One of the favourite parts of my jobs is looking round properties and finding some exciting treasures. I remember a few years ago I was asked to look round a property where unfortunately the owner had sadly passed away.
It was in a well to do area of West Yorkshire a large detached house I let myself in and unfortunately there was stacks of newspapers and black bags everywhere. Thinking the bags would just be filled with paperwork or rubbish I was really surprised to find that they were in fact filled with jewellery. Not just a few but probably at least 25/30 bags all filled with every type of jewellery you can image from cheap costume pieces to expensive gem set rings and especially brooches.
The team were certainly kept busy sorting the collection and we unearthed some interesting and valuable pieces.
My favourite type of jewellery is brooches but have you ever thought of their history?
Brooches can be traced back to the Bronze Age and were used as fasteners for clothing usually made out of thorns, flints and sticks and consisted of a simple pin fastened onto a circular ring. It became a useful clothing accessory to secure and fasten heavy cloaks and tunics especially in the cold winter months.
When did the brooch become a more decorative piece of jewellery? Well in the Byzantine period the first brooches were made that were set with gemstones, enamelling and pearls. These brooches were still a functional clothing fastener but were a way of showing a person’s wealth and position in society. By the Middle Ages brooches became a true piece of jewellery used for adornment and decoration to a dress or jacket.
In the Georgian period brooches were often foil backed and had enclosed settings. This all enchased the colour and lustre of the gemstones.
The Victorians loved brooches and they became widely available to the masses and soon became a fashion statement. Lavish designs depicting flowers, insects and birds were a popular design. A design called Aigrette was the height of fashion and was shaped like a feather often set with flat cut diamonds and on the Continent the En Tremblant brooch which had parts that moved slightly to catch the light and make the gemstones glisten were popular forms of brooches.
After Queen Victoria’s husband died the Queen began wearing darker pieces of jewellery to reflect her mourning and so the mourning brooch was invented. These often encased a lock of the deceased person’s hair to the back or even had a border of knotted and plaited hair. Probably not something we would want to wear today.
In the 1920-30’s angular diamond set brooches were popular. They often came in two parts and could be often as one brooch or separately perhaps on either side of a collar and were known as a clip brooch.
Some of my favourite modern brooches are made by the Danish silversmith Georg Jensen (1866-1935) whose brand still continues today. Their silver jewellery is usually quite simple in design often featuring naturalistic forms such as flowers and foliage and also birds and animals in a stylised contemporary way. We often sell jewellery by Georg Jensen in our fortnightly sales of silver and jewellery and they can be brought for around £100-200.