In the meeting of two great women – the First Lady of China Peng Liyuan and Queen Elizabeth II, in October 2015 – there was a jewellery piece which they were both wearing, the brooch, that linked our past and present. From antiquity to contemporaneity, the brooch has truly come into its own, not only as a jewellery category but also an important item for every serious collector and enthusiast.
Just what is the function of the brooch? Is it really just an adornment? Its history can be traced to the Bronze Age in Europe, when the brooch was used to secure a garment, long before the button had been invented. Crafted in iron or bronze, the first brooches were predominantly functional, not decorative. It was not until the rise of the aristocracy in the Middle Ages that the brooch took on a new role, signifying power and personal identity. In those days, the brooch was indispensable for men as well as women.
The brooch, which used to be worn by royal family members as a reminder of their ancestor’s image, has evolved beyond tradition and identity. In fact, since the beginning of the 20th century, this jewellery category has witnessed an unprecedented popularity among women, who love its wide variety of designs and symbolic meanings that allow them to express individuality on whatever occasion.
Today, all kinds of materials, from precious metals and rare gemstones to semi-precious stones, are used for brooches, in line with contemporary jewellery tastes. Whether seen on the UK Prime Minister Theresa May or aristocratic women, the brooch still holds a fascination for the public with its classicism, elegance and sobriety.
Apparently the Duke of Windsor was also a fan of jewellery, and personally commissioned many unique designs for the Duchess that have become classics. A perfect example is the Cartier Panther sapphire clip brooch whose 3-dimensional design is as relevant today as when it was created nearly 70 years ago.
The brooch proved its versatility when silverscreen siren Elizabeth Taylor wore a Bulgari creation featuring a 23.44-carat Columbian emerald presented to her as an engagement gift in 1962 by fifth husband Richard Burton, who would subsequently give her a stunning emerald necklace with which she could wear the brooch as a pendant. Its ingenious design and craftsmanship are simply timeless. It remained one of her favourite pieces of jewellery until her death in 2011.
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Another enduring theme for the brooch is nature. Fauna and flora breathe life into the designs, and the gemsetting techniques applied to colourful stones succeed in evoking the vibrancy and tactility of animals and flowers. The strongly 3-dimensional nature of brooches gives them a unique edge over other jewellery categories. This, along with their intrinsically classical elegance, makes brooches well worth taking into consideration on your next jewellery shopping expedition.
In 1940, Jeanne Toussaint, Jewellery Creative Director at Cartier, designed a flamingo brooch for the Duchess of Windsor, who had the gemstones from her vintage jewellery collection used and re-set into this piece. Following the Duchess’s death, the brooch was auctioned in 1987 for an already high price, and it went under the hammer again in 2010 for USD $2,520,000, a 35% increase in value.
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Elizabeth Taylor’s Bulgari emerald brooch was auctioned for USD $6,578,500 – an average of USD $280,000 per carat – a world-record high for an emerald solitaire jewellery piece.
The Métamorphoses de Daphné brooch in 18K white gold sets oval-cut spinels on an unusual leaf design for a twist of nature-inspired elegance.
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Van Cleef & Arpels
The Parisian maison has been creating animal-themed brooches since the 20th century. From the new Arche de Noe collection, this new brooch features lazurite and turquoise on the wings of two vividly crafted parrots in flight.
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