What is a Brooch?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A brooch is a piece of jewelry, most commonly also called a pin, that has ancient traditions in numerous cultures. Archaeological digs have discovered beautiful brooches all over the world that date back many millennia. They may have been differently constructed but it’s fair to state that this is a type of jewelry that has never fallen out of style. Today, people may wear small or large brooches affixed to clothing or as pins in the hair. Some can even be worn on necklaces as pendants.

A brooch can add a decorative element to a bridal gown.
A brooch can add a decorative element to a bridal gown.

The Romans and other surrounding cultures made a few of the earliest brooches, which may also be called fibulae. They were designed on the same style as safety pins and were useful in pinning clothing together. Some archaeologists date the pin back even further and suggest that early cultures may have used materials like thorns or small pieces of rock as clothing fasteners.

Brooches are worn on clothing.
Brooches are worn on clothing.

Over time craftsmanship in making pins advanced in numerous directions. Artisans in the Byzantine Empire painted and enameled brooches. Then other cultures added various designs or symbols that became popular. Though these pins were first mostly practical in nature, the way that jewelry workers developed them through the centuries made them more ornamental than necessary. By the 17th and 18th centuries, brooches were probably most worn as accent and ornament, though they could be useful for attaching garments together or hiding a spot on clothing.

Today, the variety of brooches is rather stunning, and people looking for one will find them in numerous prices range, sizes, materials, and styles. Some have precious or semi-precious stones, while others make excellent costume jewelry. Many brooches are made of metal and most have metal backing that features a pin with a lock. This pin helps to hold the brooch securely to clothing. In many styles the pin is hinged so that it can open and close for easier attachment, though this is not always the case.

Though early brooches were worn by both men and women, in the western world, it is now more common to consider the brooch as women’s jewelry. There are a few exceptions, especially with things like kilt pins. Most people who wear a brooch will wear it on the left or right side of clothing near the shoulders. Some wear pins at the neck, as is common with cameos, or on a lower neckline of a garment in the center. Pins may be beautiful accessories for weddings too, and might be worn on back or front of a wedding dress, or to pin a veil.

Another common use of the brooch is to pin scarves to clothing. Some pins, called scarf pins have an open front that enables a person to thread the scarf through the pin. These can provide secure hold for scarves that might otherwise slip or fall out of place easily.

An important thing to note is that the terms brooch and broach are usually not the same. Broach can be defined as a verb that means to bring up a subject. However common confusion on the two words now leads some dictionaries to also define broach as brooch. This in general is still considered inaccurate.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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