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    

No Reserve Van Cleef & Arpels Vca Magic Alhambra Necklace Mother Of Pearl 47"Vintage Designer 1.50ct Natural Colombian Emerald 18k Two Tone Gold Fashion RingTiffany & Co1994 Platinum Flowerbracelet W/ 7 Carats Of Diamonds! H Stern 1.50c Colorless Flawless Fancy Pie Cut Diamond 18k Gold Pendant NecklaceAngela By John Hardy 14kt Yellow Gold Sterling Cable Filigree Bracelet 26.3grGenuine Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Hematite Cuff BraceletGenuine Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Hematite Ring - Size 7Barbara Bixby 18kt Gold Sterling Pearl Enamel Topaz Butterfly Omegaback EarringsVintage Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Band Ring ~ I Love You ~ Etched ~ W/ PouchGeorg Jensen Moonlight Blossom Hammered Sterling & Royal Blue Cabochon Necklace1897 Antique Vintage Tiffany 22k Wedding Band Dated 1897 2.24g Size 6David Andersen Forget Me Not Blue Flower Guilloche Enamel Sterling Pin NorwayDesigner David Yurman Sterling Silver Yellow Gold X Crossover Cable Band RingGenuine David Yurman Petrvs Horse Signet Ring Sterling Silver & 22k GoldLevian 2.50 Ct Aquamarine & Chocolate Diamond Pendant Necklace 14k Rose GoldBarbara Bixby 18kt Yellow Gold Sterling London Blue Topaz Diamond Ring Sz 10 Vtg Silpada 28 Strand Wide Sterling Silver Hematite Stone Gray Leather BraceletVintage 14k Gold Egyptian Revival Ruby Diamond Pharaoh Sz 8 RingDesigner Signed John Hardy 18k Gold Dot Sterling Silver Vintage Omega EarringsBeautiful Signed Tiffany & Co. 18k Yellow Gold Gem Sapphire And Diamond NecklaceEstate Find ..vintage 14k Gold Hoop Earrings Milor ItalyStunning Signed Tiffany Co 1950s Heavy 18k Gold Natural Ruby Bracelet 77 GramsVintage Margot De Taxco Sterling Silver & Amethyst Drop Earrings1970s Tiffany & Co. 18k Gold Diamonds Taurus Zodiac Pendant 1.75 Inches Big RareHeavy 18k Gold Mr. B Ultra Fine 2.12ctw Princess Trillion Diamond Ring Size 5.75Massive 16.7x14.1mm Genuine Tahitian Pearl, Diamond & Solid 14k Gold Pendant NrUnique Tahitian South Sea Cultured 8.8 - 15mm 29 Pcs Baroque Pearl 18" NecklaceDominique Aurientis Orange Gripoix Glass Gold Plated Clip-on Earrings ParisEstate 14k White Gold Designer Leer Gem Ltd Star Diamond Bracelet Lgl 14ktStephen Dweck Sterling Silver 925 Rock Crystal Brass Clip-on Earrings RareTiffany & Co. Designer Signed Natural Ruby And Diamond Brooch Pin 18k Gold RingVintage Georg Jensen .925 Sterling Silver Coral Flower Cufflinks Cuff Links #23Rare Genuine 14k Yg Tahitian South Sea Natural Luxury Gray 13.74mm Pearl PendantMassive 15.8x14mm Australian South Sea Pearl,diamond & Solid 14k Gold Pendant NrVintage 1.50ctw Aaa Natural Pigeons Blood Ruby Diamond 14k Gold Cocktail RingStunning Charles Revson 1970 Aldo Cipullo Gold Ep Cartier Love Bracelet Georg Jensen Sterling Silver Denmark Fish Pin #343 Mid-century - Henning KoppelVintage 1950's Hallmarked Designer Danish Modern Carnelian Sea Anemone Ring McmStunning Vtg T Foree .925 Sterling Silver (signed) Pearl Angel Cherub Pin Brooch9-14.3mm Peacock Black Tahitian South Sea Cultured 33 Pcs Pearl 18" Necklace Nr$Vintage Tiffany & Co. 14k Yellow Gold Sapphire & Pearl Circle Pin With BoxLuminous White W/ Rose Australian South Sea Pearl & 14k Gold Diamond Pendant Nr10kt Yellow White Gold .60ctw Ruby Diamond Dangle Earrings Signed Adl 2.5grVintage Tiffany & Co Large Sterling Puffy Heart Pendant On 18" Necklace Ret $700Vintage Tone Vigeland Plus Studio Modernist Sterling Geometric Pendant NorwayVintage Ev 14k Yellow Gold Cluster Diamond Cocktail Ring Size 6Citrine Diamond Ring Levian 14k Yellow Gold Chocolate Vanilla Designer Fine Estate 14k Yellow Gold Aurafin Signed Panther Link Bracelet 14.1 GramsJohn Hardy Black Sapphire Kali Lave Large Cuff Bracelet Sterling Silver RareVintage Natural 4.00ctw Ceylon Sapphire Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Halo EarringsGenuine White Australian South Sea Cultured Pearl Earrings - Solid 14ky Gold NrSolid 14k Yellow Gold & Massive 15.2mm Genuine White South Sea Pearl Pendant NrJohn Hardy Fine Designer Pave Diamond Stud Earrings Sterling Silver & 18k Gold Carolyn Pollack Vintage Carved Mother Of Pearl Big White Summer Pendant MintJames Avery Vintage Sterling Copper Retired Cross Pendant Signed Very RareGorgeous Huge Ming's Of Honolulu 14k Yg Jade Pendant-no Res! A Beauty!Vintage Natural 1.10ct Pigeons Blood Red Ruby Diamond 14k Gold Engagement RingVintage Solid 14k Yellow Gold Citrine Amethyst Statement Cocktail Ring Sz. 7.25Vintage Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Heart Tag BraceletGenuine Japanese Akoya White Rose Pink Tone Baroque Cultured Pearl 18" Necklace

Recent News: Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Source: Google News

Silent auction to aid completion of Ionia Free Fair book
Sentinel-Standard, June 26th

Items that are up for auction include designer jewelry, lighting, vintage photos, Elvis records, gift cards, Ionia Coca-Cola bottles, Michigan State University programs, and more. The items donated for this event are not part of the Ionia County...Read more

When wedding bells ring …
LGBT Weekly, June 25th

For over 33 years, Unicorn Jewelry & Watch Boutique in Rancho Bernardo has been the largest independent family-owned jewelry store, with the biggest and most magnificent collection of designer jewelry, high-quality certified loose diamonds, watches and ...Read more

A'maree's in Newport Beach
OCRegister, June 23rd

A'maree's owners restored the original architurectual details, creating a light-filled space that takes advantage of habor views. The fixtures and displays are moveable so they can be rearranged in the open space. NICK KOON, , NICK KOON, STAFF ...Read more

Custom jeweler making a move to Austin Landing
WDTN, June 23rd

Ohio (WDTN) – A Mason, Ohio jeweler is moving his business to Austin Landing in Miami Township. Karaman Jewelers plans to make the move in early September. The fine jeweler is known for its custom designed engagement rings and designer jewelry...Read more

Diamond Forever Jewelry Announces New Pieces in Their Designer Jewelry ...
PR Web (press release), June 19th

While many designer jewelry shoppers often turn to jewelry and art fairs during the summer months in their pursuit of new pieces, Diamond Forever Jewelry is constantly adding new pieces that can be viewed in their online gallery or in the Los Angeles ...Read more

Share “Up next at Target: Customized jewelry and...”, June 19th

Target is going mad for plaid in August but first up is a DIY-style designer jewelry collection. by Linda Miller Modified: June 19, 2015 at 12:49 pm • Published: June 19, 2015. Advertisement. Photo - Jewelry designer Eddie Borgo, whose capsule jewelry ...Read more

Jacquie Aiche Collaborates With Rihanna
WWD, June 16th

The pop star has partnered with fine jewelry designer Jacquie Aiche on a collection of metallic temporary tattoos, inspired by the designer's jewelry. “Creating the tattoos was a really collaborative process between Rihanna and myself,” said Aiche...Read more

Designer discusses roots of David Yurman collection
Daily Pilot, June 4th

The motif has become a recognizable signature of the American designer's jewelry. And to celebrate the brand's dedication to design and craftsmanship, Yurman made a special appearance at an intimate reception at the David Yurman boutique at South ...Read more