A History of Brooches

history of brooches

Although exceedingly rare in the modern era, the brooch is a timeless, iconic accessory that symbolizes old-world elegance and refinement. These old-fashioned accessories were once a staple in the wardrobes of women everywhere. In ancient times, they were important societal symbols. In more contemporary eras, they were an easy way to add a little extra sparkle and opulence to any look. But no matter their purpose, the beauty of these accessories is nothing short of captivating. From practical pieces of clothing to gemstone-encrusted adornments, we’ll take a look at the history of brooches as well as examine popular types of brooches through the ages.

The Early History of Brooches

Although we now consider brooches to be frivolous accessories, they were once an essential part of a person’s wardrobe. Referred to as “fibula” in ancient times, decorative clothing fasteners date all the way back to the Bronze Age, which began around 3,000 BC. As time went on, metalworking techniques became more advanced and these fibula featured more intricate designs. Starting in around 600 BC, practical brooches began being manufactured in Great Britain. Often made of copper alloy or iron, Bow Brooches and Trumpet Brooches were the most common design. Because they were seen as a purely functional piece of adornment, they weren’t manufactured from fine metals or precious gemstones. It wasn’t until 400BC when Celtic craftsmen started making these clothing fasteners more decorative by including pieces of red enamel or coral-colored inlays in their design. During the 5th and 6th centuries, brooches began to become even more elaborate. As Germanic tribes migrated to parts of England and Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, they brought with them their own distinctive type of art and design. This is now known as Migration Period Art. Brooches from this period vary in style, but often include Roman elements like intricate geometric patterns, abstract designs from nature, bird motifs, and scrollwork. Color was another important feature - these brooches often included burgundy-colored garnet gemstones to add extra dimension and opulence. Brooches from the Anglo-Saxon era featured 6th century Scandinavian influence. These styles were predominantly circular in design and featured a safety-pin clasp. Decorative details like the bird, the rectangle, and the cross motif were all popular during this period. Celtic brooches were entirely different. Their traditional brooches feature highly decorated penannular-style brooches. Like other forms of Celtic artwork, their designs were inventive and complex. The “Tara Brooch” is perhaps the most popular type of Celtic brooch. Brooches were also incredibly popular among Vikings during the Scandinavian expansion. These famous Scandinavian seafarers often wore intricate brooches while they explored, pillaged, and colonized parts of Europe. These dynamic designs usually featured intricate metal work and highly detailed circular designs. Some even borrowed inspiration from elements found in nature. interlaced beasts, ribbon-shaped animals, birds, and leaf motifs were just as popular as the traditional knot and ring-chain patterns that were prevalent during this time. Worn by both men and women alike, brooches became much more decorative during the Middle Ages. Here, we can find antique brooches that were star-shaped, heart-shaped, or featured ornamental gemstones. Inscriptions and engraved sentiments were also included on brooches from the Middle Ages. Pagan or Christian motifs were also prominently featured on all types of jewelry and metalwork during this era.

Brooches Throughout The Eras

Renaissance Brooches

Brooches from the Renaissance Era start to more closely resemble the brooches we are familiar with today. Although very few authentic examples remain, it’s clear that styles from this era were treasured for their opulence. These elaborate designs were made for members of the upper-class and were covered with pearls and precious gemstones like emeralds, diamonds, and rubies. New gemstone cutting techniques were developed during this period and were often showcased on these beautiful brooches.

Georgian Brooches

Before King George's reign over England, brooches that were simpler and more streamlined were in fashion. During the Georgian Era (which began in the early 1700s) there was a return to the opulence that was in fashion during the Renaissance Era. Brooches once again became incredibly complex. Handmade using metals like gold and silver, these elaborate designs features motifs from nature as well as miniature portraits or animals.

Neoclassical Brooches

During the Neoclassical Era, Greek and Roman themes came into fashion. Because of this, brooches from the late 1700s and early 1800s include images inspired by ancient mythology. In this era, the use of hard pastes and pottery techniques in the brooch making process also led to these decorative pieces being much more affordable. For the first time, brooches finally became available to the masses.

Victorian Brooches

It was in the Victorian Era - which extended from 1837 to 1901 - was perhaps when brooches reached their peak popularity. These stylish adornments did more than just make elegant outfits even more elaborate. Popular Cameo Brooches were made to honor loved ones. Similarly, Mourning Brooches were a symbol of the grieving process.

Art Nouveau Brooches

The Art Nouveau was a short artistic movement that took place in France from approximately 1895 until the beginning of World War I. During this time period, Victorian jewelry was heavy, dark, and somber. Jewelry from the Art Nouveau period was a reaction to this style. These pieces were instead light, airy, and ethereal. Art Nouveau brooches feature light, vibrant colors as well as nature, flowers, insects.

Edwardian Brooches

After the death of Queen Victoria, the Edwardian Era reigned. Jewelry and brooches from the early 1900s were decadent, opulent accessories that featured an array of precious gemstones and metals. For the first time, Platinum was used to create intricate filigree or lace-like details within decorative metalwork. Edwardian Brooches are delicate, whimsical, and feminine in design.

Art Deco Brooches

During the 1920s, Art Deco jewelry and accessories were all the rage. Jewelry from the Art Deco period often featured bright colors and repetitive geometric patterns. When it came to brooches, designs that borrowed ideas from Cubism and Fauvism were incredibly popular. There were also a variety of art motifs with Egyptian and Indian influence. The materials used to create these brooches included onyx, quartz, and lapis as well as other traditional gemstones.

Popular Types of Brooches

Mourning Brooches

Mourning Brooches are a type of brooch that memorializes the passing of a loved one. These styles have been around since as early as the 16th century. They usually were emblazoned with the name, birthdate, and death date of the deceased. Some also featured an image depicting the loved one’s likeness or included a genuine lock of their hair. Later, imagery featuring a Sepia-like tone was popular. Seed pearls were often included in these designs, as they were meant to symbolize falling tears. Mourning Brooches became more popular than ever during the Victorian Era. During this period, the entire nation mourned the death of the beloved Prince Albert. All across the nation, people wore brooches featuring heavy, decadent designs and dark gemstones to express their collective sentiment about the popular royal’s passing.

Aigrette Brooches

Aigrette Brooches featured detailed, feather-like designs. This type first rose to fame in the 17th and 18thcenturies and featured a resurgence in popularity around the late 19th century. They were often attached to a diadem and were fastened in a woman’s updo to make her head-to-toe look even more opulent in design.

En Tremblant Brooches

This French type of brooch is characterized by exquisite floral patterns or flowery, bouquet-like designs. Often covered in rose-cut or old-mine cut diamonds, they also included a statement flower accent that would move around and catch the light when worn. These striking accessories were popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Grand Tour Brooches

In the late 19th century, wealthy Europeans began travelling to Italy and other foreign locales. On their trips, they would purchase Grand Tour Brooches to commemorate their exciting vacation to an exotic place. These fabulous items often feature imagery that depicts the scenery or landscape of the country. The motifs were then adorned with intricate metal work or encrusted with precious gemstones. A special micro tangling technique could also be used to create elaborate depictions of birds, landscapes, or floral bouquets. These brooches were stylish souvenirs that were coveted by the upper class.

Cameo Brooches

Even in modern times, people are familiar with popular Cameo Brooches. These iconic items feature carved ivory or stone and depicted Greek legends, mythological scenes, or - most predominantly - an important person’s profile. Cameo Brooches are closely associated with the Victorian Era, as Queen Victoria often wore these accessories or bestowed them as gifts to others.

Love Brooches

In the late Victorian Era, Love Brooches became a popular accessory. These symbolic items were usually given to soldiers before they departed for battle in World War I. Emblazoned with a person’s name, these sentimental items allowed men to take a piece of home with them during their travels. Often made of lightweight metals, these tokens were an incredibly romantic ways to show your love to another.

Dress Clips

Popular during the 1920s and 1930s, Dress Clips were versatile accessories. Although they could be pinned together to create a singular brooch, they could also be separated to adorn dresses, necklines, collars, cuffs, and even shoes. Covered in diamonds and precious gemstones, many feature Art Deco patterns because of their popularity during the 1920s.

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