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Famous Brooches

Although lesser known, many famous brooches have been appreciated throughout the ages.

Famous Brooches From History

Although brooches are not as popular today as they have been in years past, they were the height of glamour and fashion for many centuries.  Below are a few exceptional brooches:

platinum and diamond brooch
Edwardian platinum and diamond brooch. Photo from Perry’s Jewelry.

The Hooker Emerald

The Cullinan III and IV, the Lesser Stars of Africa

The Prince of Wales Brooch

Rene Lalique’s Dragonfly Brooch

Elizabeth Taylors’s Engagement Brooch


hooker emerald brooch
The 75.47-carat Hooker emerald gets its name from one of its previous owners, Janet Annenberg Hooker. Photo from dbking’s flickr.

The Hooker Emerald

The history of one of the most famous brooches in the world, the Hooker Emerald Brooch, is very interesting.  The large emerald center stone is believed to have come from a famous Muzo mine in Colombia based on its color and approximate date of origin.  The emerald was owned by Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey who reportedly wore it as a belt buckle.  The Sultan, who ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909, had serious financial and political troubles.

In an attempt to secure funds, the emerald was spirited out of Turkey in 1908 and sent to Paris–along with the Hope Diamond and other fabulous jewels–with the intent to offer it for sale.  A jewelry dealer named Salomon Habib reportedly bought both the Hooker Emerald and the Hope Diamond from the Sultan’s emissaries.  Although the history of the Hope Diamond is well known, the whereabouts of the Hooker Emerald were unknown until 1950 when it reappeared in a platinum brooch created by Tiffany.  Janet Annenberg Hooker, publishing heiress and renowned philanthropist, purchased the brooch in 1955 for an undisclosed sum.

hooker starburst diamonds
The Hooker Starburst Diamonds include a necklace with fifty matched diamonds weighing about 245 carats, earrings with two yellow diamonds weighing about 25.3 carats each, and a ring with a 61.2-carat diamond. Photos by Laurie Minor-Penland via Mineral Sciences.

Perhaps Mrs. Hooker’s greatest philanthropic contribution was her support of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution.  Not only did she gift the Smithsonian her fabulous emerald brooch (valued at over $500,000 at that time) and other fine gemstones, but she also donated $5 million dollars to create the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals.

cullinan diamond discovery
The Cullinan Diamond in the hand of a mine official, possibly Frederick Wells the man credited with the find. Photo from Diamond Articles.

The Cullinan III and IV, the Lesser Stars of Africa

The Cullinan Diamond, the largest gem-quality diamond ever found, originally weighed 3106.75 carats.  The diamond was found 18 feet below the surface at the Premier Mine in 1905.  It was three times the size of the Excelsior diamond, which previously had been the largest diamond ever discovered.

It was determined that the diamond would be presented as a gift to King Edward VII, and security for the diamond during its transport from South Africa to England was a significant issue.  

Cullinan diamond pieces
The nine largest pieces of the Cullinan diamond after it was cut.

Detectives were placed upon the steamer that was rumored to carry the stone as a diversionary tactic.  The stone on that ship was a fake meant to lure unsuspecting thieves.  The real Cullinan Diamond was dispatched to England via parcel post.

star of africa diamond
The Cullinan I, the Great Star of Africa, is now mounted in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross, part of the British Crown Jewels. Photo from Famous Diamonds.

The Cullinan was cleaved into three parts by the Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam.  Because diamond-cutting technologies were not as advanced in the early 20th century as they are today, this undertaking was not without some risk.  It is said that Joseph Asscher, after cleaving the giant stone, fell into a dead faint.  In all, it took 8 months to split and cut the diamond with a team working around the clock. 

cullinan diamonds brooch
The Cullinan III and Cullinan IV, known as the Lesser Stars of Africa. Photo from Famous Diamonds.

The Cullinan was eventually cut into 9 gem quality stones including the magnificent Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, weighing 530.2 carats, and the Cullinan II or the Lesser Star of Africa, weighing 317.4 carats.  Both gemstones are part of the British Crown Jewels.  

Queen Mary brooch
Queen Mary wearing Cullinan III and IV as a brooch.

Queen Mary was known for her love of wearing exquisite jewelry.  In 1910, Queen Mary set the Cullinan III and Cullinan IV, known as the Lesser Stars of Africa, into a brooch.  Cullinan III, a 94.40-carat pear drop, hangs from Cullinan IV, a cushion-cut diamond weighing 63.60 carats.

The Prince of Wales Brooch

In 1936, only months into his reign, King Edward VIII of England caused a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to the American divorcée Wallis Simpson.  Although legally Edward could have married Mrs. Simpson and remained king, various prime ministers vehemently opposed the marriage, arguing that the people would never accept her as queen.  

prince edward of wales
Edward, Prince of Wales in 1919.

Rather than give up Mrs. Simpson, Edward chose to abdicate, making him the only British monarch to voluntarily relinquish the throne.  In a 1936 radio broadcast, Edward said:  “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.

windsor wedding day
The Windsors on their wedding day in 1937. Photo from Paper Doll Romance.

Wallis Simpson was renowned for her extravagant jewels.  An auction of her jewelry collection held at Sotheby’s after her death raised $45 million for charity. One of Wallis’ favorite pieces of jewelry was a plume-shaped diamond brooch designed in 1935 by Edward.  Called the Prince of Wales Brooch, it later sold for $566,000 to actress Elizabeth Taylor.  

Prince Albert brooch
Wallis Simpson wearing the Prince Albert brooch.

Ms. Taylor, who was a close friend of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, said she had often admired the brooch when the Duchess wore it.  She bought it for sentimental reasons saying:  “I loved it so much, I had to buy it.  It’s the first important jewel I’ve ever bought myself.”

Rene Lalique portrait
A portrait of French jewelry designer Rene Lalique.

Rene Lalique’s Dragonfly Brooch

Rene Lalique was a French jewelry designer during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose work in glass and enamel greatly shaped the Art Nouveau movement.  Lalique loved to incorporate imagery into his pieces, his favorites being diaphanous women and insects. He made a huge impact with his showings at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900.

lalique dragonfly brooch
The Lalique Dragonfly Brooch, c. 1897-1898.

It was at the exhibition that Lalique first showed his Dragonfly Brooch, a hybrid design featuring a woman’s head emerging as the head on the body of a large dragonfly with opened, articulated wings.  The piece is topped off by griffin-like claws, marking the true mood of the era, which at one attracted and repelled in a beautiful contrast of opposites.

Lalique gold diamond brooch
A Lalique gold, diamond, glass, and enamel brooch.

Lalique continued his love of creating brooches throughout his career, often working in gold, enamel, and less precious gemstones of chalcedony and moonstone.  The French actress Sarah Bernhardt was a great patron for whom he designed most of his jewelry.  The dragonfly brooch was purchased directly from Lalique by British businessman Calouste Gulbenkian and stayed in his personal collection until his death.  His great wealth established a foundation which founded a museum to display his collections, and the dragonfly brooch can be found there to this day.

Elizabeth Taylor jewelry
Elizabeth Taylor wearing pieces from her emerald and diamond suite of jewelry.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Engagement Brooch

Elizabeth Taylor became the highest paid movie star in history when she accepted the title role in 20th Century Fox’s production of Cleopatra in 1963.  The role of the beautiful Egyptian Queen was fitting for Ms. Taylor for many reasons, including the fact that both women were known for their love of emeralds and dashing men.  

Elizabeth Taylor emerald brooch
The Elizabeth Taylor en tremblant emerald brooch, shown worn in her hair in the precious image.

In fact, Ms. Taylor is almost as renowned for her collection of fabulous jewels as she is for her acting, her beauty, and numerous marriages.  Fellow actor and two-time husband, Richard Burton, gave her an emerald and diamond brooch as an engagement present in the 1962.  It was designed as an en tremblant flower spray of diamonds and emeralds.

Taylor emerald necklace
Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald necklace. The pendant could also be worn as a brooch, as seen in the first image. Photo from Carat Lane.

This was followed by additional gifts of an emerald necklace, earrings, bracelet, and ring.  Reportedly, some of the emeralds in this suite of jewelry were previously owned by the Grand Duchess Vladimir of Russia.  The emerald suite of jewelry was designed and created by jewelry house Bulgari, a favorite of the stunning actress. 

Next, we move into types of jewelry and their settings for men in Men’s Jewelry | An Introduction to History and Style.

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