On December 14, 1861, Prince Albert died at just 42 years old from what may have been typhoid fever. To mourn her husband’s untimely passing, Queen Victoria wore black until her own death in 1901. Though she didn’t originate black mourning attire, she did popularize it; and while impoverished people simply dyed their normal clothes dark to abide by the tradition, the queen had the means to mourn in style.
Her long reign was also marked by multiple tragedies. In late 1878, for example, Queen Victoria lost her daughter Alice, and Alice’s daughter Marie, to diphtheria. Now, as People reports, three pieces of black jewelry she commissioned to commemorate their deaths are up for auction at Sotheby’s. There’s a cross-shaped enamel pendant inlaid with rose-cut diamonds that spell out Alice’s name below a diamond-encrusted crown. The back of the pendant reveals a tiny glass case containing a lock of Alice’s hair.
A second pendant, which features a pearl set into an agate oval, encases another lock of hair and the death dates of both Alice and Marie. The third item is an onyx locket with pearls forming an A on the outside and a tiny portrait of Alice on the inside. There’s also an agate locket that Prince Albert gave his wife after the death of her mother in 1861. Each piece is expected to fetch somewhere between about $1400 and $4200—a reasonable range, considering the history (and hair) that comes with the jewels.
The mourning jewelry is a small selection from an auction comprising 350 lots from the estate of Queen Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter Patricia Knatchbull, née Mountbatten. Knatchbull, who was also a first cousin of Prince Philip, died in 2017. The expansive offering includes paintings, some less somber jewelry, and precious novelty items like this 115-year-old gold mesh evening clutch shaped like a pig (complete with diamond toes and ruby eyes).
The live auction is scheduled for March 24, 2021, at Sotheby’s in London, and you can see all the items here.