Historical Object Series: B is for Brooch

Memoirs of a Teapot aims to share what objects tell us about the past. So tune in for a new series discussing different historical objects from A-Z! Each post will include either the personal story of a specific artefact or a historical background of an object type. Feel free to comment with object suggestions.

B is for Brooch

The first words that pop into my head when I think of antiques is ‘beautiful’ and ‘worth’. So often we associate antiques with monetary worth. But looking into a collection of 20th century brooches reminded me that the personal and historical value of these objects is far more important and far more interesting! A piece of costume jewellery has sentimental value even if it’s cracked or chipped, if the gold leaf is rubbing off, or if it is an imitation. Today’s post is about a collection of brooches. They probably aren’t worth much, but each has a story to tell.


The Brooch’s Past

The brooch goes back to ancient Roman times and before. Its original purpose was to hold a cloak together or a tunic or toga around the body. The Romans called them fibulae. The Jewellery Editor has a short and sweet history of the brooch if you’d like to know more. But for the moment, we’re going to scoot forward in time to the 20th century.

Today, jewellers, historians, and antiques experts use a variety to terms to classify jewellery in terms of its style and period of creation. These classifications can also refer to architecture and fashion and many overlap; this can make classifying a piece of jewellery pretty confusing! The two periods that kept cropping up in my research were the Edwardian 1901-15 and the Art Deco 1915-35. The first period is characterised by delicate jewellery designs often made with platinum and set with diamonds and the second is known for simple geometric styles.

Costume Jewellery

Costume jewellery is a term used from about the 1920’s onwards. It describes inexpensive jewellery that doesn’t necessarily use precious stones or metals. New materials created as a result of the Industrial Revolution (like Bakelite) allowed jewellery designers to experiment and create trendy jewellery. Costume jewellery allowed you to follow the fads and to buy and discard jewellery as it went in and out of fashion. ‘Paste’ costume jewellery was also inexpensive, but generally copied a more expensive design that was available at the time.

Where to Investigate a Brooch

The brooches that I have been researching are quite varied in style, but from the start I was fairly sure they were all produced in the 20th century. So the first thing I did was to look up antique and vintage stores online to check out their listings. This helped me narrow down the history of the brooches in my collection. I also began examining the brooches themselves and researched the types of metals, clasps, stones, and settings used in them and in the 20th century, to look for similarities. If you have a piece of jewellery that you’d like to find out more about, Lang Antiques has a great online resource on jewellery history and The Spruce has some nifty articles on settings, stones, and clasps.

Bar Brooch

The Bar Brooch

Lets dive in to dating a brooch! I love this one; a petite bar brooch. The markings on the side indicate that it is 15ct gold and hints at the jeweller who created it with the impressed symbols ‘A’ and ‘S’. Unfortunately I’m still trying to identify this! The brooch has a single diamond surrounded by finely worked metal bars and hearts. The stone is surrounded by a circle of tiny metal balls which is a setting called millegrain. This is common to the Edwardian period as well as the 1920’s and 30’s.

At the back of the brooch, one link indicates that it once had a safety chain attached. You can also see the ‘C’ clasp, first invented in the 1890’s and used into the 1900’s. Today’s common safety clasp with a rollover ball wasn’t invented until the 1920’s.

So, time to pull all of that information together! Given the geometric design and the C clasp, I think it was produced in the 1920’s. But not being a jewellery expert, I would like to find out more from a professional and see if I’m right!

Bar Brooch

The Rhinestone Brooch

This one is clearly costume jewellery! It has scuff marks and the rhinestones are quite irregular in appearance. But in it’s heyday, this brooch would have been pretty and striking nonetheless. I think it’s a 1960’s creation. What I like about this brooch is that it lead me to find out more about rhinestones. They were actually first invented by Daniel Swarovski in 1955 out of crystal. Not surprisingly, other companies imitated these rhinestones en masse, making them incredibly popular and very common in the 50’s and 60’s. I’d say they’re still popular today really!


Stay tuned for some more brooch stories in the coming months!

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