The History of the Brooch

Lady with brooch for blog on history of the brooch

Have you noticed how brooches are turning up on the Catwalks more and more? Well, we have. Brooches are becoming a big thing again and we can understand why.  

Brooches are a perfect jewellery accessory and such a statement piece of jewellery. They have conveyed messages without saying a single word and we LOVE this idea.  

Fashion experts regularly write articles on the latest brooch Queen Elizabeth has worn to an event. They want the know the meaning behind the brooch the Queen wore at a particular time and what she really felt. They really believe she is making a statement with the brooch she wears. 

We have written a whole blog post on the meaning of brooches, including those worn by celebrities at different times. We have also created a blog post on the different ways you can wear a brooch – and you’ll be surprised at how many there are. 

But what is the origins and the history of the brooch? Brooches didn’t start out as statement pieces like this. The history of the brooch was they started as functional pieces of a person’s wardrobe and, as craftsmanship developed and they made new materials, so too did these pieces become more elaborate and decorative. 

In this blog post we’re going to talk about how brooches developed over time to become what they are today. 

The Invention and The History of The Brooch

As we saw in The History of Jewellery, brooches were invented as functional objects to hold garments together. Buttons and zips, had not yet been invented and so a type of “pin” was made to hold clothing together at certain parts of the body. 

Artisans at the time made these pins, or brooches, of metal (although not silver and gold to start with) and often had enamelling or gemstones added for decoration. 

The First Brooches

The earliest brooches were created in the Bronze Age. As metal work became more advanced during the Iron Age these began to be made in tin or copper alloy and were made in one piece. 

A Fibula

During the Middle Ages these were known as Fibula – yes, that bone in the lower part of your leg called a fibula was so named because it looked like a metal pin or early brooch! 

Archaeological evidence has shown that even as early as 400 BC red enamels were being used in Fibula’s and, in Britain, they have found pieces that date back before Christ.  

The first shapes created and regularly crafted after the fibula were a bow, a plate, and what is called a penannular.  

The Migration Period

In Europe during the 5th and 6th Centuries, groups of Germanic tribes separated to different areas of Europe. But each group had the same or similar craft techniques which each took with them. This was so distinctive that it became known as the Migration Period Art and one key characteristic of it was colour. 

The Roman influence was also apparent who, advanced in metalworking, with effects such as filigree, enamelling, inlay and openwork. Gemstones were also added.

They took inspiration from nature and animals and these brooches were still functional but much more decorative. 

The Anglo-Saxon Period

From the 5th Century onwards, circles were used more and more in brooch design and Penannular brooches described above became the norm. At this time, the safety pin clasp became a feature – before this brooches had merely been a pin pushed through the fabric.

Celtic Brooches

The Celts were skilled artists and their pieces quite elaborate. 

A Penannular Brooch

A penannular brooch is a circular shape but is an incomplete ring, with a long pin attached to the top of the ring.  A pseudo-penannular brooch is very similar although the ring is complete. 

Bronze zoomorphic penannular brooch

Bronze Penannular Brooch. Credit: Hunt Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Fasten a Penannular Brooch

You gather the material past the pin through the material where you want to hold it in place. You will then lower the ring down, on top of the material so that the end of the pin passes through the gap in the circle. You then turn or twist the ring to hold it all in place.  

This video illustrates how it fastens very well. 

Tara Brooch

The famous Tara Brooch which was found in Ireland in 1850, dated to around 700 AD, and is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland – although not before being exhibited in London, Paris and Windsor Castle.  It was such an important find that they now regard it as Ireland’s greatest piece of jewellery.  

It is an elaborate piece and shows the fine workmanship of the Celts. It was created in the penannular or pseudo-panannular style already mentioned, made in cast and gilt silver, with filigree gold on the front and fine decoration, with glass, amber and enamel. There was a large pin, that went through the ring. 

Credit: “Tara Brooch in NMI, back: ” By: Johnbod. Source: Wikimedia, via Wikimedia Commons” class=”rank-math-link”>Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA

Credit: Tara Brooch at National Museum of Ireland”. By Johnbod. Source: Wikimedia Commons Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

Around the middle ages, Scandinavian influences meant animals and nature were incorporated into brooches. This then changed somewhat after the influence of the Vikings and their many raids and invasions. Intertwined rings, knots and animals became the thing.

Medieval and Late Medieval Times

Brooches changes somewhat during these times where they became much more meaningful rather than functional. 


Amulets are tokens that were said to help protect you, with special powers of keeping you or a loved one safe, and given as gifts during Medieval times. This included Pagan symbols and deities, often with gemstones which were also thought to possess powers of protection and good fortune.

During the Late Medieval Age genuine gold and silver started being used and shapes like the star, pentagons, and heart shapes became used. 

This shows that the brooch was becoming much more of a meaningful piece of jewellery to wear.  Brooches became smaller and were worn at the nape of the neck. Engraved inscriptions were now sometimes added onto the pieces and were often set with gemstones during this time. 

Brooches became gifts of friendship and love and became treasured pieces of jewellery.

Three Dimensional Brooches

During the 14th Century the first three-dimensional brooch was created. There is a famous swan brooch, called the Dunstable Swan Brooch it is on display in the Museum of Natural History in London. It is so-named as they excavated it in 1965 on Dunstable Friary. Worn as an allegiance to an important person (thought to have been the Prince of Wales and subsequently King Henry V). 

Livery Badges

Livery badges appeared between 1400-1600 by important people and worn by their supporters to show their allegiance. As many wars and battles broke out at the time, important people had their emblem created on a badge and gave it to their most important supporters.  This idea then became mass-produced, almost, to include in the lower-class supporters and “employees”, in which case they were often made of cloth.  

From 1300 to 1600

Enamelling was still continuing in the production of brooches as well as topaz, amber and other gemstones, including diamonds. Religious symbology formed a huge part of decorative art and this included brooches. 

From 1800 onwards, travel to far-flung places meant many new gems were discovered and brought back and brooches with gemstones and pearls became seen. During Queen Victoria’s reign, flowers, bows and hearts were extensively used, as well as brooch lockets.

When Prince Albert died and Queen Victoria went into her extended period of mourning, fashion followed suit and brooches (as well as other jewellery) became less frilly and sparkly and more muted and sombre.  Marcasite became popular now for its understated elegance with a little sparkle and gemstones such as black onyx and jet became de rigeur.

Mourning Brooches

Mourning Brooches carried a lock of hair within them and were created into quite beautiful design. These became so meaningful, that they eventually extended to brooches holding a locket of hair of a living loved one. 

Brooch, mourning (AM 1965.105-3)

Credit: “Brooch, Mourning. Brooch small oval brooch, possibly a mourning brooch; light brown curled design in either hair or thread; paper backing. Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, 1965.105, col.0750.2. By: Unknown. From: Wikipedia Commons Licence: CC BY 4.0

En Tremblant

A French term, meaning “to tremble”, it consists of a part, ususally set with diamonds,  that sits on a type of spring, called a “trembler” which moves as the wearer does. The effect, as you can image, is quite dazzling.

Art Nouveau 

Credit: “Gold brooch in the form of a profile head with flowing hair in chased gold with a face of coral and a cap of mother-of-pearl, set with rubies and diamonds and with a pearl drop. Description from the British Museum” circa 1902. By: Uknown, possibly Rene Boivin. Source: Wikimedia Commons @Trustees of the British Museum. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

With this period, started in France as a sort of rebellion against the staid British fashion at the time, long flowing lines and flowers were incorporated into jewellery designs.  This included brooches of lady’s with long, flowing hair. 

The Grand Tour 

Members of the aristocracy would bring home brooches from their Grand Tour, just like we would purchase and bring home memento’s from our holidays. 

The Edwardian Era

Three antique silver brooches isolated on white. Credit: Deposit Photos

During the reign of King Edward before the war, platinum was used for the first time and was used extensively with diamonds. Designs of flowers, garlands, ribbons and swags were popular. 

Art Deco

The angles and geometry of the Art Deco period included inlays of enamels, lapis lazuli, onyx and jet as well as Mother-of-Pearl and marcasite. 

Modern Day

Sadly brooches never really recovered after the frugal years of the Second World War and, for decades, have been seen as old-fashioned and dowdy.  The Queen, who continued to wear stunning brooches, was not scrutinised the way she is today with her choice of brooch.  Yet they are making a huge come-back.  


Many celebrities have worn brooches to important occasions and premieres. There are a fabulous variety of ways to wear them and men are joining including some big names such as Elton John. Some men are wearing them on their jackets and there has even been a call for them to wear a brooch instead of a tie. 

We think Brooches are hugely understated items of jewellery and believe they are likely to get more attention as time goes on.

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