History of Hair Jewellery

Like jewellery in general, hair accessories belong to the category of ornamental objects. Nowadays we distinguish between the different terms of the expression "hair jewellery". Normally, the term hair jewellery is used to describe jewellery that serves us to decorate hairstyles or to constructively design their shape. On the other hand, hair jewellery, apart from this form of jewellery, also refers to jewellery made from one's own hair.

Hair jewellery as hair decoration

Hair jewellery is not an invention of our modern times. The historical development of hair jewellery can be traced back to several thousand years ago. Already flowers or simple wood are considered as the first approach of hair jewellery. However, it can be argued about the conscious use in order to design hairstyles in those times. In the course of the development of the first advanced civilizations, jewellery, in addition to education, technology and medicine, was also given a much higher status. In ancient Egypt, for example, braided threads or gold ornaments were worn in the hair. Even within the Chinese dynasty, the use of wooden rods was not uncommon in order to stick up the particularly thick hair of Asian women. The feather ornament of American natives is considered a particularly impressive hair jewellery. This was often used for ornamentation, but also to differentiate between the hierarchical structures within a tribe. Also in the fashion world of the modern age one finds a development of this feather decoration – the so-called Fascinator. These extremely colorful and versatile unique pieces are attached to the hair with small hair claws and barrettes and enchant the audience with their uniqueness.

To this day, hair jewellery has evolved in many different ways. There are now no material restrictions – and so it is possible to obtain hair ornaments from various materials such as woods, metals and precious metals, textiles, plastics, gemstones and cut glasses, up to diamond. Also in the adaptation of the beautiful hair decoration pieces to the head form, there was never a lack of ingenuity. Nowadays, from the practical hair claw, to the particularly safe barrette, to the hair turner, there are a variety of fixing options that leave nothing to be desired in the design of the hairstyle. Hair jewellery cannot be fully distinguished from the concept of headgear. For example, the crown is a variation of the hair jewellery. Beside the hierarchical meaning, the crown also has the meaning of a distinguishing decoration. Today's optical remains of the crown can be found in the so-called diadems. These are considered hair jewellery in the area of bridal jewellery and originate from the laurel wreath – a wreath that was used in ancient times to crown the winner of a battle.

Hair decoration as a piece of jewellery made of hair

The first impression of a person is decisive for further contact. So it is not surprising that human hair still plays an important role in our appearance today. The will to bind such beautiful phenomena into memories is an inclination of men, so intense that even hair satisfies the demand for memory. Already before the 18th century hair was used in personal jewellery to create an artistic souvenir. Hair has always played an important role in mythical legends. One of the stories we know best is the story of Samson, a member of the militaristic sect of the Nazarites, whose belief that long hair is the source of strength fascinates. The extremely romantic reference to our hair is also found in a Swedish collection of sayings:

"Rings and Alice bands increase love."
(Vadstena stads tankebok)

In Denmark, in the Rosenborg Palace, there is an extremely valuable Alice band made out of precious metal with a simple lock of interwoven hair. This is a very elaborate and loving gift from King Christian the Fourth (1577-1648) to his wife. Also King Charles, the first of England to be condemned to death, left memory rings to his most loyal entourage as a sign of remembrance and recognition. Back then the fashionable appearance of jewellery made from one's own hair was inspired by the devastating financial situation of hair artists and wig makers at that time. While in the 17th and 18th centuries wigs became out of fashion with noble men, their field of activity shifted to fashionable accessories made of hair. At the beginning of this development, precious metals such as gold and silver, but also pearls and gemstones were used for the production of jewellery. The extremely high value of the goods reduced the clientele to a small but very affluent clientele. Among the best known owners were Napoleon and Admiral Nelson, Queen Victoria, including her large entourage, Christina Nilsson and Jenny Lind.

In the 19th century a wide variety of art works such as earrings, bracelets, finger rings, brooches, necklaces and hair pictures were created in Europe. A very common piece of jewellery was the so-called "memory brooch". A "memory brooch" preferably consists of precious metals and contains a strand of hair of a deceased person protected behind glass. This strand of hair is also known as the Prince of Wales Curl. This trend continued into the 20th century, but was replaced in 1925 by fashionable innovations such as the short skirt and the bob. There are a variety of reasons why hair accessories have enjoyed incredible popularity over centuries. In contrast to the other components of our body, human hair lasts comparatively long. The chemical composition – the main component is carbon – allows storage of hundreds up to thousands of years.

Nowadays there are only a few places where jewellery made of human hair is made. Mora, Sweden, is one of the most important areas in the historical development of hair jewellery as jewellery made from one's own hair. In the village of Våmhus jewellery has been made from hair for more than 200 years. This tradition developed out of the local peasant movement to earn a living by making hair ornaments by means of the craftsmanship. It was not unusual for a large number of women to leave their rural homeland for up to six months to offer their artistic skills in cities. In addition to conventional pieces of jewellery, we still have many pictures with motives made from human hair. These so-called hair pictures served as a memory of a living or deceased person, or a particularly important event, such as a wedding or a baptism. Jewellery from our own hair plays a much less important role in today's society and we encounter it only occasionally. So it is not surprising that the individual memory in the form of hair is lost in the much simpler but less romantic technique of photography.