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    

Patek Philippe Nautilus 3800/1 Diamond Bezel Stainless Automatic 37.5mm WatchNa Hoku 9.3mm Golden South Sea Pearl Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Plumeria RingMayors Birks 2.50ctw Diamond 14k Gold Extra Large 43.00mm In & Out Hoop EarringsEffy Vintage 2.50ctw Natural Diamond Baguette 14k White Gold Knot Band RingBreitling For Bentley A44362 6.75 Xl 49.0mm Stainless Steel Wrist Watch With BoxBvlgari B.zero1 18k Yellow Gold Dangle Drop Pendant Earrings Bulgari ItalyRoberto Coin Italian Designer 18k White Gold Woven Hoop Earrings 22.5mmDesigner Barbara Bixby Estate Sterling Silver 18k Gold Ring Band Nr Sz 8 925Tiffany & Co Bezet Collection Platinum 1.7mm Band Ring Italy Vintage 3.25ct Natural Merelani Tanzanite Colorless Diamond 14k Gold Bypass RingVintage Designer 5.00ctw Natural Diamond 14k White Gold S Link Tennis NecklaceVintage 2.00ctw Natural Colorless Flawless Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Cocktail RingMayors Birks 6.00ctw Round Brilliant Cut Diamond 14k White Gold Large Dome RingVintage 5.50ct Lightning Ridge Australian Black Opal Diamond 18k White Gold RingMayors Birks 4.50ctw Natural Siberian Amethyst Diamond 18k Gold Engagement RingVintage Designer .62ctw Natural Heart Cut Diamond 14k Gold Pendant Necklace SetLarge Signed Mings Jadeite RingYossi Harari 3.00ctw Natural Rose Cut Diamond 24k Gold Drop Pendant NecklaceVintage Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Celtic Hearts Cuff Bracelet Denmark 46.3 GrVintage 2.50ctw Natural Colorless Flawless Ideal Diamond 18k Gold Cocktail Ring14k Mings Swan Carved Jade Belt Buckle Pendant Asian MotifVintage 3.50ctw Natural Muzo Colombian Emerald Diamond 14k Gold Pendant NecklaceVintage 2.50ctw Natural European Champagne Diamond 14k Gold Pendant Necklace Estate 14k Yellow Gold Chatham Emerald And Diamond RingVintage Aaa Grade 20.00ct Golden Fancy Cut Citrine 18k Gold Large Cocktail RingVintage Designer 2.30ctw Natural Ruby Diamond Baguette 14k Gold Cocktail RingVintage 6.50ctw Natural Ceylon Sapphire Diamond 18k Gold Starburst NecklaceNatural .78ct Flawless Colorless Emerald Cut Diamond 18k Gold Engagement RingVintage Designer 1.75ctw Natural Ruby Flawless Diamond 14k Gold Abstract RingEstate Vintage 14k White Gold Signed Na Hoku Diamond Plumeria Flower RingVintage New York Designer 4.00ctw Natural Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Pave RingSterling Silver Ed Levin Earrings Hammered Paddle Stick Designer Signed 1.6 GrRetro Designer 2.40ctw Natural Muzo Colombian Emerald Diamond 18k Gold RingVintage David Andersen Bracelet Sterling Enamel 925 Norway Mid-century ModernLevian 2.00ctw Natural Chocolate & Vanilla Diamond Pave 14k White Gold PendantGeorg Jensen Vintage Danish Sterling Silver 925 Moonlight Blossom Brooch NouveauVtg Polish 800 Silver Modernist Studio Artisan Signed Or Dangle Bib NecklaceNew York 1.35ctw Natural Pave Diamond 14k Two Tone Gold 14.5mm Huggie EarringsVintage 10k Yellow Gold Thl (samuel Aaron) Diamond Wedding Band Ring - Size 7.75Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Elsa Peretti Heart Necklace - Used - Very Nice-nrJudith Ripka Steling Silver 1.25ctw Diamonique Cz Heart Cuff Hinged Bracelet 48g$3,200 Heavy Custom 3ctw Natural Australian Opal & Diamond 14k Y Gold Ring 9.8gJa Sterling Silver Ornate Ring Size 7 James Avery?Estate 14k Yellow Gold Diamond Pendant Necklace With 14kt ChainIntense Natural 4.20c Aaa Pigeon Blood Ruby Princess Diamond 18k Gold Large RingAaron Basha New York Large Double Bar Open Link Bracelet 18k White Gold10k Aka Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Pin, Enamel & Seed Pearls, Vintage No ReserveFabulous Chanel Paris Faux Pearls & Cc Logo Gold Metal Necklace 1985 #3616Superb 16" Two-tone David Yurman Sterling Silver & 18k Mesh Chain Link NecklaceRare Xena Warrior Princess Sterling Silver Mystic Chakram Ceremonial NecklaceDavid Yurman Grey Moonstone Spiritual Bead BraceletVintage Tiffany & Co - Please Return To New Tork - 925k Sterling Silver NecklaceNatural 2.35ct Electric Blue Green Paraiba Tourmaline Diamond 18k Gold Halo RingItalian Designer 5.15c Natural A Grade Imperial Jade Diamond 18k Gold Retro RingVintage Italian Designer Natural Red Coral 18k Gold Filigree 18.5mm Hoop EarringFaberge 18k Gold, Enamel, Aquamarine, Diamond Ring In Original BoxAngela By John Hardy Small 14kt Yellow Gold Sterling Small Hinged Cuff BraceletDesigner Judith Ripka Sterling Silver Cubic Zirconia Stone Heart Lock NecklaceSolid 18k White Gold Diamond Ring With Gorgeous Fine Tahitian Seawater Pearl NrEstate 14k Yellow Gold Emerald & Diamond 1.5 Carat Stud Earrings Valentines Gift

Recent News: Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Source: Google News

Slane Jewelry Sale, St. Louis Fine Jeweler Elleard Heffern Offering 40% off ..., January 31st

Slane Jewelry Sale, St. Louis Fine Jeweler Elleard Heffern Offering 40% off Slane Designer Jewelry, Starting February 2, 2015. BY | Posted: Saturday, January 31, 2015 06:02 AM. Elleard Heffern Fine Jewelers in Clayton is announcing a sale on Slane ...Read more

12 Jewelry Trends for 2015: Quite Charming Leather Bracelets
JCK (blog), January 30th

particularly if you have a customers who return to you regularly, with the intention of adding a new charm to their collection. Get them started on a new look—they'll look great in leather. Click each image for more information on designer...Read more

Man accused of buying $2K of designer shoes with fake credit card
Sun Sentinel, January 28th

He worked with another man and woman, Erick Hernandez, 33, and Dayana Torres, 25, to buy designer jewelry, bags and clothes from various stores on Worth Road in Palm Springs, police said. Hernandez and Torres were arrested in September on theft ...Read more

Antiques & Garden Show highlights
The Tennessean, January 27th

More than 150 antiques, art and horticultural dealers from across the U.S. and Europe present a unique shopping opportunity, offering everything from fine art, furniture and designer jewelry to unique items for the garden. Why: To date, the volunteer...Read more

'Raise the Caliber' foundation turning Detroit guns, ammo into designer jewelry, January 22nd

Raise the Caliber founder Jessica Mindich began crafting cuffs, bangles and cufflinks from guns and ammo taken off the streets in major U.S. cities in 2012. Each piece of jewelry is forged from repossessed shell casings and stamped with the serial...Read more

Raghad Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein daughter turned jewelry designer.
scallywagandvagabond, January 21st

Whilst Raghad may have a penchant for pricey designer jewelry as well other designer accoutrements (a source reveals she likes to buy shoes by the 'sack load') the daughter is also noted to be an avid fan of plastic surgery. Lots of plastic surgery in...Read more

Why Madonna, Demi Moore and Many Others Wear Rachel Brown's Jewelry
Parade, January 8th

Brown imagined beautiful designer jewelry with a purpose – where the pieces would contain astrological signs tailored to wearer, bringing them blessings, protection, health, prosperity, and miracles. Created from her stylishly keen eye, caring soul and ...Read more

Word on the Street: Fresno Jewelry Mart changes name to Lewis Diamond Co.
Fresno Bee, January 4th

There, the store has provided residents with designer jewelry at wholesale prices, said Christie Lewis, sales and marketing. Now, the third generation of the Lewis family — Bob Lewis' daughter, Shaunda, and son, Tyson — are taking the reigns and...Read more