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 Enchantedlearning.com, 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 Vintage 2.00ctw Natural Diamond 18k Gold Eternity RingVintage Cartier 18k Gold Diamond Enemeled Sea Shell Pin Rare .15 Cttw No ReserveVintage 1.50ctw Natural Diamond 14k White Gold Wedding Engagement Ring Band SetArt Deco 1.82ctw Colombian Emerald Diamond Baguette Platinum Engagement RingMayors Birks Vintage 4.50ctw Colorless Diamond 14k White Gold Large Pave RingRed Carpet 7.80ctw Natural Pigeon Blood Ruby Diamond 18k Gold Dangle EarringsVntg~14k Gold-translucent Green~chinese Jade/jadeite~hinged Bangle Bracelet~60gNatural 6.10ctw Imperial A Grade Jadeite Jade Diamond 14k Gold Cocktail RingNatural 7.00ct Australian Lightening Ridge Black Opal 14k Gold Floral RingDavid Yurman Cable Akoya Pearl .40ctw Diamond 18k Gold Sterling Silver BraceletItalian Designer 2.40ct Natural French Cut Ruby Diamond 18k Gold Tennis BraceletVintage 1.40ct Ideal Colorless Perfectly Matching Diamond 14k Gold Stud EarringsVintage Designer 1.00ctw Natural Diamond 18k White Gold Floral Milgrain RingTiffany & Co. Vintage 14k Yellow Gold 25.5mm White Dial Mechanical Wrist WatchNatural 5.35ctw Muzo Colombian Emerald Diamond 14k Gold Pendant Necklace SetAuthentic Tiffany & Co Designer 18k Solid Yellow Gold Tourmaline Stone Ring BoxDavid Yurman 4.00ctw Amethyst 14k Gold Sterling Silver Cable Bangle BraceletVintage Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Denmark Cuff Bracelet Vintage Designer 1.69ctw Natural Heart Shaped Diamond Platinum Pendant Necklace3.10ctw Natural Ceylon Sapphire Diamond 14k Gold Princess Diana Engagement RingVintage Trifari Sterling Silver Crown Brooch W Matching Earrings - Jelly BellyTiffany & Co Platinum Diamond Stud Earrings 2.06cts. F Vv1 F Vv2 Natural 1.25ct Muzo Colombian Emerald Diamond 18k Gold Milgrain Anniversary RingVintage Designer Natural 13.01ctw Ruby & Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Tennis BraceletBarbara Bixby 18kt Gold Sterling White London Blue Topaz Cross Dangle Earrings 18kt Yellow Gold Arte D' Oro Omegaback Teardrop Cage Large Dangle Earrings 9.7gr14kt White Gold Natural Diamond Bezel Tennis Bracelet 3.00cts. Not ScrapVintage Tiffany & Co 18k Gold Onyx Mother Of Pearl Fish Pin Rare No ReserveLadies Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver Heart Link Bracelet & Earring Set With BoxLe Vian 1.80ctw Quartz Chocolate Vanilla Diamond Pink Topaz 14k Gold NecklaceFaberge Las Vegas Edition Green Enamel Gold Tone Silver Spade Card Crystal EggVintage Designer .35ctw Natural Diamond Solid Platinum Eternity Band RingElegant Mikimoto 18k Yellow Gold & Graduated Akoya Pearl Strand Estate NecklaceArt Deco Antique Platinum Diamond Filigree Link Tennis Bracelet 6.00cts.Beautiful Rare Signed Gucci Italy Equestrian Horses Bronze Buckle&gucci Belt! NrSigned "tiffany & Co 750" 18k Yellow Gold 7 1/8" Bracelet & Earrings 60 Grams Vintage 1.20ctw Natural Ruby Colorless Diamond Two Tone 14k Gold Huggie Earrings$ Vintage Designer Mikimoto 14k Yellow Gold Pearl Tennis Statement Bracelet Nr!Vintage Designer 1.70ctw Natural Diamond 18k Gold Rope Design Three Row RingJohn Hardy 1.00ctw Diamond 18k White Gold Sterling Silver Classic Chain BraceletEstate Antique/vintage Australian Opal 18k Gold Asian Flower Cocktail Ring NrCrown Trifari C1945 Sterling Silver & Moonstone Bracelet & Earring SetVintage Designer 1.00ct Princess Cut Diamond 14k Gold Mens Anniversary Band RingVintage Designer 1.10ctw Colorless Diamond 14k Gold Three Row Anniversary RingPal Kepenyes Huge Milagro Necklace 22" Long 5.5" Long Charm 100 Charms 290 GramsLapponia Finland Bjorn Weckstrom Bronze 1969-70 General Motors Pendant NecklaceSet Of (2) Genuine Cartier 14k Yellow Gold Vintage Brooch PinsVintage Tiffany & Co 18k Gold Coral Onyx Mother Of Pearl Fish Pin No ReserveVintage Designer 1.50ctw Natural Colorless Diamond 18k Gold Filigree EarringsTiffany & Co 'a' Letter Engraved Sterling Silver Charm PendantStaurino Fratelli Italy 2.35ctw Natural Red Tourmaline Diamond 18k Gold RingJohn Hardy Classic Chain .30ctw Pave Diamond 18k Gold Sterling Silver BraceletVintage Designer Natural 14.00mm Tahitian Black Pearl 14k Gold Bangle BraceletJudith Ripka Sterling Green Long Diamonique Cz Quartz Omegaback Earrings 17.6grVintage Lagos Caviar Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Toggle Heart Womens BraceletVintage 18k Gold Signed Designer Diamond Enameled Sea Shell Pin Rare No Reserve Tiffany & Co T&co Sterling Silver Rare Designer Heart Cut Out Pendant NecklaceVintage Kabana 14k Yellow Gold, Gold In Quartz Inlay Diamond Ring, Size 6Estate 14k Yellow Gold Natural Ruby Filigree Leverback Hoop Earrings Modern Designer 18k 22k Gold Nugget Heavy Blue Aquamarine Estate Pendant!

Recent News: Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Source: Google News

Tina Fey And Amy Poehler Reveal What They're Wearing To The 2015 Golden ...
Huffington Post Canada, November 28th

But if you were picturing Dior gowns and designer jewelry, think again. The actresses plan on sporting (among other things) "a romper with cheese and children's ice skates" and "the ER bandage dress with stilts by the Ohio stilt king." Thanks to these...Read more

EverywhereUR Launches to Showcase Designer Jewelry by Pavlina
Digital Journal, November 28th

Pavlina's jewelry designs have been submitted to popular TV shows, and, after the success of selling items on Etsy, the EverywhereUR website was launched for fans of handmade designer jewelry to have quick and easy access to Pavlina's latest designs...Read more

Cyber Monday 2014 Sales on Fashion, Apparel, Fragrance, Jewelry Perry Ellis ...
Winston View, November 27th

There are many sites that will be offering Cyber Monday deals on fine designer jewelry like Zales Diamond that will be offering 50% off sie wide. This is a great way to save on that special piece of jewelry that will really become a favored memorable...Read more

Retailers ready for Black Friday
Andalusia Star-News, November 26th

percent discounts on designer jewelry Friday and Saturday; and Slater's Emporium in Florala will be participating in Small Business Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with in store specials on medical scrubs, accessories and shoes for both men and women...Read more

Female Created Southern California Accessory Company, 31 Bits, Works To ...
Huffington Post, November 26th

Noting that "every purchase you make can either have a positive or negative impact on the world," 31 Bits is not only focused upon bringing quality, designer jewelry to fashion forward women, but on empowering women to be their best. "We enter a woman ...Read more

Arts Notes: Holiday boutiques; Town Hall's 'Wonderful Life'
Santa Cruz Sentinel, November 26th

The 50th annual "Artful Giving" exhibit at Valley Art Gallery, with a wide selection of wood pieces, ceramics and glass to original designer jewelry and the gallery's famous, affordable miniature paintings, runs through Dec. 23 at the gallery, 1661...Read more

White Rose Scholarship Gala' to aid women of color
Sun Sentinel, November 26th

Guests will enjoy a silent auction including hot ticket items such as sporting events tickets, flat screen TVs, weekend getaways to the Bahamas and Florida hot-spots, designer jewelry, and shopping, golf and spa experiences. Dinner, dancing and a live ...Read more

More Coloradans taking a shine to fine custom jewelry
Colorado Public Radio, November 17th

In comparison, he says the sales of the company's designer jewelry is more moderate, yet healthy. “We're happy to carry local designers that have a unique aesthetic, especially up-and-comers,” Melissa Oster says. “Customers want to see local designers ...Read more