Rosettes are ornamental devices made from ribbon which is pleated or crimped to form a shape which suggests a flower. Often, a rosette may be decorated with trailing ribbons as well. Numerous governments and organizations give out rosettes to recognize significant achievements, ranging from taking first place in a horse show to being injured in combat. The term is also used to refer to a bowknot, a circular construction of ribbon which is sometimes given out with medals.
The term comes from the Old French rosette as a diminutive for “rose.” As far back as 1790, English speakers were referring to rose shaped bunches of ribbons as rosettes. These rosettes were often purely ornamental, denoting no particular honors or recognition, as is still the case with some modern rosettes. The use of rosettes in honors appears to have begun around 1802, with Napoleon.
Typically, silk and satin are used to make rosettes, although silk rosettes are more traditional. These glossy textiles can give rosettes a living look and feel as they reflect light. The ribbons used can be any color or combination of colors, although specific colors have certain meanings. These meanings change from nation to nation, especially with military medals, which can lead to confusion. In some cases, a space may be left in the middle of the rosette, so that honors can be written out or printed. If trailing ribbons are included, they are usually color coordinated with the primary rosette.
People who have received rosettes as part of honors or awards can wear or display them. Many people wear the rosettes when they are awarded, and move them to a display case along with other mementos afterwards. Typically, military honors may be worn at formal occasions, while rosettes given out as prizes are generally not worn. Ornamental rosettes are usually significantly smaller than those awarded for honors, and they are often sewn into garments.
The circular bowknot dates from 1802, when it was first presented with the Legion of Honor. It was initially presented with the medal so that honorees would have something to wear when wearing a medal might not be appropriate. The bowknot started out quite large, and shrank down to be a more manageable size by 1850. When protocol precludes the wearing of medals, honorees with bowknots can wear their rosettes. In some cases, the bowknot may be pinned to the medal's ribbon at the time of presentation.