Throwback Jewels – The Brooch

Throwback jewels – the brooch. This month’s contribution by our jewellery blogger Marika Azzopardi. 

Precisely 10 years ago, the US’s first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright published a gorgeous book called ‘Read my Pins – Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box’. This book was promptly followed by a full-blown exhibition of her 200-strong pin – aka brooch – collection at the MOMA, the Smithsonian and the LBJ Presidential Library. Albright ultimately donated the entire collection to the United States Diplomacy Center.

In the later years of her career, Albright tactfully used these jewels to express unspoken diplomatic nuances, recognising how they could become her allies in statecraft, assisting her to pass on a timely message. The press would scrutinize which pin she was wearing to which state event and try to decipher what was going to happen behind closed doors.

This book and exhibition put the pin or brooch firmly back in the limelight. (The Americans call them pins, no matter their size; the English traditionally call them all brooches. In fashion, both words refer to the same jewellery item – something that is pinned to a garment. However the smaller versions are more likely to be called pins than brooches.) The jewel is an art form in itself, one that accessorises outfits in a big way, and has enjoyed a glorious comeback on fashion catwalks this year. If you think there is nothing more to the jewel than a timid attempt to dress up a mint coloured morning coat, English monarch style, you are grossly mistaken.

Collecting brooches/pins can be extremely inspiring. Many antique brooches reflect the circumstances of the times they were made in. Take wooden brooches for instance. These were popular during the World War II era. There was a practical reason for this – metals were uniquely reserved for the war effort and the production of arms. Jewellery designers such as the American Miriam Haskell created exquisitely made beaded brooches fashioned entirely out of string and wood, save for a tiny metal pin at the back. Animal figurals were also popular, all hand-carved out of wood. As always, inventive designers found a way of making do with what was readily available.

Another unique collectable brooch is the 1960s Mod fashion flower power version. These largish enamelled brightly coloured floral pins are fascinating in their diversity, pretty and fun. The flower power era born out of the anti-Vietnam war movement, brought the simple flower to the fore, so that a cultural legacy spilt over into fashionwear. Bright florals became extremely fashionable not only for clothing but also for interiors and the fashion stretched into the 1970s, spurred on by such things as the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine video, which reflects all the colours of the rainbows, plus of course, plenty of coloured blooms.

There are other interesting brooches to collect and the list is practically endless – from classic hand-cut cameos to jelly-belly animalia, from floral enamelled bouquets to sparkly star-shaped designs, from micro mosaic scenic creations to filigree in silver or gold, from brutalist goldtone abstracts to rhinestone posies.

Are you slightly tempted?

Did you enjoy reading Throwback Jewels – The Brooch? For more fascinating jewellery articles, check out Marika’s previous article here

Marika Azzopardi
Marika Azzopardi

Having worked in the beauty business and fine-tuned my senses to the art of making people beautiful, I turned to writing and have been a freelance writer for the past 20+ years. This included the experience of being a newsroom journalist, writing short stories for children and adults plus blogging. In the meantime, I found time to become an art historian and specialise in vintage and antique jewellery most especially 19th Century Maltese Filigree jewellery. This led me to also research vintage fashion wear and discover just how art, fashion and jewellery are closely linked. Because jewellery is portable, wearable art. Because clothing is an extension of art. Because art is about being surrounded by beautiful things.