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History of Brooches

History of Brooches | Brooch Paradise

Brooches have always been that ornamental pin which managed to impress us with an outstanding visual appeal and incredible quality. At its core, a brooch is a safety pin or a decorative jewelry item that usually gets attached to your clothing. The history of the brooch shows that it is mainly made of metal, but it would also be made of gold or silver, especially when it comes to special pieces such as those for Queen Victoria.

They also are very decorated, either with gemstones, enamel and other things similar to that. They do have a practical function too. Most brooches tend to be used as a clothes fastener. More often than not, their focus is to be an ornament and to show a sign of class. There have been long pin and short pin brooches for many years now, and they continue to stand out with their high quality and unique set of features.

When was the first antique brooch discovered?

When was the first antique brooch discovered | Brooch Paradise

One thing to note about brooches is that they have been in our society for a very long time. The oldest date back to the Bronze Age. As people experimented with all kinds of materials, they wanted to try new ways to decorate their clothes. It is said that this is when the first brooch came on the market.

During the Iron Age, when metalworking was actually advancing at a very rapid pace, people started to bring in more kinds of brooches. The Bronze age brooches were rather simple, but in the case of the Iron Age, they became a lot more ornate. All of that came from different casting techniques. They had wire making and metal bar twisting which allowed new ways for people to create incredible objects. This brings incredible features and benefits.

Celtic brooches/Viking brooches

Celtic broochesViking brooches | Brooch Paradise

Celtic craftsmen were actually working very hard in Europe to create fibulae that had coral inlay and red enamel. This was happening at around 400 BC, so there were quite a lot of interesting options at that time.

One thing to consider about Vikings is that they were actually using brooches, despite the fact that a lot of people see them as warriors. This tells a lot about their culture. Before the early medieval period, Viking brooches were the ones that have a mantle clasp in order to stay in place. That was similar to what the celtic brooches had in the first place. The idea for the celtic ones brought the pin moving around an open ring. As a result, the pin was able to go through without damaging the piece of cloth. Normally that was not the case for most brooches at that time, which made the celtic design a very good one.

On the other hand, the Viking brooches were a part of the daily wear. It was not something very significant, instead it was a way to showcase their culture. Both men and women used brooches. Yet the most interesting thing about any type of brooch used here is that they had a very distinctive embellishment level.

Celtic broochesViking brooches | Brooch Paradise

These brooches actually showed the current  societal standing. Basically, the more embellished a brooch was, the more important that person was to society at the time. This system was very interesting and good in fact because it allowed you to show someone's status. That's what made the brooches so important in those days. 

There were also pins from the migration period. At the beginning of the medieval period, many brooches were created to present style and ideas. The Germans did a lot of iron work.

The wisigots in particular created bow brooches which were extremely ornate and visually appealing. They usually had a lot of display techniques from the Roman art such as granulation, filigree, repousse, openwork, inlay, enameling and so on. The fact that they had a lot of jewelry really pushed them to the next level, and the polishing was incredible.

During this time, they used a lot of almandine in brooches, something very similar to garnet. An interesting thing about these brooches is the fact that the designs were quite different to one another. You had running scrolls, bird motifs, abstract designs from nature, intricate patterns, geometric decorations, even zoomorfic content and many others.

Celtic broochesViking brooches | Brooch Paradise

Anglo-Saxon spindles

These brooches were extremely interesting because they were circular and contained all kinds of different gemstones. There were safety pin brooches that were much more popular before. They evolved into the band brooch which was extremely sophisticated in the early medieval period. It was also at this time that the history of cameo brooches came into play, at least one of the earliest models. Many of them also had a cross-shaped pattern.

Late medieval times

When it comes to the late medieval era, brooches were heart or star shaped, wheel, ring or pentagonal shaped. They were not heavily decorated, most of the time they either had gems on a gold or silver setting or some gems added there. Amulet brooches were very popular and they were mostly used as a sign of belief and Christianity.

Late medieval times | Brooch Paradise

Source : Pinterest/Ganfalda

Early modern brooches

During the Renaissance period there was quite the time for opulence and wealth. That’s why many of the brooches created during this era were using precious materials like topaz, diamonds, emeralds, rubies and many others. Some new cutting techniques were discovered during this time, and they managed to create whole new shapes too. For the Georgian era, what we do know is that those brooches were all about fashion. They have simple designs too, mostly animals, small portraits or bows. At that point in time, the jewelry was made with silver and gold, and it looked stunning.

When it comes to the neoclassical era, the costume jewelry were bringing things back from the past. Brooches in particular had a design from classic themes from ancient Rome and Greece.

Gemstones and pearls were still a part of these brooches, but not as popular as they once were but the beginning of the French revolution stopped the manufacture for opulent jewelry.

As you can imagine, the overall designs and materials used differed based on the place in time and other factors. It’s interesting to see how things came together. In the end it was a rather incredible time for brooches.

18th and 19th centuries

During the 18th and 19th centuries, where were quite a lot of interesting evolutions for brooches. The Victorian era brought in a lot of naturalism for the history of brooch. And that’s for a very good reason. A lot of people during that time identified with the places where they came from, and that really brought in a lot of interesting ideas and exciting options to explore. Most of these brooches were depicting things like leaves, flowers, birds and many others. However, they were also heavily focused on the idea of using yellow gold or silver.

Brooches at that time were bringing in an extremely high quality. When Victoria’s husband died, the styles turned a bit more somber and darker, they used black onyx, black enamel and jet. This is when the mourning brooches were very common. This style actually remained in a very high demand until the end of the Victorian period. Sometimes human hair was added in the brooches, and many of them actually had clasps. Again, it all came with the times and it was heavily connected to the activities in human history.

En tremblant brooches were really interesting because they had a trembling style. Usually it was a florals spray. You had the center of that flower that would move when you wore it. These were full of diamonds and they were very fashionable. A lot of people loved this style because it was new and different.

Art Nouveau

As we know, the Art Nouveau style was iconic in culture as a whole. It also affected brooches. They didn’t have a long pin, but they did have a lot of innovations. They were using flowing designs like sensuous women, insects, flowers and nature. This period started in 895 and it was quite popular until the beginning of WWI. One thing to note here is that many of the pieces from this era are still iconic, but not as complete as others.

Edwardian style brooches 

This period was a short one for brooches, between 1901 and 1910. However, the style was interesting because they started using platinum and filigree in order to make brooches look more delicate and high quality. They were also integrating gemstones, pearls and diamonds. During this period the smaller brooches were still considered to be extremely interesting and high quality. When it comes to the forms, they were using garlands, swags, ribbons and bows, among many others.

Edwardian style brooches | Brooch Paradise

Art Deco style brooches

Art Deco is widely known in history for being a time of innovation. And yes, there were all kinds of different brooches. There was Art motifs from India and Egypt were also used but they also had quartz, lapis, black onyx, as well as sapphires, rubies, diamonds and emeralds. The style was very different, but still iconic and unique. This is one of the styles that caught on very well during the 20th century. Think about it if you want to find some brooch vintage models.

1950s and beyond

During the 50s we still had the Art Deco aesthetic, so we still had bold structures, classic gems and high contrast colors. These came to be very well and they brought in a vast range of interesting ideas to the table. On top of that, there were designs like the waterfall of diamonds and many others. The en tremblant designs were also fashionable, because they were articulated, so they were moving with the person that wore them. During that time, these things were extremely hard to do, which made them very interesting and also quite expensive.

The 1960s were mostly a return to nature designs. They were using soft pinks, yellow greens and sky blue. Colored gemstones were in the early days for brooches, and that’s why many of these designs were amazing.

The 1970s and 1980s can be considered the golden age. Gold dominated the scene due to a Middle Eastern influence. And on top of that, they added cultural elements to the jewellery. The designs were very different, although natural and religious themes could still be found.

The 90s and 2000s were all about the idea of bringing in light brooches to the table. People started to wear more sophisticated clothing. As a result, brooches were not exactly the simplest item one could wear. That’s why the overall designs started to be more iconic, different and full of creative ideas. They were adding in all kinds of cool ideas to the table, to the point where the quality of these offerings was extremely appealing. That being said, the use of titanium and ebony brought in the lightness that many creators were pursuing.


One thing is certain, the history of brooches is vast and there were quite a lot of designs out there. The type of brooch you could wear was mostly tied to a time in history and what was happening. But at the same time, there was a lot of innovation and people liked the idea of coming up with designs and constantly pushing the boundaries. It was different, but it did brought in plenty of mechanics, and that’s what really inspired designers to create better and more complex designs. Yet as time went by, a return to simpler and lighter designs was warranted, which is what we are seeing today as well.