The D-shaped yellow gold band, engraved in relief with a full-length human skeleton, crossed shovels and an hourglass, accentuated by a black enamel background, the inside of the band inscribed ‘NEVER LOST BVT GONE BEFORE’, English, first quarter of the 18th Century, size N.
Our relationship with death has changed immeasurably since the 18th Century. Advances in modern medicine and subsequent changes to life expectancy, as well as changing attitudes that have evolved with the secularisation of society, have largely encouraged the 21st Century psyche to push its mortality from the considerations of daily life.
We no longer have an elaborate language and ritual of mourning that we collectively practice, this is something Europe began to lose in the mid 20th Century, but in the 18th Century such cultural and religious practices were inescapable.
Funerals were important events, in general the money spent on food and drink outweighed other expenses as mourners were fortified with beer or banquets (depending on financial means) and those wishing to make statements of social status gave out gifts such as gloves, black scarves or hatbands, with rings such as this one given out at only the most genteel of funerals to family and friends.
Aesthetically, mourning rings varied enormously but often had inscriptions such as the one found in this ring, and often also personalised with a date of death. A reminder of the loved one who had passed and also the inevitability of their own death, a so-called 'memento mori', Latin 'remember that you must die'. This one seemingly particularly macabre in its blatant references to time running out (the hour glass), grave digging (the closed shovels) and death itself (the skeleton).
However mourning jewellery took on many forms over the centuries, with a particular penchant for elaborate woven accessories composed of the hair of the deceased, either in compartments of lockets or making up bracelets, spreading in the 19th century, but this is such an exceptional and rare example, there is a very similar one in the British Museum and another in the Museum of London.