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October 31, 2014

Haunted by Memento Mori: The “Cycles of Life” collection



From The Bejamin Zucker Cycles of  Life Collection


When it comes to seasonal holidays,  I am more a Valentine’s Day girl than one who celebrates Halloween. I prefer cupid’s arrow to a stake through the heart. I also prefer sentimental motifs to skull and cross bones in my jewelry. I remember my first Halloween was spent dressed as a ghost (later came princesses and cowgirls). My mom thought it would be cute to dress me as a ‘friendly ghost’ who could score bowls full of candy while I tried to see through the cut out blackened circles of the eyes and tripped over the length of my homemade costume, crafted from a white twin sheet. It was that year that I saw more grown up ghost, goblin and skeleton costumes with arms carrying shovels and pitchforks. The whole thing terrified me and I couldn’t wait to get back to the safety of my home where I could help my mom separate the wrapped from the unwrapped treats.


All these years later I still prefer staying at home, cozying up with a bowl of popcorn and a romantic comedy rather than a scary film. Much in the same way, as a ring collector, I prefer love tokens to Memento Mori styles. With that said, however, I am writing this Halloween post for all those of you who are collectors, purveyors and followers of these rings, created as reminders of mortality, which bear the iconography of skulls, crossbones, worms, snakes, skeletons, and other earthly remains, The idea of wearing a ring, while I am still alive, which lets me know that I will die is a bit too macabre for me. But, after seeing the detailed creations of these pieces in the Benjamin Zucker “Cycles of Life” exhibit and sale, at the launch party at Les Enluminures. I was awe-struck by the intricate design elements, craftsmanship and how these rare rings lived on in amazing condition, long after their original owners were gone.

From the Benjamin Zucker "Cycles of Life" collection  Memorial and Memento Mori Ring. This gold hoop ring is enameled black outside with a white skeleton, a skull, an hourglass, skull and crossed bones, a snake, a crossed pick and shovel; it isinscribed within WH Nov. 18 1661 NOT LOST BUT GONE BEFORE. Alock of the deceased’s hair is inside the hoop. Dated 1661














The exhibit opens to the public today so before you dress up and go out to parties or take your kids trick-or-treating, it might be fun to stop by and have a peek. It’s worth it to see these rings first hand. The trick to scoring one is to have the knowledge, affinity and the financial means to be able to purchase such an exceptional, authentic piece of history.



From The Benjamin Zucker Cycles of Life collection Memento Mori Memorial Ring of the 10th Viscount Kilmorey England, c. 1700

For those whose budget won’t allow you to spring for the rings in this collection but would like to own one or more of these styles, there are also dealers throughout the US and abroad whose collections include Memento Mori rings. But, Beware! Trust who you are buying your pieces from. Over the past 10 years, the reproductions have been perfected to look like those from the 15th-18th centuries. So, before you make the grave mistake of purchasing a knock off, do you research, ask as many questions about the provenance and the condition of the ring and if anything has been changed before you buy.


In the meantime, Happy Halloween—be safe and have some “spooky” funand find a ring that haunts   you until you must have it.


From top to bottom: From the Benjamin Zucker Cycles of Life Collectiion, Memento Mori Ring with white enameling and rose diamonds, skull and crossbones motif, 17th through early 18th centuries;

From the Benjamin Zucker “Cycles of Life” collection
Memorial and Memento Mori Ring.. Dated 1661;

From The Benjamin Zucker Cycles of Life collection
Memento Mori Memorial Ring of the 10th Viscount Kilmorey
England, c. 1700




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