Celebrating Día de los Muertos (with Jewelry!)

October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

My interest in skull jewelry, especially memorial and sentimental jewelry, began after I spent time traveling in Europe, visiting art museums. However, a trip to Oaxaca at the end of October a few years ago really sealed the deal. Día de los Muertos {the Mexican celebration The Day Of The Dead} remembers and celebrates the lives of those we have lost. And, it reminds me that I cannot resist incorporating skulls into necklace, earring and charm bracelet designs, as well as a few colorful beaded flowers and subtle rhinestones.

Etched Sterling Silver Teardrop Skull Earrings

Etched Sterling Silver Teardrop Skull Earrings by Jenne Rayburn

As a design image, skulls are timeless.

Throughout hundreds of years of art and history, the skull has communicated two important messages, “I’m dangerous”, and the idea of reflection, transformation and growth. The symbols and motifs we associate with these messages have always been part of a broader art and cultural movement, dating back to ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and the Aztecs who used the skull as a symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth. Memento Mori, thought to have originated in Rome and translated from Latin as “remember your mortality” speaks to the idea that life is short and death is the great equalizer. Symbolic Vanitas, a genre of still-life painting in which temporal pleasures are juxtaposed with a skull, were commonly depicted in Medieval times to remind people of the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. The Victorian Era, one of my favorite time periods, produced Mourning jewelry, which was the height of fashion during Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1851 to about 1880. Our contemporary fascination with skulls in fashion can be traced to the mid-2000s when bad-boy designer Alexander McQueen made a crystal skull his brand’s signature, working to create a fierce identity not only for himself but also for the women he dressed.

Etched and Enamelled Momento Mori Skull Pendant

Etched and Enamelled Memento Mori Skull Pendant by Jenne Rayburn

I always try to project my modern sensibilities into the skull jewelry I create, while appreciating the skull’s historic significance. I encourage people to consider a symbol’s cultural and historical meaning. That meaning is always part of the artistic intent, even it does not immediately resonate with the wearer. Most importantly, a skull is not always about death. Sentimental jewelry is possibly the most misunderstood of all jewelry, especially when used to commemorate the death of specific persons. People tend to see it as morbid and grisly, while the intent was often beauty and virtue. Creating adornment to honor someone’s life, with a piece of mourning jewelry or Memento Mori that you can remember him or her by, is ancient and universal, and one of the key behaviors that distinguishes humanity.

Sterling Silver and Bone Skull Earrings

Sterling Silver and Bone Skull Earrings by Jenne Rayburn

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