This Season’s Secret Style Weapon

Lot 2154, platinum brooch with diamonds, Henry's Auktionshaus (February 26, 2016)

By: Lori Ettlinger Gross

Pins and brooches are arguably the most versatile accessory to have in your jewelry box. They make a complete statement on their own: they require no more than a bit of cloth or a chain to get the attention they deserve and don’t rely on the armature of the body for a finished look.

Designers like Vera Wang, Chanel, Prada, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Balenciaga creatively flaunted them on the fall 2015 runways, signaling to the rest of us that the brooch is indeed back.

Buying & Wearing: What to Know

Every piece should be one you love resolutely and desire without hesitation. In building your collection, remember that quality is key to this art form; a good investment will offer endless returns on enduring style.

Lot 60, Georgian enamel and diamond set brooch, Lyon & Turnbell, December 2015

The way a pin or brooch is made enhances its value and its timelessness.

  • Look for a signature or hallmark; the manufacturer will often tell you something about its overall excellence.
  • The back of the piece should look as good as the front, and the pin stem should be secure and in working condition.
  • A few notable manufacturers of costume pieces include Coro, Eisenberg & Sons, and Trifari; of finer pieces, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, Mauboussin, and Georg Jensen.

From there, all you need is a collar, dress strap, lapel, waistline, hat, scarf, or unadorned textile handbag to wear them effectively. Here are some ways your pins and brooches can make your winter wardrobe shine.

The Coat Collar

Heavy-gauge wool coats or down puffers are perfect places to “brooch” the subject. The lapel may be an obvious choice, yet creating an interesting composition is what will get a conversation started. Toss a few on a collar. Try pairing high and low—fine alongside costume examples—just make sure they have some element in common, such as color, gemstone, period, or design aesthetic.

Lot 241, Margaret De Patta sterling silver, rock crystal, and moonstone brooch, Wright, December 2015

Lot 225, Vivienne Westwood black and grey wool overcoat, Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers, December 2015

The Jackson Pollack

The runway trend of late is wearing brooches en masse—splattered a la Jackson Pollack. While being inventive in where you pin them, also be generous.

Lot 202, vintage Hattie Carnegie pin brooch, Maine Street Mining Company, December 2015

Take a matching pair and attach each one to the straps of a negligee dress or to a wide-collared chemise. Toss a few scatter pins on a coat or jacket for an after-work event. Adorn a hat with a few choice sparklers to light up the face.

Reinvent the Basics

Let pins alter the shape of your neckline; give it a tiny pinch and place a couple of brooches where you’ve gathered the fabric. Take a traditional cashmere sweater and dot it with brooches of varying sizes.

Don’t be afraid of wearing pins and brooches on patterned textiles. Give a favorite print dress a clever update or light up an old-school tweed blazer with dazzling gem brooches. Pin down a fluttering winter scarf with a Native American masterpiece.

Lot 246, Andrew Grima gold, platinum, watermelon tourmaline crystal and diamond, Doyle New York, December 2015

Lot 73, silk and satin Marina Yee dress, Cornette de Saint-Cyr-Bruxelles, December 2015

And for an elevated evening look, a big, bold, costume brooch can reinvent an unadorned brocade or satin clutch by pinning it at the closure. Add a glittery brooch to a classic velvet headband and immediately you have a glamorous look that works for a black tie event.

Lot 622, platinum Art Deco brooch with diamonds, Henry’s Auktionshaus, December 2015


About the Author

Lori Ettlinger Gross is a jewelry and style writer, author, and consultant. In 2008, her book, “BROOCHES,” was published by Rizzoli. As a journalist, Lori’s work has appeared regularly in T Style, The Rapaport Diamond Report, and Palm Beach Illustrated as well as Elle.com, InStyle.com, and Variety. Lori enjoys sharing her love of jewelry as a speaker for Random House Speakers Bureau as well as on television and radio.