Pin Me Down... How I Style Antique Brooches

I've been going through a long period of brooch love... there's something deeply romantic and timeless about a brooch.  I find myself thinking of brooches as 'jewels' in the archaic sense of the word; something finely wrought and with deep meaning, designed to be pinned to the self for the purposes of adornment and symbolism.

In recent times, brooches have fallen rather out of favour, to be replaced at the top of the popularity lists by rings and necklaces. "They're so old-fashioned" or "brooches are so difficult to wear!". I would have to disagree on both of these counts!

Rings are limited to fingers, and necklaces are limited to necks (unless you have one of an especial length where it can be wound about the wrist or ankle in an exact ratio to be comfortably fastened...). But brooches? 

What could be more versatile than something you can wear, quite literally, anywhere!

I live in the north of England, where it's often cold/damp/wet/windy/overcast. Unless you're prepared to spend more on central heating than you do on your jewellery (no way hosay!), then apart from a few blissful months of the year you need big jumpers, scarves, heavy coats, and gloves. All those beautiful twiddly rings and dainty layered necklaces are hidden away under layers of cashmere, only to tangle and snag.

I absolutely do get a kick out of wearing a damn good ringstack out to the pub or over to a friend's house, but although I love them, rings don't work with 90% of my lifestyle: I work with my hands. No, I LIVE with my hands! Apart from spending a lot of time making jewellery and working with hammers, files and pliers in my workshop, I'm constantly hanging out laundry, digging in the garden, taking compost out, chopping wood, bringing logs in, feeding animals, loading the car... not the best way to treat vulnerable Georgian enamel.

But a brooch? I can pin one to the top layer of my many jumpers, attach one to a plait coiled atop my head, or pile them up on my warmest coat.  

Here are some of my favourite brooches (all from my personal collection), and some of my favourite ways to style them.

 

1. The Coat

Totally not rocket science, and not particularly original. But it looks SO good! My favourite tweed coat which I've had for at least five years, and it's still as smart as the day I got it.  Super warm and wind-proof, it takes me from walking our wild moorland and windswept beaches, to browsing the V&A Museum in London and shopping for (even more) brooches at Portobello.

I love creating a little story or vignette with my jewels. I've paired my favourite diamond crescent moon brooch with a running fox brooch and a running hare ring.  This styling is inspired by where I live; the glittering nights and endless skies, and my favourite British wild animals. I also love mixing antique and contemporary pieces.  The key here is to start with a favourite piece, and build your story around it...

Don't be afraid to have fun by mixing shapes and colours, or adding pieces here and there. Yeah yeah less is more, but sometimes MORE is more! 

 

2. The Neckline

Equally great on a t-shirt, plain jumper, or at the throat of a buttoned up shirt. I chose a cosy cashmere jumper, since there's frost on the ground! I recommend choosing a brooch with a horizontal design, such as a bar brooch or lozenge brooch.  I picked out this incredible antique Victorian name brooch studded with old mine cut diamonds (and yes I'm aware my name's not Alice ... Alice? Who the f*@& is Alice?! ... Alice in Wonderland, that's who!).

I've teamed it with an ancient cashmere batwing sweater in a warm grey, and my favourite vintage plaid shirt (which cost me the princely sum of £1). Perfect for a cold day!

Which brings me nicely onto my next styling idea...

 

3. The Cuff or Sleeve

Pick a brooch with a slight curve, or which is shaped to echo the curve of the body. I've chosen an antique silver gilt bohemian garnet brooch in the form of a wheatsheaf. I pinned it onto the cuff of my jumper like an oversized single cufflink.

 

4. Layer Your Colours and Materials

I enjoy picking out other jewellery which complements the brooch I've chosen to wear. This is the same Bohemian Garnet Wheatsheaf brooch as above, but I've teamed with with a simple stack of antique garnet rings which tone in so perfectly.

The fivestone ring is a family piece which I inherited from my grandma, and the other ring is one of my favourite rings of all time, a foiled back Georgian flat cut garnet solitaire c.1770, with tiny fleur-de-lys on the shoulders.

Don't be afraid to mix real diamonds with paste, or gold with silver. Mixing up materials can lead to really exciting combinations which look fresh and original.

Below is a late Georgian/early Victorian paste brooch (the round one which looks like a rose window) mixed in with a diamond crescent moon, and a selection of antique diamond and sapphire rings. The metals are a mixture of silver, platinum and 18ct gold. How would you choose to wear these pieces?

 

5. Groupings

Why not start a collection of one kind of brooch? A year or so before I got married, I found this set of three antique silver and paste star brooches on eBay.  I'm not really a tiara-girl, but I did want something beautiful and romantic to wear in my hair on my wedding day, and I decided upon these brooches. A set of three diamond stars would have blown my budget to smithereens (and then some), but I've always loved stars, and anything in sets really does it for me. There's one large one and two medium ones. Umm yes I still need to get around to replacing that missing stone, but whatever...

All you need are some strong bobby pins! But do be careful with hairspray and perfume... never spray anything on or near antique jewellery, as you can cause irreparable damage. Make sure you do all your spraying and setting before pinning on your jewels!

After four years married, still really enjoy wearing them. I often layer them on jumpers, and - following my own styling advice above - layer them up with complimentary colours and materials, often picking out a cracking ring stack to go with them (log chopping not withstanding).

6. Multipurpose

Finally, multipurpose. Many antique jewels were designed to have more than one use... like Optimus Prime, but better! When you're on the hunt, flip the brooch over and have a good look to see if you can discover any other secrets...

My Georgian flat cut garnet and diamond cross brooch - or is it primarily a pendant? - still has its original dual purpose fittings. I wore it to a Christening last week as a pendant, layered in the neck of a v-neck dress, along with with my antique Russian Imperial easter egg charms (the Christian and the pagan together!).

And "Alice" has my favourite kind of fitting of all, an unscrewable backpin! It's likely that this piece would have originally come with a variety of other jewellery fittings, perhaps a hairpin or a bracelet (sadly now lost) so that the same precious piece could be worn in a number of different ways.

Being a jeweller, I'm naturally planning to create a few new fittings for this brooch, but will also be reinterpreting it in my own way. Watch this space!

 

Antique and vintage brooches are probably the most affordable pieces of jewellery available right now. Doubtless like me you've seen bucketloads of stunning 1950s paste brooches, in amazing designs and colours, for as little as £3 each. You can easily pick up a hallmarked Victorian silver brooch at an antique fair for less than £30-40. Or a 9ct gold Edwardian bar brooch, perhaps centrally set with a single amethyst, for around £75-100. 

Let's ramp it up a little...how about a Georgian mourning brooch, enamelled around the edge and painted with a beautiful miniature? Not as popular as the rings, and because of this with careful searching you may be able to pick one up for about half the price of a ring.

One final word of advice; ever underestimate the power of a good, secure safety chain!


How do you style your brooches? Do you have any favourites? I'd love to know...let me know in the comments below or tag me on Instagram @JewelleryHannah, and I'll regram my favourites!