People have worn brooches as jewelry for hundreds of years. They attach to clothing with some sort of catch or pin. Often, brooches were made by turning a pendant into a pin. Antique and vintage brooches are commonly dated by the style of catch or by the design. The catch isn’t foolproof for dating, but it is indicative of the era the brooch was made.
Dating the Hinge and Catch
Check the hinge on the brooch. The hinge attaches the catch, the pin mechanism on the back of a brooch used to attach it to a garment. Tube-style hinges are found on one of the earliest types of brooches, pre-1890, and are often paired with a “C”-shaped catch. Post-1890, ball hinges were used and are still preferred today.
Look for a C-shaped hook on the catch of the brooch. C-shaped hooks denote brooches from 1837 to 1901, the Victorian era. This era made cameo-style brooches popular, with Queen Victoria’s love of lockets, chains and other jewelry.
Check for a safety-style catch. This style was used for a short period of time around 1895 and again in the 1940s to the present. This style has a small movable piece that holds the pin in place on the C-shaped catch.
Look for a trombone-style catch. This mechanism is when the pin slips into a barrel to secure the brooch. Trombone catches are indicative of European jewelry from 1895 through the 1940s.
Dating the Design
Look at the material the brooch is designed with. Cameos are portraits carved in shell. Shell cameos became popular after 1805 when shell became a common medium for jewelry.
Check if the material is glass-like. William Tassie invented a glass paste in 1760 that was used to make copies of famous cameos. This style is called “Tassies”.
Look at the base of the brooch. Silver and gold cannetille were used to set cameos after 1830.
Check for seed pearls, grapevines, leaves and tendrils cascading down around the brooch. These elements are characteristic of the romantic period, 1837 to 1860, during the Victorian era.
Look for a cameo carved in jet, onyx or black glass. Black was customary between the years of 1861 and 1901, following the death of Prince Albert.
Dating Vintage, Costume Brooches
Observe the style of the brooch. What we think of as costume jewelry today became popular in the 1930s. Crown-shaped brooches, fruit and vegetable pieces, and red, white and blue flags and eagles are characteristic of the 1930 through 1960s designer Tifari.
Check for characteristics of Eisenberg and Son’s brooches. They are identified by natural designs in aqua, ruby and crystal glass, from 1930 through the 1940s.
Look for Corocraft features. These designs, famous through the 1960s, depict enameled owls with large eyes, horse heads, and Native American squaws, set in silver or plated gold.
Observe the style of animal on a Marcel Boucher brooch. He created abstract animals like owls and elephants after 1937.
Take the brooch to an antique jeweler for assistance when dating pieces where the catch is missing or the material is questionable.