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Types of Brooches and Brooch Clasps

Brooches have been making a comeback over the past few years, with the world’s most renowned fashion houses like Gucci and Dior sending models down the runway adorned with brooches on their lapels, on silk scarves, and in their hair.

This brooch revival has not gone unnoticed by jewellery collectors, and antique brooches have seen a surge in popularity. If you love brooches and are looking for a timeless piece of jewellery to add to your collection, consider an antique brooch. At Gatsby Jewellery, we have a wide range of antique brooches, from antique Victorian jewellery to Art Deco jewellery and Mid-Century jewellery pieces – there’s something for every style and preference.

What are brooches used for?

Brooches are a classic accessory, worn for centuries. Today they are regarded as items of adornment. But brooches were originally functional items, intended to secure pieces of cloth to the wearer.

The oldest brooches date back to the Bronze Age, made with thorns and flint and later with metal. It wasn’t until the Roman-Byzantine period in the 3rd century that brooches took on a more decorative purpose – worn by men and women to fasten a scarf or shawl or accessorise an outfit.

Over time, brooches have gained symbolism through their striking designs. From the 18th century, mourning brooches became a popular way of remembering a loved one, often by incorporating hair in their design. Often, intricate pictures were set under glass on a brooch, depicting scenes that represented death. They were frequently embellished with precious gems and metals, and worn over the heart of the mourner to signify closeness.

Types of brooches

Bar Brooch

Bar brooches, a type of pin brooch come in all shapes and sizes and are perhaps the most readily available due to their easy-to-use fastening. Once attached to the wearer’s lapel, the brooch pin hooks through a looped fastening.

This beautiful Art Deco Tourmaline Pin Brooch is set on a white gold, knife-edge pin, making it an elegant addition to any outfit – truly reminiscent of the era in which it was made.

tourmaline pin brooch

Pendant Brooch

Pendant brooches are versatile pieces of jewellery, designed to be easily transformed from a necklace into a brooch. Pendant brooches often feature concealed bales to their reverse, so that a chain can be subtly attached. Similarly, the pin will often be completely invisible from the front of the pendant, often hidden behind the design.

This dramatic Victorian Sapphire Brooch is a perfect example of the dual nature of pendant brooch design.

victorian sapphire brooch

Portrait Brooch

In the 18th century, miniature portrait painting was a genteel pastime. Painted on ivory, porcelain, or mother of pearl, these delicate portraits were often commissioned by the subject themselves or a close family member. A portrait brooch would have been worn to secure a shawl or scarf, or perhaps at the base of a neckline.

By the time this Natural Pearl & Enamel Portrait Brooch was created around 1910, miniature portraiture had fallen from favour. This brooch was likely made to reference the elegant fashions of the past.

victorian portrait brooch

Foliate Brooch

Foliate brooches are traditionally decorated with leaves or floral motifs. These stunning brooches are often worn to signify friendship or love. In the 19th century, forget-me-nots were a popular flower seen in many different items of jewellery – often embellished with turquoise.

This Art Deco Tourmaline, Opal & Diamond Foliate Brooch is a breath-taking example of 20th-century foliate brooches. With an opal centre, each delicately carved tourmaline leaf is framed by diamond dewdrops. From behind each translucent leaf, 18-carat gold veins act as a basket for the brooch.

leaf brooch

Enamel Brooch

Enamelling is the process of fusing powdered glass to metal, allowing craftspeople to create stunning coloured designs without the overuse of gemstones. The process of enamelling dates back thousands of years, with evidence of the process found in archaeological remains of Ancient Greece.

This Victorian Diamond & Turquoise Enamel Brooch is an excellent example of the vividness of colour found in enamel jewellery. The blue of the enamel is a beautiful contrast to the yellow gold surround.

blue enamel brooch

Brooch clasp types

Different brooch styles use different clasps and fastens to secure them to your clothing or hair. You can often use the type of clasp a brooch has to estimate the period that the brooch is from, as different eras saw different techniques in brooch-making.

‘C’ Clasps

A ‘C’ clasp features a long, strong metal pin which is used to attach the brooch to your clothing, which is then secured by a C-shaped piece of metal that the pin can be hooked underneath, securing it in place. These clasps were popular throughout the Victorian era, from around 1850 until 1910.

Trombone clasp

A trombone clasps gets their name from the musical instrument, which needs to be pushed and pulled while played. This is because a trombone clasp operates in much the same way, with the fastening pin secured in place by a slim, metal casing which can be push over the end of it, surrounding it and securing it into place. This fastening was used most commonly between the 1940s to 1980s, with Chanel using this fasten within their own designs from the time.

Locking safety catch

This clasp uses a rotating catch to enclose the pin, securing it into place. These fastens first rose in popularity amongst jewellers within the 1920s and 30s but are the most common type of brooch clasp used today.

How to wear a brooch

Whatever your style, there’s always an elegant way to use a brooch to accessorise an outfit, hat or hairstyle.

As part of your hairstyle

At weddings or other formal occasions, consider wearing your antique brooch in your hair. Whether it’s pinned into a chignon or adorns the side of your fishtail plait, using your brooch to accessorise hints at the importance of heritage, tradition and family.

On the neckline

Traditionally, brooches were worn in the centre of a sweeping neckline, drawing the eye to the centre of a woman’s evening dress. Similarly, if you have a dress with a deep V back, pin your brooch at its base to add a bit of interest to an otherwise minimal dress.

To secure your necktie or headscarf

Use your brooch to secure your necktie or headscarf, as well as adding a touch of personality. To draw attention to the brooch, be sure to avoid clashing patterns, and place it where it can easily be seen.

On the lapel

Brooches are traditionally worn on the lapel or breast of a jacket. Take influence from classic looks of the past and wear your brooch every day or on special occasions.

Browse our full range of antique brooches and pins, beautiful pieces of jewellery in a diverse mix of styles, from the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and Art Deco eras.