900 BC - 2009

Fitting and Befitting 

Pforzheim Jewellery Museum

The development of clothing entailed the question of how to fasten or artfully gather garments, something which evolved into a theme that challenged jewellery makers in various epochs. The story of fibulae and broaches throughout the ages told by the Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim.

Fibulae - practical decoration
As garment fasteners, fibulae served both a practical and an ornamental purpose. Their triumphant advance began in the Bronze Age, when people learned how to artistically work metal. Serving both as fasteners and status symbols, fibulae remained indispensable accessories well into the High Middle Ages. Along with the advent of buttons, they evolved into brooches that “merely”satisfied people’s need for adorning themselves.In the Baroque period, abodice or a man’s hat without a magnificent brooch would have been unthinkable.In modern times, brooches have attained a status as autonomous works of art. As“art to wear”, these sculptures worn on the body offer a multitude of options for artistic expression.

Spectacle fibula | 9th-8th century BCE | Northern Greece | Bronze

The spectacle fibula dates back to the Central European Urnfield culture (13th–11th century BC). In Greece, these elaborately crafted garment fasteners became common accessories in the 11th century BC, and were usually worn in pairs, one on each shoulder. Reminiscent of spectacles (hence the name), this double-spiral type of fibula was made from a single bronze wire.

Fibula | 8th century BCE | Greece

Displaying a magnificently lustrous green patina, this bronze fibula is characterized by the archetypal fibula shape featuring an arched element and a pin. It also illustrates how fibulae were used. The principle is similar to that of a modern safety pin. This type of fibula was mainly used to fasten cloaks and coats.

Buckle | About 700 BCE | Ireland | Gold

With its strong clip and golden 'bowls' it was simply meant by hold together several parts of the dress.

Etruscan fibula | Second half of the 6th century BCE | Gold

Fibulae were not only regarded as useful devices, they were often lavishly decorated as well. This small fibula enhanced with a sphinx on the catch was created in Etruria. The Etruscans were virtuoso masters of the goldsmith’s craft, as is also evidenced by the next piece.

Etruscan ornamental discs | 6th century BCE | Gold with granulation

Granulation, a technique of decorating a precious metal surface (mostly gold or silver) with tiny spherules of usually the same material was used back in the 3rd millennium BCE. The technique reached its apogee in the 6th century BCE in Etruria, today’s Tuscany region, as is evidenced by two golden ornamental discs worn as earrings by a noblewoman around that time and displaying the Etruscan goldsmiths’ outstanding craftsmanship.

Fibula | 3rd-4th century AD | Roman | Gold

Fibulae also played an important role in Roman times, both as practical and as ornamental objects, like this Late Roman crossbow fibula, a type that was often worn by men on the shoulder.

Bow fibulae | Late 5th century | Silver, partly gilt, almandine, niello

Bow fibulae were usually worn in the pelvic or leg area, where they presumptively served to hold together a person’s skirt or kilt.

Dress ornament | 6th century | Bronze

Rings and garment decoration were the most common types of jewellery in the Early and High Middle Ages. People used to wear wide cloaks on top of their clothing, which were secured by a garment fastener. The neck opening was fastened by means of an ornamental clasp called an agraffe.

Fibulae were replaced by buttons
With the emergence of buttonholes, fibulae went out of fashion. Although buttons had already been invented in ancient times, they were worn merely for ornamental purposes. When buttonholes appeared in the 13th century, buttons were increasingly used to fasten one part of a garment to another. Changing fashions – featuring tighter-fitting clothes – significantly contributed to buttons’ being used more often than fibulae. So the latter lost their practical utility – and evolved into decorative brooches. In the Baroque period, a corsage or a man’s hat without a magnificent brooch would have been unthinkable.

Bunch of flowers (agraffe) | About 1620-1630 | Gold, emerald, diamonds, enamel


The Late Middle Ages saw the advent of the agraffe, which could be used to fasten two pieces of clothing. There were types of agraffe that were permanently sewn to garments, joining the pieces concerned by means of hooks and eyelets.

Other types were merely hooked to the two garments involved, and could be taken off. One magnificent example is this agraffe created around 1620 in the shape of a sumptuous bouquet of flowers made of gold, diamonds, enamel and a resplendent emerald. Style-conscious gentlemen even liked to wear a dazzling eye-catcher like this attached to their hats.

Pectoral | About 1700 | Spanish | Gold, diamonds, enamel

The sumptuous brooch designed in about 1700 emphasized the décolleté of a Spanish lady.

Sévigné brooch | About 1730 | Gold, emeralds

In the Baroque period, people used to deliberately match their jewellery to the garments they were wearing.

Representative brooches, worn below the neckline, were now given preference over pendants, which had been popular in the Mannerist period. Known as “Sévigné brooches”, horizontally oval brooches featuring bow-shaped elements were widespread adornments.

Pendant featuring Philip of Bourbon About 1700

Pendant/brooch featuring Philip of Bourbon in silver, miniature portrait on copper, diamonds.

Brooch | About 1750

Silver, gold, topazes, diamonds, enamel

Brooch | About 1800 | Silver, diamonds, glass

Brooch | Early 19th century | Berlin | Iron

Brooch | About 1840 | Pforzheim | Gold, turquoises, enamel

Brooch | Mid-19th century | Erbach in the Odenwald | Ivory

Mourning brooch | 1835 - 1866 | England

Gold, enamel, hair arranged on opaque glass, under a glass cover, photo on the reverse

Brooch | John Brogden | Between 1864 and 1885 | London | Gold, enamel

Precious materials
Whether crafted from gold or another material, whether complemented by rubies, topaz or diamonds: brooches are often made of exquisite, expensive materials and sumptuously embellished. With their captivating sparkle, they add a glamorous touch to their wearer’s outfit, and still rank among the most popular pieces of jewellery.

Brooch | 1860/1870 | Gold, diamonds

Its diamonds blossoms are secured so that they slightly vibrate in tune with their female owner's movement.

Brooch | Louis Aucoc | 1898/1900

A gold female nude reclining on a shell is menaced by an octopus. The »plique-à-jour« enamel water is bordered by scrolls set with diamonds.

“Octopus and Butterfly” brooch | Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach (Design) | 1899-1900

Wilhelm Lukas von Cranach, a descendant of the famous painter Lucas Cranach, first trained as a forester and then studied painting.

Cranach owed his reputation to his superb designs for jewellery and other arts-and-crafts objects. The "Octopus and Butterfly" brooch is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau and, in terms of motif and craftsmanship, the most spectacular jewellery creation of this stylistic epoch in Germany.

Brooch | Theodor Fahrner | About 1930 | Silver, amethyst, amazonite, marcasite

Brooch | Josef Hoffmann | About 1910 | Vienna | Copper, enamel

Sculptures worn on the body
Brooches provide a wide range of creative options for jewellery designers. They are the only type of jewellery that is essentially two-dimensional, yet they may be augmented with three-dimensional elements, such as reliefed surfaces or even spatially encompassing sculptural structures, and they offer both the wearer and the beholder a multitude of different views.

Brooch | Elisabeth Treskow | About 1941 | Essen | Gold with granulation, diamonds, pearl

Brooch | Reinhold Reiling | Pforzheim | 1967 | Gold, diamond, ruby

Brooch | Jens-Rüdiger Lorenzen | 1988 | Steel, nickel silver, paper

Brooch | Reinhold Reiling | Pforzheim | 1967 | Gold, diamond, ruby

Brooch | Georg Dobler | 2008 | Silver, smoky quartz

»Viviane« brooch | Bettina Speckner | 2009 | photos etched into zinc, silver, emerald, beads, mother-of-pearl

Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim
Credits: Story

Fritz Falk: Schmuck 1840-1940. Highlights Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Stuttgart 2004

Fritz Falk: Serpentina. Die Schlange im Schmuck der Welt. Stuttgart 2011

Fritz Falk, Cornelie Holzach: Schmuck der Moderne 1960-1998. Bestandskatalog der modernen Sammlung des Schmuckmuseums Pforzheim. Stuttgart 1999

Cornelie Holzach: Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim. Museumsführer. Pforzheim 2015

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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