Mourning pins are pins which are meant to be worn during a period of mourning, and they are typically accompanied with other pieces of mourning jewelry such as earrings, rings, and bracelets. Since specific clothes and jewelry for mourning are rarely made in the modern era, most modern mourning pins are antiques, and some of them are prized family heirlooms. Because traditional mourning is not as widely practiced as it once was, mourning pins are not frequently worn as part of the grieving process, but they may appear on other occasions, especially during formal events.
The concept of mourning jewelry is quite ancient, as artifacts from numerous cultures around the world suggest. Such jewelry might commemorate the passage of a loved one by immortalizing his or her portrait, or by using pieces of the decedent's jewelry in a new piece of jewelry. Mourning jewelry was also traditionally given out by wealthy families. Mourning jewelry has often integrated themes of death such as the colors associated with death by a particular culture, and macabre ornaments like skulls.
In the West, the concept of mourning jewelry reached its height in the Victorian era, due to the period of deep mourning undertaken by Queen Victoria. Mourning pins and other ornaments became the height of fashion, and many women actually went to great lengths to look stylish while in mourning. By tradition, in the first year and a day of mourning, no jewelry or ornaments of any kind could be worn; mourning pins typically entered the wardrobe in the second stage of mourning, during which light ornamentation was allowed.
Many mourning pins are made from materials like jet, a form of fossilized coal which can be left dull or polished to a deep black color. They could feature carved jet, cameos, portraits of the deceased, and sometimes even locks of human hair as well. Hair was a popular memento for the Victorians, as well as earlier generations of humans, and it could be enclosed under glass or worked into various shapes.
As a general rule, a mourning pin has a very restrained, simple design. Bright colors are generally frowned upon, as are large, ostentatious designs, but mourning pins can still be quite beautiful and elegant. Depending on who designed it, a mourning pin may also be designed to be worn as a necklace, and such pins can be worn either as brooches or on hats, veils, and scarves. Many Victorian mourning pins are very fine, and it is no surprise that they have become prized collector's items.