This fashion season saw the return of brooches as a statement piece that is bound to bring together and elevate a look. Apart from being, once again, the height of fashion, this type of jewellery has a long and rich history that can be traced through its different designs and shapes that were worn throughout the ages.
Originally, brooches were used purely in a functional capacity to fasten or secure articles of clothing. The earliest brooches consisted of thorns, flint, and sticks. During the Bronze Age, the pins were then handcrafted out of metal. The purely practical uses of brooches evolved during the Middle Ages, and brooches transitioned into also becoming ornaments used for adornment and decoration.
The Braganza Brooch, 250BC-200BC, The British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Fibula is the only term that is really fixed in time, representing a simple fastening mechanism used in ancient or classical times. These antique brooches are often highly desired by collectors and lovers of jewellery.
Annular / Penannular
Annular Brooch, 13th century, The British Museum © The Trustees of the British Museum
After the fibula the oldest known style of brooches is an annular/penannular brooch. It dates back to the fifth century and features a fairly simple design: a ring with a pin stretching down the back of the piece. The penannular brooch has the exact same design except for the ring which has been halved. These types of brooches could have been decorated with precious stones or intricate metalwork or could have been left unadorned.
A late 18th/early 19th century onyx cameo brooch, by Morelli, Bonhams
Jumping a little bit forward in history, many styles of brooches that stayed around for centuries first became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Although cameos, pieces of jewellery consisting of a portrait (usually in profile) carved in relief on a background of a different colour, date back to ancient times, cameo brooches were popularized in the 19th century by Queen Victoria, who would even present them as gifts to her courtiers.
Tiffany & Co. mourning brooch, containing the hair of a deceased relative, 1868, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
As with all forms of mourning jewellery, a mourning brooch would have been commissioned in honour of a loved one who had passed. During the height of their popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, mourning brooches took on singular and unique design features. Some may have been engraved with the loved one’s name, birthdate, and date of death, or even be set with pearls symbolizing tears.
The mourning brooch was also heavily popularized by Queen Victoria, who mourned the passing of her love, Prince Albert for twenty years. This event brought into style the hair mourning brooch, which featured a strand or strands of the loved one's hair woven into a design and placed behind a plate of glass or enamel in the brooch.
The luxury jewellery design firm of Cartier also loved this look, becoming famed for its jewelled jabot pins produced in the 1920s and 1930s. Diamond jabot pin, Cartier, 1920s, Sotheby’s
A descendant of the simple pin, the jabot pin is a type of brooch that became fashionable during the 20th century. It features ornamentation at both ends of a single pin, with a fastening mechanism on one end, so that as the pin goes through the article of clothing, it disappears leaving the two ends as the decoration. This style gets its name from a 17th-century ornamental frill attached to the front of a shirt or blouse, the jabot.
As a piece of jewellery, it was highly popular during the Art Deco period when it became quite prominent as adornment on hats and handbags for women.
A pair of Art Deco diamond and blue sapphire dress clips.
Also gaining prominence and popularity during the 1920s and 1930s was the dress clip. Worn similarly to a brooch, it fastened via a clip mechanism that usually contained prongs to help it stay securely on the clothing. They were particularly well-liked for the versatility in the way they could be styled and worn. Larger versions of these clips were sold on their own, and smaller versions were often sold as a set.
A gold and diamond floral en tremblant brooch, c. 1930.
En Tremblant Brooch
Using the French term en tremblant, meaning to tremble, this style of brooch featured a mechanism where part of the brooch would remain unfixed and move when worn. Fashionable in the 18th and 19th centuries, these were often designed as a floral spray and set with precious stones that would capture the light from different angles.
Aigrette, Designer Paul Iribe, 1910, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
At the height of fashion in the 17th to 18th centuries and then again in the 19th to 20th centuries, the aigrette brooch featured a distinct feather shape and either birds or an allusion to them. Often set with flat-cut gemstones, was often also worn in the hair or attached to a hat.
The Theodore & C. team is fascinated by all the different styles of brooches and loves to see them back in fashion. Find the selection of our favourite pieces below.