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A History and Evolution of Brooches

Oct 01, 2020 | Ileana Djujic

Broches did not start out as jewels. Yet, I find them to be the most fascinating jewelry pieces ever made. For one, they are not limited to any specific part of the body, shape, or form. This gives them the creative freedom and makes them stand out. And still, they are the only jewelry objects that cannot actually stand on their own or be tied to the body itself, that is. They are quite mysterious, yet they have the oldest history among all jewels. Simply put, they are captivating and contradictory – like all good quality art is.

Brooches are more than just a bling! They are the objects of distinction worth of our study and examination. To understand them better, read on about their rich history and evolution throughout the ages.


Bronze Age


Dating back to Bronze age, broches started out as strictly functional and utilitarian items whose purpose was to secure a piece of clothing. During this time period, brooches were unadorned pins usually made from thorns and pieces of flint. They were practical. Vikings and Celtics used them to fasten their cloaks and similar attire when marching into battles.

Bronze age viking brooch


Byzantine Era


This is the era in which broaches grew to be a bit more decorative incorporating materials such as gemstones, enamel, and pearls. They still had mainly functional use although it was expanded to scarves and shawls. However, with these higher-quality materials, brooches were no longer seen as solely practical items but also as objects of status. They were indicative of or social rankings and wealth. In other words, the brooch became a status symbol.


14th century Byzantine era brooch with gold, spinel, and sapphire


Victorian Era


The Victorian era marked massive socioeconomic changes in Great Britain which gave way to new jewelry styles and craft techniques. This is when brooches started to become more ornamental and less functional. Apart from their versatility in design and uses, brooches also started displaying different themes, such as animals for example, especially snakes and serpents. This is to say the Victorian era introduced symbolism as an important motif in brooches.


Early 19th century Victorian era garnet serpent brooch


Modern Times


Brooches reached its peak during the 19th century. With Queen Elizabeth II being a huge fan, she paraded them on many of her outfits and the world started copying her style. Jewelry firms jumped on the bandwagon too, satisfying the demand. This was the time when brooches were catching more of a trend.

Then, brooches sort of took a step back in the 20th century. Even though this was the time when costume jewelry and the cocktail brooch came to exist, not many showed their inclinations towards these objects.


Modern times brooch with turquoise and pearl



21st Century – The Revival of Brooches


21st century saw brooches get their mojo back! This is evident not only in all fashion agendas across red carpet, but in the auction houses too. All high-end jewelry designers feature brooches in their most important collections. Some of those include Cartier, Oscar de La Renta, Tiffany and Co., Versace, Channel, and my personal favorite – Van Cleef & Arpels. Van Cleef & Arpels truly designs distinctive brooches with eternal elegance and style.


Van Cleef & Arpels 18K yellow gold leopard brooch pin



Elizabeth Taylor wearing Van Cleef & Arpels brooch


Closing Thoughts


In conclusion, if I can think of one word to describe brooches, I would say they are iconic! They got class and sass. They are playful, yet tasteful. And most importantly, they are versatile.

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