Brooches are considered by many a staple of accessory culture. From high fashion to vintage brooches, there are plentiful styles and intricately beautiful designs with interesting history attached. In this day, high end brands like Boucheron, Chanel, Chopard, and Chaumet to name a few, are very desirable to many seekers, and collectors of brooches alike. By way of high end brands, there are many cultural influences as well, that greatly impact the affinity towards brooches. However, Within the new generaton its quite common for many women to find the appeal of jewlery to lean more towards the ‘bling’, ‘gleam’ and ‘glitter’ side. A prime example of a cultural influence who is rarely ever seen without a brooch is Queen Elizabeth II. She has maintained strong affinity with broohes and although many believe brooches fall into the category of 'royal accessories', they have a long history of use and functionality as well. The first recorded uses of brooches were constructed from flint and thorn and began as a basic utilitarian form of pinning clothing together. The Brooches that came later were mainly used from metal are dated back to the Bronze age. During the Byzantine era the use of brooches began highly ornamental, they were still used a fastener for scarves, shawls, etc, but they quickly grew into more fashionable designs as accessories rather than just a clothing fastener.
Similar to her forms of mourning jewelry, brooches were worn after the passing or bereavement of a loved one, to honor and commemorate the ones before us. Mourning jewellery had been around since the 16th century, these brooches took on various designs and featured intricate details during the height of their popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. In early Georgian times, they were often a provision in wills, to be distributed to esteemed family and friends. In the late 18th century, mourning miniatures came into vogue. Many of these mourning brooches depicted sepia scenes of sorrow, mounted on ivory, and incorporated hair of the deceased and seed pearls (representative of tears). They were inscribed with the name and date of birth and death of the deceased on the back and sometimes had a compartment for hair. The other, most widely recognised, form of mourning brooch is one containing the hair of a lost loved-one. Although not all hair jewelry is a memento of death, in this context, hair is woven under crystal or glass, with designs that represent eternity and stones that represent loss and tears. Mourning brooches are most widely associated with Queen Victoria’s two-decade-long mourning of Prince Albert. During the Queen’s mourning, hair brooches as well as black jewellery of Whitby Jet, vulcanite and other black fabricated and natural stones provided the materials for brooches in various sentimental motifs.
[16th Century Mourning Brooch, containing hair of the deceased.]
Celtic brooches (or Viking brooches)
Celtic brooches were primarily used as cloak fasteners and worn by Celts and Vikings, the first Celtic brooches were seen in the Early Medieval period in Ireland and Britain and feature a long pin attached to a ring. The pin moves around the ring, which is open, allowing the pin to pass through without leaving a permanent hole in the clothing. In Viking times, brooches were worn everyday by both men and women, and were available with a diverse level of detailing.
[Medieval Celtic brooch]
Feather-shaped and set with flat-cut garnets or diamonds in silver or silver-topped gold, the aigrette was the height of fashion during the 17th and 18th centuries and once again in the 19th and 20th centuries. Worn in the hair and often attached to a diadem, aigrette brooches were often very detailed, with tiny birds flying around the plume.
[Aigrette feather brooch ca. 19th century]
En tremblant brooches
En tremblant is a French term meaning to tremble and defines a type of brooch, most often a floral spray, where the centre of the flower is attached to a mechanism that allows it to move when worn. These types of brooches were set with rose-cut or old-mine cut diamonds, or both, and were fashionable in the 18th and 19th century, before the advent of electricity. The trembling effect was most striking when the diamonds moved in candlelight.
[En tremblant brooch ca. 19th century]
Grand tour brooches
To reflect cultural sophistication in the latter part of the 19th century, the Grand Tour was the standard European vacation for the upper classes. While travelling through Venice, Florence and Rome, tourists bought these small jewellery souvenirs of their trip, the subject of which included ancient Roman architecture and pictorial scenes, flowers, animals and birds.
Grand tour brooches were predominately depicted in two types of mosaic inlays, pietra dura and glass tessera. Pietra dura, in Italian, means hard stone, and the inlay process involved precisely cutting and fitting like a puzzle semi-precious stones of malachite, lapis, aventurine and turquoise to create scenes or motifs on a black background. The micro mosaic technique was used to create landscapes, birds and all styles of flowers and floral bouquets in miniature, crafted from inlaid glass tessera or rods fitted closely together.
[Grand tour brooches ca. 19th century]
Although cameos - hard stone and shell carved in relief - date back to ancient times, they also formed part of the souvenirs of the Grand Tour. Many associate cameo brooches with Queen Victoria, who had a deep fondness for them and would often bestow a gift of a likeness of Prince Albert or herself on members of the court and staff. But the most alluring cameo brooches through time depict a narrative – legends, mythological scenes or gods and goddesses. The best examples, in which you can see and feel the layers of the stone that has been carved, were made from hard stone.
[Cameo brooch ca. 19th century]
Love brooches (or sweetheart brooches)
These were sometimes called ‘sweetheart brooches’, but historically there was another type of sweetheart brooch – those that were given by soldiers to their loved-ones as they marched off to WWI. The love brooches of the late Victorian aesthetic period were crafted from sheets of silver and designed as tokens of affection, with motifs and messages first seen in the sentimental jewellery of the Georgian and Romantic period in the Victorian Era.
Due to the fact that they were lightweight and crafted in silver, with overlays of rose and yellow gold, almost all social classes could own or gift these lovely little keepsakes. Decorated with everything from lovebirds and double hearts to well wishes, good tidings and positions in the family, these brooches captured the passions of prior times and allowed the masses to experience the romance of giving or receiving them.
[Love brooch (date unknown)]
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