Often adorning the regal attires of Queen Elizabeth II and those who ruled before her, a brooch is a decorative piece of jewelry fastened onto clothing with a hinged pin and catch. Traditionally referred to as an “ornament” rather than a decorative statement piece, a brooch has the special ability to look stylish and sophisticated while reflecting a different time period.
In this article, we will explore the rich history of brooches and how they can continue to serve as chic, functional, and symbolic statement pieces in modern times.
The History of Brooches
The origin of brooches or brooch pins dates back to the Bronze Age. Ancient Europeans initially used brooches for their functionality, helping secure capes, cloaks, and scarves into place.
Before the Middle Ages, Greeks and Romans called brooches “fibula,” and the materials used to create them included sticks, thorns, and stones. During the Byzantine period, the mundane fibula underwent an ornamental makeover to become a display of precious metals and jewels.
The 14th Century (1301 to 1400)
Starting in the 14th Century or Renaissance period, elaborate brooches embellished with pearls or gemstones were popular among the noble and merchant classes. The gemstones commonly used for brooch pins—including amethyst, ruby, emerald, diamond, and topaz—supposedly had protective qualities.
The 16th Century (1501 to 1600)
During the 1500s onward, global exploration and trade introduced new sources of gemstones and precious metals to Europe and Great Britain. Jewelry designs changed and followed the evolving trends in fashion during this era. By the 16th and 17th Centuries, brooches became valued for their ornamental qualities and symbolisms of wealth and power. From humble sticks and stones, the brooch pins from this era boasted a gorgeous combination of precious metals, gemstones, pearls, three-dimensional scenes, intricate carvings, and skilled metalwork.
The 17th Century (1601 to 1700)
In the late 17th Century, Aigrette brooches became the height of fashion. These feather-shaped brooch pins set with flat-cut garnets or diamonds in silver settings were associated with the elaborate wardrobe of the aristocrats and gentry during their Grand Tour of Europe. Wealthy and powerful women often wore these luxurious, detailed pieces in their hair.
The intricate designs of ornate style brooches were fashionable throughout the first half of the 18th century as well. However, during the mid to late 1700s, people began favoring the simpler designs inspired by the Neoclassicism movement. The common themes included nature, animals, bows, and miniature portraits. Handmade in the finest silver or gold, brooches covered in pearls and diamonds continued to reign in this period despite people’s shift in design preference.
A notable design breakthrough during the 17th Century is the hard paste or porcelain cameo by Josiah Wedgewood—an English pottery maker. Cameo brooches showcased portrait silhouettes or classical scenes. Hand-painted miniature brooches also became popular among people who adored carrying portraits of their loved ones.
The 18th and 19th Century (1701 to 1900)
During the 18th and 19th Century, the glamorous En Tremblant (French for the word “tremble”) brooch captured the hearts of many. Its trembling effect—which artisans achieved by arranging bouquets of gemstones delicately moving to catch the light—was the main selling point and source of its popularity.
En Tremblant brooches were traditionally set with rose-cut or old-mine cut diamonds to achieve the appearance of arranged flowers in bloom. Jewelry artisans adhered the center of the flower to a mechanism (springs made of hardened steel or other metals), which allowed the brooch pin to “tremble” and quiver while attached to the wearer’s garment.
The Victorian Era (1837 to 1901)
In the Victorian Era, brooch pins made a transition to darker, more solemn and somber designs. Craftsmen began using materials such as black onyx, black, enamel, and jet. The “mourning brooch,” in particular, highlights the Victorian Era’s fascination with mortality. The overall design of these brooches were discreet, often featuring engravings of the deceased person’s name and date of death, as well as a detachable glass panel to store a lock of hair. Some designs were more intricate and included the deceased loved one’s portrait.
The 20th Century (1901 to 2000)
Toward the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, brooch designs started embracing naturalism. Each decorative piece of jewelry featured an accurate manifestation of figures from nature, such as flowers, trees, and insects. This design approach distinguished the Belle Epoque movement, which acclaimed French glass designer Rene Jules Lalique became synonymous with. Throughout the Belle Epoque movement in France and the Edwardian era in England, these delicate and feminine brooches flourished.
In the 1920s, following the First World War, brooch pins shifted from soft, naturalistic designs to Art Deco. Bows and ribbons were “so last season,” whereas diamonds and emeralds were “all the rage.”
Brooches in the era had bolder structures, high-contrast colors, and abstract designs inspired by Fauvism, Cubism, and other art motifs from India and Egypt. The materials used included coral, quartz, onyx, lapis lazuli, carnelian, and classic stones such as diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and rubies.
One of the acclaimed jewelry houses associated with Art Deco was Cartier, which is among the best-selling fine jewelry brands in present time. Their lavish, designer brooches were usually in a double-clip style and featured geometric lines along with strong, high-contrast gem colors.
As a result of scarcity in materials during the Second World War, the production of brooch pins halted and did not recommence until the late 1940s. It was during this time that the House of Cartier introduced their famous Panthère collection and Panther brooch, which was designed for Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor.
Brooches in Modern Times
Using a brooch for its symbolic powers remains popular today. For instance, female members of the British Royal family continue to embellish their formal attires with brooches to reinforce diplomatic relations. Other women in high powered positions, including presidents, First Ladies, prime ministers, and attorneys, often wear brooches as subtle political statements. Jewelry and brooch designs have mirrored this social development, becoming bolder and less delicate than ever before.
Are You Thinking of Buying or Selling a Brooch?
A brooch is a must-have for the rich, powerful, and sophisticated. If you wish to add a classic piece to your collection, start shopping here. If you are thinking of selling your pre-owned brooch pins, Biltmore Loan and Jewelry offers the ultimate upscale collateral lending or outright selling of designer brooches in Phoenix, AZ. Complete our online form here for a free market appraisal.