Throughout the history of dress, brooches have served many functions. They were initially invented solely for utilitarian purposes– to hold together cloaks and tunics during ancient times of the Roman Empire. Eventually, they took on a more cosmetic purpose, becoming more embellished with stones and jewels. They were worn specifically as an ornamental bauble. Today, brooches are still a popular form of jewelry, one that can add flash and fun to any ensemble, and there are many different types available.
A cameo brooch, often called a portrait brooch, is characterized by a small three-dimensional face planted on a rounded metal base, which has a pin attached to the back. Cameo jewelry, including pendants, rings and earrings, dates back to the fifteenth century, but it wasn’t until the Victorian Era (1837-1901) that cameo brooches became a fashionable must-have accessory. The faces are carved out of shell, glass or stone and traditionally feature the faces of Greek or Roman goddesses and famous heads of state.
For glamorous events and black tie parties, gemstone-encrusted brooches are a way to add a dash of glitz to an ensemble. A staple of 1920’s flapper dressing, the jeweled brooch became a functional (and fun) way to hold up stockings while out dancing at the local jazz club. And with the advent of costume jewelry, pieces crafted of non-precious metals and fake stones, during that time, sparkling brooches became more affordable. Even today, costume brooches can be found almost anywhere jewelry is sold.
Stick pin brooches look just like they sound: a long, thin piece of metal with a sharp point at the bottom end and a fancy bauble at the top. They are descended from the spina, a pin made out of a single thorn, worn by ancient Romans to fasten their clothing closed. During the modern era, stick brooches became available in different sizes, their lengths dependent upon their function. Hat pins are longer and used to secure a hat into a woman’s hair, while lapel pins are shorter and worn to dress up a men’s suit.
One of the oldest types of brooches is the annular brooch. Also called the ring brooch, this style dates all the way back to the fifth century in Europe. Annulars have a very simple open design of a ring with a pin that stretches down the back. Similar is the penannular brooch, which also has a ring shape, but the circle is broken at some point. Both variations can be plain or encrusted with gems or even embossed with intricate designs.
References and ResourcesEncyclopedia Britannica: Brooch
Encyclopedia Britannica: Fibula
Antiques Journal: Victorian Cameos
Guyot: History of Broochs
Ashmolean Museum: Annular Brooches
American Hatpin Society: A Brief History of Hatpins
The Find: Stick Pin Brooch
The Cameo Collection: The History of Cameos
Lemondrop Vintage: 1920s jewelry…I’d like some
Archaeology Wordsmith: Annular