning Jewelry
Death and jewelry: these are two of our favorite things here at Dear Darkling. So we spoke with Margaret Cross of Goldengrove Jewelry about her New York-based magnificently morbid mourning jewelry company. We had the opportunity to chat with Margaret about how the grief from a tragic death inspired her to design jewelry, the ancient history of mourning jewelry, and her personal advice about starting your own company.
Margaret, a native New Yorker, says she was inspired to create mourning jewelry after she lost her best friend and first love in November 2008. “I felt the need to carry around a reminder of him, a piece to cling to and rub with my thumb and tuck into my shirt and wear over my heart. The necklace I made for myself in his memory brought me great comfort.”
Her only jewelry making experience was from metalsmith classes, in which she cast silver teeth and bones and then gave them as gifts to friends. In college she studied Fine Art where she learned casting and stone setting.
Margaret says creating mourning pieces is therapeutic for her. “Months after his death I remember being lost in my work at the jewelry bench, and maybe it was the first time I’d left my house in a week and maybe I hadn’t remembered to eat or brush my hair for a few days, but it occurred to me that I finally felt like myself again.”
Margaret is not the first person to cherish the memory of a loved one through jewelry. Mourning jewelry was worn for centuries, as far back as the 1600s, but it became most popular during the Victorian Era. When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria and her court mourned his death by wearing beautiful dresses with cinched bustiers and billowing bustles in all black, as well as matching black mourning jewelry. Her court wore their dark ensembles for several decades and the queen wore only black the remaining 40 years of her life. Queen Victoria was quite the trendsetter. Her subjects followed in example and observed a period of mourning by wearing black. To this day many darklings are influenced by her dark sense of style.
We digress; back to the jewelry. In the winter following Margaret’s first love’s untimely death, she bought her first Victorian mourning piece, a locket with a very sentimental and symbolic image enameled on the outside. Inside the locket she placed a picture of her lost lover.
“It made me realize, people still need mourning jewelry, or at the very least, I did,” says Margaret. “I wasn’t finding contemporary options that appealed to me. So I began making it for myself and friends. It wasn’t for a few more years that I began selling my jewelry.”
Margaret’s designs for Goldengrove are inspired by popular mourning jewelry motifs and mottos. You can find many references to antique mourning jewelry on her website.
Georgian era mourning jewelry can be identified by its more macabre symbols, such as skulls, skeletons, coffins, and grave-digging tools. They usually carry a message of “memento mori” or “remember you will die.” Many of Margaret’s designs carry on these traditions.
Jewelry designs influenced by the sentimental Victorian era can be recognized by use of teardrops, clouds, weeping willows, urns, angels, and women lamenting. This era’s motto was “in memory of” or “lost but not forgotten.” You can see many of these themes in Margaret’s jewelry line.
Most antique mourning jewelry consisted of black stones, but Margaret incorporates various stones from sparkling diamonds to blood red garnets, milky moonstones to dark blue sapphires, holographic opals to pink rose quartz, as well as the traditional black onyx, jet, and obsidian.
Margaret also custom designs pieces with hair from the deceased woven into the jewelry, which was commonly seen in traditional mourning jewelry.
Now that we know about the history of mourning jewelry and how it is incorporated into Goldengrove Jewelry, we might still be wondering, where did the name Goldengrove come from?
Margaret says shortly after her friend’s death, she found herself in the “grief” section at the library, thumbing through a collection of poetry, when she came across the poem “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1918). “‘Margaret’ is the very first word of the poem, so it obviously grabbed my attention,” she says.
“The first line is ‘Margaret are you grieving, over Goldengrove unleaving?'” recites the founder of Goldengrove Jewelry. “The poem uses spring and fall as an analogy for life and death, and Goldengrove is the bucolic world we occupy before we truly understand our own mortality.”
Goldengrove was birthed due to great pain and passion. Margaret’s advice to young people inspired to start their own businesses is, “Go for it. Start a website today. As they say, ‘done is better than perfect.'” She continues, “And remember not to work yourself into the ground.”
Whether you are looking for a piece of jewelry in remembrance of a deceased loved one or just to remind you of your own mortality, you should check out Goldengrove Jewelry.