An Insatiable Appetite For Brooches

Gregory Parsons is an independent curator and consultant in the applied arts, who was for twelve months Interim Deputy Curator – Contemporary for the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection, based at Goldsmiths’ Hall (April 2019 to 2020).

I’m not sure I made a conscious decision to start collecting brooches.
Quite by chance when clearing out a bedroom drawer a few years ago, I came across a couple of forgotten brooches from the early 1990s. One was a brass square with a striped domed ‘lozenge’ titled HumBug, by the wonderfully creative jeweller Timothy, and the other a cute yet fearsome looking little Dog in plain and patinated brass, by Daryl Harber.

Daryl Harber, Dog brooch

I started to wear HumBug again from time to time (Dog didn’t seem me anymore) and mused on the fact that you see very few people, let alone men, wearing pins/brooches (however you prefer to name them – and that’s another interesting point of discussion I’ll return to later). The exception would be at suitably arty events such as exhibition private views, particularly among all those allied fellow crafters and their followers. I’m not sure I thought to break the mould, but it certainly re-ignited an interest in wearing something more regularly on my lapel.

Timothy Carson, humBug brooch

Immersed in craft, as a maker and now curator, I am constantly experiencing beautiful objects in all genres. One person’s work I knew right from the beginning of my career was the minimal and modern jewellery of North Wales-based Kathleen Makinson. Heavily inspired by modern Japanese architecture, as I was in my early woven work, we had a synergy on various levels and became good friends. I had always hankered after her work and so twenty years after we had first met, just after my re-kindled interest in wearing jewellery, I saw a small tube-shaped piece in the Ruthin Craft Centre retail gallery, and it called out to me. When Kathleen learned of my interest, she insisted it be a gift from her and is one of my most treasured pieces (Kathleen is now in her 90s and no longer making).

Greg wearing his Kathleen Makinson brooch

Fast forward another year or two, I was visiting Goldsmiths’ Fair and began to notice the brooches in particular. Not all makers were offering them, others a token nod and for others it was their chosen form of expression. Not having done much to further my renewed interest in wearing something more regularly, apart from Kathleen’s piece on ‘special occasions’, I decided I was going to find something and spend the birthday money I thought I might get the following week.

This led to a discussion with Grace Girvan, whose work I had long admired. She had some super pieces, but perhaps a little too large for me (and over my budget too truth be told), but I spotted a gorgeous pair of very simple earrings and thought how lovely a slightly larger single version might be as a brooch. We had a chat about it – the size, finish and price and the deal was done – my first commission.

What a thrill to receive and open the package that arrived a few short weeks later. Something lovingly made by a brilliantly creative pair of hands, who I knew and had spoken to about making this exquisite object. It also brought home to me that, contrary perhaps to a commonly held view, one does not have to be super rich to commission. It had cost £100.

Grace Girvan

“What’s that you’re wearing…some sort of badge?” pointing to today’s chosen creation on my lapel (from a fellow male of the species).

It occurred to me that there are several terms used to describe these objects: badge, pin, stud and brooch. In turn these seem to have gendered associations: if I think of a badge, it is something inexpensive (no hyphen), perhaps temporary and denotes membership to something maybe – and is commonly worn by men and women (think CND in the 1960s). A stud or pin might also be more male oriented through tie pins and shirt studs, but is also used to describe something worn decoratively, due to the type of pin mechanism used (like a stick-pin). Then we come to ‘brooch’, which a lot of us might consider a more feminine term and perhaps associated with larger pieces too. Is this why we see so few men wearing them (or is it that it’s called a badge, in whatever form, when it’s on a man)?

On the very rare occasions I do see another man wearing something on their jacket, I find it really heartening. After all, why not? I must say that even men that make jewellery are rarely seen sporting their own creations, which I find somewhat perplexing. Whatever the cultural/gendered associations with the terminology, I call them brooches which clearly identifies them as pieces of jewellery, and jewellery is, in turn, to be worn by whoever wishes to.

Anna Gordon

I now have a modest collection of some twenty-five pieces, in myriad materials and styles. They certainly do not need to be in precious metals (see exhibition link below) and my budget also remains modest. I find myself constantly aware of makers’ explorations into this form of adornment, to the point where if I can’t see anything I ask if they have thought about making one! I could be looking at other items – perhaps a necklace, but that doesn’t feel right for me, and I already wear a simple gold band on my right hand that was my mother’s wedding ring, and I don’t feel the need for another. Bracelets also don’t feel right, I don’t know why. So the brooch it is – and it seems to be rather an insatiable passion at the moment. I do however remain in control…just.

Further reading in my newly introduced blog series

Not Too Precious, exhibition curated by Dr Elizabeth Goring and Gregory Parsons

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