Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning “remember that you will die.” It also describes mourning jewellery and trinkets popular from the 16th through the 18th centuries. Those mourning the dead would wear these items both to memorialize the dead and keep reminders of one’s own mortality. Originally, the meaning of memento mori lies very close to the Latin carpe diem, “seize the day”. It’s not a morbid keepsake, instead this kind of jewellery is a statement to try harder and achieve more in life .
Memento mori jewellery has a long tradition and is often very detailed and elaborated. You can find symbolism such as skeletons and skulls, often combined with text. Sometimes there are also hidden spaces that are used to keep a piece of hair or other remains in. In the 19th century this kind of adornment loses its popularity. Luckily it never completely disappeared because its symbolism is so close with human nature: to always try and get more out of life.
Here’s a look at some beautiful and haunting pieces of jewellery, both old and new, from the 16th to the 21st century. If you would like to know more about these pieces, check out de collections by scrolling down and visiting the websites below.
IMAGES: Ossobello [beautiful bones] by Bertozzi & Casoni (cover), memorial ring of the 10th viscount of Kilmorey (England, ca. 1700), from the Benjamin Zucker Family Collection, Memorial ring from 1661, from the Benjamin Zucker Family Collection, memorial ring from 1780, “Come Ye Blessed” on artofmourning.com, Memento Mori ring from around 1600 on Christies.com, Memento Mori Skull ring, Estate Betteridge Collection, Skeleton ring from 1679, collection of the British Museum, Medal by Heidi Hinder from the V&A Museum, Bittersweets NY by catbirdnyc.com and Ring by William Llewellyn Griffiths ring on egetal.com.au