The Brooch Unpinned: Introduction

The Brooch Unpinnned: The Goldsmiths’ Company Collection 1961–2020

This online exhibition celebrates the art of the brooch and a set of dynamic relationships – between maker and wearer and between wearer and viewer. It explores just one aspect of the Goldsmiths’ Company’s unique Collection of Modern Jewellery, but it is a significant one in tracing the evolution of contemporary design in this most wearable and revealing of accessories. 

“The jewels will inspire future generations – not only with their iconic beauty, but equally with their creator’s message of empowerment.”

From ancient times, a brooch could be an emblem of authority, wealth and power which spoke of cultural connections and social status. Before buttons or hooks came into use, a brooch or pin was the only way to fix and drape textile to the body. That relationship with the body, and with textiles, underlines the role of micro-engineering in making a brooch work. Weight, construction, balance and fixing are intrinsic to successful design if a brooch is to sit well on the body. Look at the back as well as the front of a brooch to judge how well it works as wearable art as well as a functional design.  

Brooches are versatile, and can be worn in different ways, moods and contexts; they can be used to convey a particular message, to make a personal statement, or to spark a conversation. The jewellery historian Joanna Hardy writes “I met a woman recently who said she finds it awkward initiating conversations at parties, so she wears a big brooch as a means of introducing herself. That, to me, is what jewellery is all about – a statement about yourself without having to say a word.” It is in a sense the wearer who makes a brooch. HM The Queen’s choice of brooches is understated but telling. For her address to the nation in response to the impact of Covid-19 on 6th April 2020, when she reassured her peoples in the words of Dame Vera Lynne that “we will meet again”, she chose a diamond and turquoise brooch with a long family history. Made in 1893, the brooch linked her to former generations and the challenges through which they had lived. The house of Windsor became important patrons for British modern jewellery from the mid-1960s; Princess Margaret’s affinity with John Donald pieces was revealed in the sale of some of her jewellery at Christie’s in 2006. 

Brooch pendant, 1963, John Donald

Brooches, as the Collection demonstrates, were at the heart of this new post-War world of jewellery design. The late Wendy Ramshaw referred to the brooch as ‘a portable artform’, and, as exemplified by our latest acquisitions for the collection, they continue to fascinate and challenge contemporary makers. They represent new ways of thinking, wearing and making. In the words of Joanna Hardy: “The jewels will inspire future generations – not only with their iconic beauty, but equally with their creator’s message of empowerment.”

‘Random Master’ brooch, 2011, Jo Hayes Ward

‘The Brooch Unpinned’ exhibition has been put together by the Goldsmiths’ Company curatorial team led by Dr Dora Thornton, Curator:
Dr Frances Parton, Deputy Curator
Manuela Holfert, Exhibition Designer
Rebecca Ingram, Collections Assistant
Charlie Spurrier, Silver Steward

The curatorial team are grateful to the following for their invaluable enthusiasm, help and support:
Jane Audas, Rachel Church, Kevin Coates and Nell Romano, Hugh Curthoys, Charlotte De Syllas, Charlotte Dew, Cynthia and John Donald, Helen Drutt, Amanda Game, Francesca Grima, Joanna Hardy, IWM London, Christina Jansen, Isabel Keim, Victoria LaMantia, Nan Nan Liu, Bernard Meadows Estate, Jacqueline Mina, Clare Phillips, Simon Pugh, James Robinson, Jacqueline Ryan, Tate Images, V&A Images.

Photography of the Goldsmiths’ Collection by Clarissa Bruce and Richard Valencia.

Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and obtain permission to reproduce the material in this exhibition.

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