OK, we know that brooches are the oldest style of jewellery and that they began their lives as integral garment fasteners until buttons, snaps and Velcro came along. They kept things closed and could be used to attach purses and rosary beads to clothing or fasten a cloth bag shut. They provided a signifier of class, allegiance and faith
But did you know that one of the oldest styles of brooches is actually called a Ring or Rynge if you want to be historically accurate?
These circular brooches were designed with a pin across the centre and are the most common type of medieval brooch found in the V&A. It is also one of the most popular styles of brooch that I sell. I call them Wreath Brooches and they have a modern safety clasp that locks the pin.
Ring or Rynge brooches were made of metals precious and plain including silver gold, brass, copper, and the fancy ones contained precious stones. Worn at the neck, some styles were engraved with messages covered in enamel. Heart shaped ring brooches could be worn to signify a marriage.
Church writes that a brooch’s “placement at the neckline also served symbolically to protect the virtue of the wearer” as well as their modesty. Remember there are no buttons.
A brooch placed on the neckline could also serve as a weapon to “thrust back any intruder” according to the poet Johnannes de Hauville in his 1184 poem Archithrenius.
So, a modern wreath brooch worn at the neck of a shirt, dress or jumper is more than just a decoration it is an echo of a historical style, symbolising love and union as well as offering protection to its wearer.
I have over fifty styles of Rynge Brooches or rather to use their modern title, Wreath Brooches.
Let me know your favourite.
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All errors and omissions are my own. Copyright Audra Daws-Knowles. 2022
Source: Church, Rachel. Accessories: Brooches and Badges. Thames and Hudson. London: 2019.