TOP Altea brooch with diamonds set in white gold, De Beers, POA. MIDDLE, LEFT TO RIGHT Butterfly clip with diamonds and mother of pearl set in white gold, Van Cleef, £11,200/$12,800. Gecko brooch with diamonds and emeralds, Graff, POA. BOTTOM, LEFT TO RIGHT Leaf brooch with brown and white diamonds set in 18ct white gold, David Morris, POA. Diamond dragonfly brooch set in platinum, Tiffany, £9,325/$10,000. Late Victorian pearl, diamond and emerald spider brooch, c.1880, Bentley & Skinner, £7,950/$10,450. Enchanted Palace bug brooch with opal and diamonds set in 18ct white gold, Garrard, £4,000/$4.500. Beetle brooch in 22ct gold with sapphire eyes, Shaun Leane, £8,500/$11,160.
When Garrard, a British jeweller, opened its first shop in Beijing in September 2018, the star of the show was a giant cluster brooch with a rare Burmese sapphire the size of a pigeon’s egg. The dramatic triple tier of white diamonds enhanced the play of light in the intense royal-blue stone of 118.88 carats – an auspicious weight in a country where the number eight is seen as lucky.
That the British jeweller made this exceptional piece for its fastest-growing overseas market is testimony to the interest that brooches command among its Chinese customers. In the first three quarters of 2018, brooch sales at Garrard increased by 250% compared with the same period the year before, mostly thanks to customers in mainland China and Russia.
In the Bronze Age simple pins were fashioned from bone. Brooches have morphed in form since then, but their function, as emblems of beauty and status, has remained constant. Yet in the past two decades many brooches have been consigned to the jewellery box as more casual dress has taken over, as well as lighter-weight clothing fabrics.
A new generation is now discovering brooches, and the pins are changing with the times. James Taffin de Givenchy, owner of New York jewellery company Taffin, reckons his clients see his brooches as mini sculptures, “an extension of their art collection”. They offer the wearer “a powerful mode of self-expression”, says Rebecca Selva of Fred Leighton, an antique jeweller in New York.
It takes confidence to wear a brooch. Garrard’s latest advertising campaign aims to give their customers the assurance to experiment. “We are trying to encourage a more modern way of wearing a brooch, whether it be down the hair, in your hat, or on the sleeve,” says Sara Prentice, the company’s creative director.
ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT Winston Cluster diamond brooch set in platinum, Harry Winston, POA. Seahorse brooch with diamonds, spinel and citrine, Marina B, £37,755/$48,000. Rolling Waves recycled sterling silver brooch, Ute Decker, £380/$510. Tartaruga brooch in white gold, diamonds, mother of pearl, red coral and rock crystal, Vhernier, £10,600/$14,700. Akoya cultured-pearl brooch in 18ct white gold, Mikimoto, £3,360/$3,700
Freed from the lapel, the brooch has become more versatile. Fred Leighton recently lent antique pins to fashion designer Hervé Pierre, who nestled them in gowns at the waist and in clusters at the shoulder for a presentation at online retailer Moda Operandi.
This adaptability is helping to increase the appeal of brooches among younger customers, says Ilias Kapsalis of Bentley & Skinner in London, an antique jeweller. Fabric-friendly smaller brooches such as Victorian bug pins are particularly popular: “Millennials want to create an individual look.” Brooches have moved from being staid and safe to sarcastic, even silly. “They add an eccentric touch and break formality with a vivid twist,” says Lucia Silvestri of Bulgari. The firm’s brooches feature 1980s-pop microphones in coloured gems.
A brooch can deliver a social or political message too. More than a century ago, imprisoned suffragettes were presented with the Holloway brooch, a silver pin depicting the portcullis symbol of the House of Commons with a prison arrow super-imposed in purple, white and green enamel. The colours were those of the radical Women’s Social and Political Union which campaigned to win women the right to vote.
More recently Lin Cheung, an artist and lecturer at Central St Martins in London, created a series of carved stone brooches after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. The brooches are a play on the ubiquitous political campaign pin, with precious stones: lapis lazuli and gold represent the blue and yellow of the European Union flag; in one pin the stars depict a sad face, in another, total collapse.
Even Queen Elizabeth seems willing to make a political point with her choice of pin. When she first met Donald Trump, the American president, on his visit to London in July 2018, she selected from her substantial collection of brooches one that Barack Obama and former First Lady, Michelle Obama, had given her in 2011 (on day two she wore a brooch in the shape of a snowflake, a term Trump uses for people who disagree with him). That’s the sign of a real pin-up.