Alicia Healey

The art of the brooch

The art of the brooch
The Duchess of Cambridge wears a maple leaf brooch during a visit to Canada in 2008 (Getty)
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The recent unveiling of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first joint portrait drew attention to a special piece of jewellery pinned to Catherine's emerald green dress – the Duchess of Cambridge brooch. The pearl and diamond pendant brooch, on loan to the Duchess for the portrait sitting, has been a royal family heirloom since the mid-19th century. It was originally crafted by London jeweller Garrard for a previous Duchess of Cambridge, the German born Princess Augusta (daughter-in-law of King George III and grandmother of Queen Mary). Since then, the brooch has been passed down to the next generation in the royal line of succession, HM The Queen being its current custodian.

The Duchess of Cambridge wears the brooch in an official portrait by Jamie Coreth, 2022 (Getty)

The Duchess of Cambridge’s choice of dress and accessories for her first official joint portrait reveals a lot about the image she wants to portray in the painting – something that has a more lasting place in history than press photography. The dress – a metallic green midi (first worn on an official tour of Ireland in 2020) – is easily recognisable as The Vampire’s Wife (characterised by the brand’s signature ruffled hem and cuffs). It’s a thoroughly modern, almost trendy choice – firmly rooting the portrait in its time. The shoes, too – Manolo Blahnik’s iconic Hangisi heel, trimmed with their signature square crystal buckle – are a very recognisable modern classic.

The brooch, in contrast, symbolises the royal dynasty which Kate has joined – emphasising her royal role as Duchess of Cambridge and linking her to previous generations of royal women right back to the 19th Century. The monarchy’s message of continuity and stability is right there in the brooch's heritage. Other jewellery picked for the portrait also had historical and sentimental significance – the pearl earrings and bracelet used to belong to her mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales, whose royal title will eventually be bestowed on Kate.

Brooches are often worn by the royals for their symbolic significance. It is an easy, instant way of conveying a message to those around them; for example, by choosing to wear the Asprey maple leaf brooch when visiting Canada, Royal ladies pay tribute to their host (the maple leaf features on the Canadian flag and is an instantly recognisable symbol of Canada).

The diamond brooch was originally owned by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and has been worn by Queen Elizabeth II, The Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge on official tours of Canada.

How to wear a brooch

Symmetrical brooches like the pearl pendant Duchess of Cambridge brooch were traditionally worn in a central position on a high neckline, like Princess Augusta in 1877 and Queen Mary in 1948, but they are more commonly worn to one side now. In formal settings, the correct way to wear them is on the left side below the shoulder.

On some occasions, if the design of the dress has asymmetry or detail in this area, you will see them worn on the opposite side, as seen on The Duchess of Cambridge, who pinned the maple leaf brooch to the right side of her red Reem Acra dress in 2016, probably because of the low-cut asymmetry on the left side of her dress. There is undeniably an old-fashioned air around brooches, but there are ways of wearing them to look more up-to-date. Wearing with knitwear rather than formal day dress can jazz up a plain jumper, or go big and bold a la Lady Gaga in Schiaparelli at the US inauguration, for a modern take on this most regal of accessories.

Add a royal touch to your wardrobe with my top brooch picks available now:

Pearl drop brooch, £65 Royal Collection Shop

Edwardian 18ct Gold & Blue & White Enamel Bow Brooch with Heart Shaped Drop set with Natural Split Pearls, £1,350, The Antique Jewellery Company

Vintage Edwardian revival brooch, £30, Susan Caplan

Vintage Dior bow brooch, £925, Jennifer Gibson Jewellery

Written byAlicia Healey

Alicia Healey is the author of Wardrobe Wisdom from a Royal Lady’s Maid

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