Vintage Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Part of the appeal of signed pieces of fine jewelry is the aura cast by their designers, who were often leaders in aesthetic originality and technical innovations. That said, many collectors gravitate to designer-signed fine jewelry because of the famous clients who wore these creations. The allure is royalty, be it English monarchs or Hollywood stars.

Almost from the beginning, New York’s Tiffany & Co. was associated with fine jewelry for high-profile clients—the seed-pearl pieces the company designed for Mary Todd Lincoln to be worn at her husband’s 1861 inauguration come to mind. During the Art Nouveau era, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who took over his father’s company, bejeweled the leading ladies of New York society with intricate brooches resembling buzzing dragonflies and flowering Queen Anne’s lace.

Tiffany’s most influential designer was probably Jean Schlumberger, who started working for the firm in 1956. Among other achievements, Schlumberger created Tiffany’s classic bangles, which were such favorites of Jacqueline Kennedy that people called them "Jackie bracelets." It was also during Schlumberger’s tenure that Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with Audrey Hepburn as the window-shopping waif of indeterminate means, made the store itself a star.

Cartier of Paris was founded in 1847 and prospered during the reign of Napoleon III, whose spendthrift courtiers and hangers-on kept the young firm afloat. At first Cartier merely retailed the wares of other French designers, but by 1900, it was becoming one of the world’s premier jewelers.

The early 20th-century pieces were prime examples of the Edwardian garland style. In addition to necklaces, Cartier made sautoirs, whose tassels were laden with pearls and precious stones. Platinum was used extensively, in delicate brooches and diamond-crusted tiaras. No wonder monarchs from Czar Nicholas II of Russia to King Edward himself showered the firm with commissions.

Though generally a trendsetter (the unique diamond panthers designed by Jeanne Toussaint became the firm’s mascot), Cartier was not above bending to the winds of the times. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, Cartier responded with jewels that incorporated scarabs and other Egyptian iconography into their design. And when Art Deco came into prominence, Cartier jumped on that bandwagon, too, particularly with its jeweled wristwatches.

Another region that captured the pre-World War II public’s imagination was India, the land of the Raj. Cartier hired Indian craftsmen to create its famous Fruit Salad necklaces, ...

Van Cleef & Arpels was founded in 1898. The two-family company grew steadily until 1925, when its Roaring Twenties bracelet—ruby and diamond roses, black onyx stems, emerald leaves—won the grand prize at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriales Modernes in Paris. After that, Van Cleef & Arpels salons popped up in fashionable spots around the world, from Monte Carlo to Palm Beach.

In 1933, Van Cleef & Arpels filed a patent for an invisible setting, which made it appear that a stone in a piece of jewelry was simply floating in place. Cartier filed a patent for essentially the same technique the same year, but Van Cleef & Arpels developed it to a high art.

The ballerina brooches of the 1940s employed invisible settings to great advantage. Designed by Maurice Duvalet, these diamond-face confections, with ruby and emerald accents, were based on photographs of famous ballerinas of the day, including Maria Camargo and Anna Pavlova.

The ballerina brooches were widely copied, but the attention they brought to Van Cleef & Arpels raised further the profile of the firm. Eva Perón on Argentina wore a pin of her nation’s flag. Princess Grace also wore Van Cleef & Arpels, as did the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Lauren.

Another prominent European jeweler was the Italian firm of Bulgari, whose Greek patriarch, Sotirios, opened his first solely owned store in Rome in 1884. Sotirios started out selling antiques and revivalist jewelry. In the 20th century, Sotirios’s sons, Giorgio and Constantino, strove to move the company more in line with French and Art Deco fashion trends. Movie stars like Mary Pickford and socialites like Brooke Astor were customers, but the pieces were not yet what we think of as Bulgari.

It would take a third generation of Bulgaris to bring the company to international prominence. With a nudge from artist Andy Warhol, who put Bulgari’s bold bracelets and brightly colored necklaces on the cover of Interview, stars from Jessica Lange to Cher wore Bulgari. Big was better when it came to Bulgari’s bubbly baubles—you might say Bulgari was an early proponent of bling. Around the same time, Bulgari launched a line of gold necklaces anchored by ancient gold coins. That look is now synonymous with Bulgari.

If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Harry Winston was arguably the diamond’s best friend. In 1934, he placed his 726-carat Jonker diamond around the young neck of child actress Shirley Temple for a publicity photograph. In 1949, he purchased a collection that included the "cursed" 44.5-carat Hope Diamond, which now rests in the Smithsonian. Marilyn Monroe sang Winston’s praises in the 1953 Howard Hawks classic, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And in 1969, it was a 69.42-carat Winston diamond that was eventually purchased by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor.

Paul Flato was another American jeweler who had the eye of Hollywood, at least briefly. In the 1930s, the list of stars who wore Flato read like a who’s who—Paulette Goddard (Mrs. Charlie Chaplin), Joan Crawford, Helen Hayes, and Katherine Hepburn are just the tip of the diamond-capped iceberg. Flato liked large pieces that made big statements. Unfortunately, Flato lived a bit too large and was found guilty of pawning jewels that had been consigned to him. By the 1940s, his star had fallen, and after serving 16 months in prison, he fled to Mexico to avoid further charges.

Around the same time period, in 1929, Italian jeweler Fulco di Verdura was doing some of his best work for Coco Chanel, for whom he designed a white enamel cuff with a gold, pearl, and semi-precious stone Maltesse cross at its center. Moving to New York in 1934, Verdura made pieces for fashion editor Diana Vreeland and worked for Paul Flato before opening his own shop in 1939. There, he created his bow-and-knot pieces (Tyrone Power purchased a heart made entirely of rubies that was tied with a ribbon of diamonds), as well as shell brooches, in which real shells were encased or clutched by clusters and tendrils of diamonds.

Two silversmiths proved that gold and diamonds were not necessarily required to produce jewelry of lasting value. Between the wars in Copenhagen, Georg Jensen followed his fondness for the organic embellishment of Art Nouveau to create stunning pieces that heralded a new tradition of silver craftsmanship. His jewelry featured flowers, bunches of grapes, birds, and other animals. Though he briefly flirted with gold and silvers of varying fineness, in 1933 sterling silver became the rule at Jensen, which gives collectors of his early work an easy way to date a vintage piece.

William Spratling was another silver acolyte. After spending summers in Mexico in the 1920s near the silver-mining center of Taxco, he worked with local artisans to produce silver necklaces, pins, bracelets, rings, and other objects in designs he borrowed from pre-Columbian times. By the 1940s he would design pieces that also used indigenous turquoise and amethyst.

David Webb brought a 1960s sensibility to fine jewelry. Most famous for his bejeweled frogs, tortoises, zebras, and other animals, Webb began in the 1950s as a supplier to Bergdorf Goodman and Bonwit Teller. In the 1960s, he had opened his own New York shop and it wasn’t long before Vogue was crowing about his updates of Jeanne Toussaint’s Cartier creatures. President Kennedy, no doubt prompted by his stylish wife, commissioned Webb to design a Freedom Medal; years later, President Nixon would turn to Webb for gifts for diplomats.

Another David, this one with the last name of Yurman, used a 1960s apprenticeship with cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz as the foundation for the jewelry he designed in the 1970s. He and his wife, Sybil, created twisted-cable gold, silver, or bronze bracelets, capped on each end by handsome combinations of precious stones set in gold. Not surprisingly, these elegant pieces became mainstays of Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Tiffany & Co. Paloma Picasso Milky Quartz Sugar Stack Stacks Ring Silver Size 7Jabel 14kt Yellow White Gold .66ctw Diamond Anniversary Mine Cut Ring H-i Si1Heavy Vintage 18k Wg Salavetti 2 Carat Brilliant Diamond Pendant ...gorgeous!Vintage Tiffany & Co. 18k Gold Sea Shell Earrings No Reserve!!!Fine Vtg 40s Mexican Taxco Sterling Silver Repousse Art Deco Clamper Bracelet Judith Ripka Two Pink Stone & Diamonds Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Cuff Bracelet Vintage Mikimoto 17” Chocker Necklace With Pearls 18k Gold 750 Clasp14k & 10k Gold Jewelry Lot Bracelet, Pendant, Earrings Resale Or Scrap 48 GramsGeorg Jensen Sterling Brooch With Moonstone 1910-1925Heavy Judith Ripka All Gold 18k Diamond Color Quartz Necklace 25.8g...gorgeous!Judith Ripka Sterling Silver Pink Cz 18" Heart Station Necklace With Box Pouch Monika & Burkhard Oly Vintage 1970’s Silver Lichen Bracelet, 44 G, GermanyVtg Victorian Etruscan Revival Silver Filigree Natural Chalcedony Italy BraceletTiffany & Co 16" Platinum 950 Star Drop Necklace 100% Authentic Rare ! Slane & Slane Sterling Bee Pendant EnhancerEstate 14k Yellow Gold Rope Link Necklace Chain Designer Signed 5 Grams 14ktFine Vintage Highlander Sterling Silver Celtic Knot Cuff BraceletJes Maharry "love Beyond The Moon + Stars" Multi-gemstone Estate Necklace 51.4grEstate Antique 9k Gold Lavalier 10k Yellow Gold Chain Ruby & Pearl NecklaceRare 9.5mm Genuine Japanese Akoya Seawater Pearl Earrings- Solid 14k Gold NrTacori Platinum Diamond Round Engagement Ring Setting Mounting Rare Patricia Von Musulin Ebony Cuff Bracelet 925 Signed One Of A KindJes Maharry High End Vintage Sterling Multi-stone Bracelet 5 Charms No ReserveJudith Ripka Sterling Silver Turquoise Citrine Cz Diamonique Enhancer Pendant Fine Vtg Michael Dawkins Sterling Silver Bead Toggle Clasp NecklaceJudith Ripka Sterling Silver Opaque Pink Stone Enhancer Pendant 9.3gr StunningEstate 14k Gold Rope Link Necklace Chain Or Heart Designer Signed 5.3 Grams 14ktRare 18k Blue Gold Fine Sapphire Diamond Harry Winston Necklace By Jacques Timey14k Designer Blue Sapphire Diamond Halo Ring White Gold Fine Jewelry Size 7 Preowned John Hardy Sterling Wheat Chain 8" BraceletAngela By John Hardy 14kt Yellow Gold Sterling Silver 925 Large Cuff Bracelet Outstanding 14.4mm Genuine White South Sea Pearl Solid 14k Yelow Gold Ring NrVintage Walter Lampl Sterling Silver Repousse Puffy Heart Padlock Charm Bracelet2 N 1 14kt Yellow Gold 5mm & 6mm Cultured Pearl Stud Or Dangle Earrings EnhancerVintage Art Deco Theodor Fahrner Opal & Sterling Silver Bracelet ~ SignedJudith Ripka Sterling Silver Diamonique Cz Heart Hinged Cuff Bracelet & Box 63grCarolyn Pollack Sterling Brass Onyx Large Enhancer Pendant 27gr Nwot StunningSolid 14kw Gold Diamond Enhancer Pendant W/ Genuine Tahitian South Sea Pearl NrLapponia, BjÖrn WeckstrÖm, Stunning 1982 Sterling Silver “shuttle” Ring, 12.4 GJr Two Signed Pink Stone & Diamonds Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Cuff Bracelet 14kt Yellow Gold 6ctw Oval Shaped Amethyst & Blue Diamond Ring Signed Gsk 3.4grDavid Yurman Ring Sterling Silver/18k Yellow Gold Aquamarine/citrine Me&ro Gold NecklaceDavid Andersen Norway Sterling Silver Enameled Signed Hummingbird Pin BroochRlm Studio Robert Lee Morris Sterling Cut Out Filigree 2-1/4" Large Earrings 10g10kt Yellow White Gold 12 Diamond 3/4" Earrings H-i Si2-i1 2.1grAuthentic Van Cleef And Arpels Sweet Mother Of Pearl 18k Gold NecklaceGenuine 14k Y Gold Natural Silvery White South Sea 11.5x15mm Rare Pearl EarringsAuthentic Van Cleef And Arpels Sweet Carnelian Cliver Rose Gold 18k Bracelet Roberto Coin Tiny Treasure Colorless Diamond Ruby Palm Tree Pendant NecklacePremier Luster Tahitian South Sea Multi Colors 32 Pcs Baroque Rare Pearls StrandDavid Yurman 925 Sterling 18k White Gold One Station Diamond Cable Cuff BraceletEcho Of The Dreamer Sterling Silver Bronze Garden Party Butterfly Bracelet 44.8gSigned Echo Of The Dreamer Sterling Silver Bronze Delphinium Flower Pendant Ann King 6ctw Cabochon Milky Aquamarine Pearl Sterling Silver Ring Size 6Estate 14k White Gold 1 Carat Diamond Tennis Bracelet 10 Grams 14kt 1ctAaa+ Luster Tahitian South Sea Multi Colors 28 Ps 10-17.3mm Baroque Pearl StrandSuper Natural Blue Silvery Indonesian South Sea 13mm Pearl 14k Wt Gold EarringsFabulous Retired Heavy James Avery Sterling Rooster Pin/brooch-adorable! NrTiffany & Co Estate Vintage Solid Gold 18k Italy Sapphire Fine Earrings

Recent News: Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Source: Google News

Paradise Jewelers to Celebrate 10-Year Anniversary
San Clemente Times, February 4th

Debbie runs Paradise II, selling silver designer jewelry she said she obtains from around the world. Rick specializes in diamonds, gold, platinum, watches and coins at Paradise Jewelers, as well as performing all the repairs and custom work. “From $1...Read more's Shopping Pros Discover the Best Gifts for Everyone Stumped on ...
Benzinga, February 4th

Celebrate a lifetime of love with designer jewelry from Gray & Sons, and an 18K white gold pave diamond heart shaped ring with cascading pink sapphires, priced to make any woman's heart flutter at $10,330. Make that romantic trip into the hot tub even...Read more

J.B. Fine Jewelry specializes in unique designs, custom pieces, February 3rd

The large chain stores sell lines of designer jewelry that are made in a factory. What makes me different is that I am the jeweler,” J.B. explains. I can design, custom make and hand deliver anything a customer wants. People come to me for things they...Read more

Akshay Anand's Karats Voted #1 Engagement Store in KC
Newswire, February 2nd

With an impeccable product line that has consistently earned acclaim for its quality and affordability, Karats provides exceptional value in elegant custom and designer jewelry. Apart from being named Number One Engagement Ring Store by The Knot, the ...Read more

Industry Mourns as Cindy Edelstein Passes Away at 51
Rapaport, January 26th

“She was constantly developing innovative new programs to promote designer jewelry to the industry and to assist designers in growing their businesses. Cindy celebrated design and through her many projects, she made sure that the rest of us celebrated ...Read more

Industry Remembers Cindy Edelstein, Beloved Designer Advocate
JCK, January 25th

The next thing you know, I have the only database of retailers across the country who sell designer jewelry.” Her business soon became designer-focused: “There was nobody paying attention to them,” she told Schechter. In addition to her work at the JCK ...Read more

Re-Organize Your Jewelry Collection With These DIY Marble Trays
Brit + Co, January 21st

To bring you this easy DIY all wrapped up in our Marbled Jewelry Tray Kit, we teamed up with the lovely ladies behind Rocksbox, the fabulous subscription-based service that sends a rotating collection of designer jewelry to your door monthly for the...Read more

Tracey Emin's luxury penis bracelet works like a charm on me
The Guardian (blog), January 20th

Charming … bracelet, with tiny penis, from Tracey Emin and Stephen Webster's new jewellery range. Photograph: Accooper Neg & Print. Wednesday 20 January 2016 10.26 EST Last modified on Wednesday 20 January 2016 12.17 EST. Share on Facebook ...Read more