Did you know that people decorated themselves with live insects in ancient times as well as created decorative representations of them in their art and fashion? The Mayans and the Egyptians were experts at creating beautiful and realistic insect depictions in jewellery. They wore insect brooches as decoration, talismans and to symbolise or reflect characteristics they valued.
Countless pieces of antique, vintage and modern jewellery are still based on these designs from thousands of years ago. The Victorians, fascinated by the natural world, wore live insects such as beetles and scarabs. There was even a craze for little collared lizards pinned to dresses. Eek! Eventually real insects (dead and alive) were replaced with realistic depictions of bugs made of gold, silver, enamel as well as precious gems.
In 2006 I watched an episode of America’s Next Top Model where real roaches decorated with gems were attached with chains to the clothing worn by the aspiring models. These bejewelled creature brooches were designed by Jared Gold. I do not believe they are available any more.
Today, we tend not to use real insects unless they have died a natural death. People also prefer to wear jewellery that does not move.
What about contemporary insect jewellery?
The three most popular species are:
Bees symbolising industry, thrift, and sweetness.
Dragonflies symbolise transformation. Lalique was a leader in Art Nouveau designs and his fascination for these winged creatures was clearly show in his jewellery.
Butterflies are another popular motif. According to Church, author of Accessories: Brooches and Badges, “they are traditionally associated with transience and the rebirth of the soul”. Butterflies “could also be a symbol of romance”.
Today, the importance of insects to our natural world, especially pollinators such as bees and butterflies, is very well known. Many people choose to wear insect brooches to reflect their appreciation of environmental issues.
All errors and omissions are my own. Copyright Audra Daws-Knowles.
Source: Church, Rachel. Accessories: Brooches and Badges. Thames and Hudson. London: 2019.