Designer Bird Brooches

10/02/2022 2256 0 2

Birds have featured in jewellery (and brooches in particular) since the late 1800's. Bird jewellery reflected an interest in ornithology that grew over the course of the 19th century. Members of the public enjoyed birdwatching, with some well off homes even having aviaries.

Beautifully illustrated books by naturalists of the day became bestsellers. Bird brooches were made throughout the Western world, but were particularly popular in France.

Designers studied birds at zoos and natural history museums, preparing realistic sketches that were transformed into beautiful bejewelled brooches and hair accessories. 


The advent of World War 2 left jewellery businesses in France in a depressed state. Access to supplies of precious gems and platinum was difficult. 

Platinum was classed as an important strategic metal and was used by the army as a catalyst for explosives and fuel. Strict regulations limited the French jewellery industry during the war. Buyers were required to provide their own platinum and jewels for their commissions.

Birds were seen as a symbol of hope in France and many Parisian jewellers used bird motifs as a subtle sign of support to the French Resistance.

Rene Bovin made artistic eagle brooches, and Van Cleef and Arpels made beautiful patriotic birds of paradise brooches set with rubies, sapphires, and diamonds . The colour of the gems reflected the blue white and red of the French flag.


Above: Van Cleef and Arpels Bird of Paradise brooch 1942


Despite the limitations on jewellery businesses during the war some beautiful pieces were created. The British Duke of Windsor commissioned a flamingo brooch from Cartier for his wife in 1940.

He supplied Cartier's designer Peter Lemarchard with a diamond necklace, and four Art Deco line bracelets featuring sapphires, rubies and emeralds. The line bracelet jewels were used in the tail feathers with the diamonds used on the remainder of the legs, neck and body. The beak was composed of a citrine and small marquise sapphire. A hinged joint within the standing leg allowed a little flexibility and movement.

The resulting brooch was stunning and measured about 10 cm high. The duchess was very enamoured of her brooch and wore it often and at various different times throughout her life.

After the Duchess died in 1987, the brooch was sold at Sotheby's in Geneva, along with the rest of her amazing jewellery collection. It was bought by The Pasteur Institute, a Parisien biomedical research business.




The shortages of gems and metals during wartime meant that designers had to find clever ways around the materials problem. Plique a jour was sometimes used in place of gems to add bright colour.

The yellow gold  Cartier bird brooch below feature blue enamel sections and ruby eyes


Pierre Sterle was a french jeweller known for his innovative style, whose work became majorly prized by collectors. He opened his own workshop in Paris in 1934 at the age of 29, and over the course of the next 5 years worked for several prominent French jewellery firms including Boucheron, Ostertag, and Chaumet, while at the same time developing his own style.

His reputation grew and by 1939 he was receiving commissions and making jewellery only for private clients. He saw himself as distinct from the major jewellery brands and wished to create an air of prestige and exclusivity about his work.

He created innovative jewellery using yellow gold and colourful gemstones, although he also enjoyed the purity of working with diamonds and white metal. He was known for his technical expertise when working with gold to create movement and texture in his jewellery.

This was put to great use in the many beautiful bird brooches he created. The originality of the bird brooch designs inspired by the concept of movement captured the attention of many Royal clients . His bird brooches including toucans, swallows, woodpeckers, and parrots were quite spectacular with different species having different features.

Sterle used a variety of unusually cut gems for the birds beaks and bodies.Platinum and diamond highlighted certain details such as heads and beaks. Some birds had textured effects to the wings while other had plummage composed of different sized tiny gold chains. He patented this new technique and it was called "cheveux d' ange", angle hair.

Above: Pierre Sterle 1960 toucan bird brooch with coral beak, onyx eyes, diamonds, and "cheveux d'ange"


In the later part of the 1950's Boucheron produced a colourful collection of bird brooches. The brooches were based on actual birds such as the redstart and the fly catcher. The birds were covered in semi transparent guilloche enamel in blue , red, and green colours and highlighted with pave set diamonds, with gold beaks and feet.


Costume jewellery firms such as Trifari and Coro produced their own ranges of bird brooches throughout the post war years. Probably the most famous of these is the jelly belly pins perfected by Trifari designer Alfred Katz in 1940's.

The whimsical jelly belly brooch consisted or a bird or animal pin with a jelly belly made of lucite. Penguins and roosters were among the most common form of the brooch. 

Coro produced their own line of jelly bellies designed by Coro designer Arthur Katz. These were sold in department stores as part of the Corocraft brand. Sometimes they were sold as Duettes, the name for Coro's famous range of paired pins.


Above, L to R: Trifari jelly belly bird brooch and Coro jelly belly bird of paradise


The George Jensen brand is famous throughout the world for their beautiful quality silver modernist jewellery. They celebrated their centenary in 2004. The early pieces in the first two decades of the twentieth century were mostly designed by Georg Jensen, but since then a wide array of designers have worked for the brand creating many iconic pieces.

Famous designers include Arno Malinowski, Henning Koppel, Harald Nilson, Hugo Lisberg, and Vivianna Torun Hublow among others. Many of the brooch designs took inspiration from nature and birds were a particular emblem of some of the designers.

Below is an example of a rare Georg Jensen swan brooch designed by Hugo Lisberg and a Georg Jensen dove in foliage brooch 258 designed by Arno Malinowski. 

Georg Jensen dove in foliage brooch    

 Above: L to R Georg Jensen/Arno Malinowski silver dove in foliage brooch and rare Georg Jensen Hugo Lisberg swan brooch 


For many centuries owls have featured in jewellery and sculptures, having been seen as a symbol of wisdom. In Ancient Greece they were the animal of the goddess of war Athena. If an owl was spotted near or flying over the battlefield the soldiers felt that Athena was looking out for them.

The American modernist jeweller Francis Homles Boothby was known for her nature inspired brooches, often featuring birds and owls, as well as pigs. Her work is generally associated with the 1950's and 60's, however she continued to make jewellery well into the 1980's.

She worked mainly in sterling silver, occasionally using gold, brass plastic, and exotic woods. A particular style of brooch she made were eccentric looking owls and birds with spindly legs. Below is an example of of two Francis Holmes Boothby owl brooches.

Francis Holmes Boothby Owl brooch   Frances Holmes Boothby owl brooch

Above: Two Francis Holmes Boothby silver owl broochs

Related Articles: Different Types of Brooch Style   and  Guide to Butterfly and Dragonfly Brooches. For Further examples of vintage bird brooches - see brooch collection at  MODERN VINTAGE STYLE 

Lea Stein, Boucheron Peacock.

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