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Just as chatter over the colour of Michelle Obama's inauguration ensemble started to taper off - descriptions ranged from "brilliant" to "bilious" - a first lady fashion factoid emerged that can be traced to Torontonian Carole Tanenbaum.

Ms. Obama, who is to the brooch what her husband is to the BlackBerry, wore a five-inch rhinestone stunner that was perfectly framed by her custom-designed Isabel Toledo dress, matching cardigan and coat.

Both outfit and accessory were selected under the guidance of Ikram Goldman whose namesake boutique in Chicago's Gold Coast has become Ms. Obama's unofficial destination for high-end American threads.

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Yesterday morning, after inspecting countless photos, Ms. Tanenbaum confirmed that the Victorian paste (imitation diamond) sash pin was the same No. 51477 sold to Ms. Goldman in 2005. Not coincidentally, the piece was sent back to her late last year so that a rhinestone could be replaced.

"[Ms. Obama]chose a piece of history, just like he chose a piece of history," said Ms. Tanenbaum, noting how the President used Abraham Lincoln's Bible to take his oath. "It's one of the most intelligent and graceful things she could have done."

In other words, the first lady could have worn bling from any of the big name jewellers but opted instead for a pin with provenance.

The native New Yorker who now resides in Toronto said she acquired the piece at a Palm Beach estate sale. She referred to Ms. Goldman as "a major client."

Ms. Goldman, who keeps mum about her relationship with Ms. Obama, did not respond to an interview request.

Even the most seasoned fashion experts had a tough time figuring out whether this centrally placed sparkle was a necklace, brooch or part of the dress. Its perfect curvature to the neckline even prompted jewellery blogger Bernadette Morra to speculate on that the outfit was designed around the brooch.

"I never would have thought of putting it [there]" admitted Ms. Tanenbaum who declined to disclose the price of the brooch, as sold to Ms. Goldman, out of discretion for the first lady.

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The Carole Tanenbaum Vintage Collection is considered one of North America's pre-eminent sources for costume baubles that date from the Victorian period through the 1980s. The jewellery is available in more than 43 locations worldwide (including Holt Renfrew and White in Toronto and Saks Fifth Avenue in Boca Raton) or through her website (

But Ms. Obama's brooch, she says, is most likely one of a kind.

"Her lack of interest in name brands," is what impressed Ms. Tanenbaum most. "It shows how grounded she is. She really is an independent thinker."

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