A lock of finely braided hair found inside a 19th-century ring stole the show at a Wales filming of Antiques Roadshow when a jewelry expert proposed he believed the ring belonged to one of Britain’s most famed literary novelists, Charlotte Brontë.
The ring was discovered after the passing of an unnamed woman’s father-in-law. When the family was cleaning out his attic, they came across an “intriguing box” that was locked. She recalls trying “key after key after key” to unlock the antique box and was surprised when she saw it contained just a little ring inside.
“I noticed, oh, is that it?” she recalled, before noticing an inscription on the inside of the ring.
That’s when she grabbed a magnifying glass to get a closer look. The inscription, C. Brontë, “didn’t ring a bell in the family at all”. A lightbulb then went off when she noticed the date of 31st March 1855 inscribed alongside the name. A hinge on the side of the ring opens a secret covering that hides an intricately woven braid of hair.
“I’ve got goosebumps now thinking about it. [The ring has] got a hinge on it, and inside there’s plaited hair, I think it may be the hair of Charlotte Brontë,” said the woman on the show.
Appraiser Geoffrey Munn says there is very little reason to doubt that the hair belonged to Bronte. The inscription looks “completely credible” and matches the date of the Jane Eyre author’s death.
“[The ring] opens like a little biscuit tin lid, and amazingly we see this hair work within, very finely worked and plaited hair. It echoes a bracelet Charlotte wore of her two sisters’ hair,” he explained.
During the Victorian Era, wearing a loved one’s hair was a way of remembering them long after they were gone. Queen Victoria most famously wore a locket of her husband Prince Albert’s hair around her neck following his 1861 death. Indeed, jewelry made of hair was a common occurrence across Europe and North America from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century as a way to remember those lost. Interestingly, human hair does not decay like most organic materials and can last for many years following death (in this case, more than 150) due to its keratin content, which resists enzymes that help further the process of decomposition.
“It was a convention to make jewelry out of hair in the 19th century. There was a sort of terror at not being able to remember the face and the character of people who had died and so this is part of a tradition of taking a true souvenir… of taking a part of a person and [wearing] it,” Munn said.
Normally, Munn says such a ring would be worth around 24 pounds, but as a “relic of one of the most notable authors of the 19th century,” it’s expected to garner the exciting price of around 20,000 pounds.
The woman says her daughter may finally get the rabbit she’s been hoping for.