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    

Patek Philippe Nautilus 3800/1 Diamond Bezel Stainless Automatic 37.5mm WatchPanerai Luminor 1950 3 Days Power Reserve Pam00423 47mm Automatic WristwatchJaeger-lecoultre Vintage Automatic Master Mariner 14k Gold 33mm Wrist WatchPanerai Luminor Gmt Pam00088 Automatic Stainless Extra Large 44mm Wrist WatchMayors Birks Vintage 4.50ctw Colorless Diamond 14k White Gold Large Pave RingVintage Designer 1.69ctw Natural Heart Shaped Diamond Platinum Pendant NecklaceEstate 14k Yellow Gold 1/2 Carat Princess Cut Diamond Hoop EarringsMayors Birks 4.00ctw Colorless Diamond Baguette 18k Gold Leaf Pendant Necklace Authentic Hermes H Clic-clac Light Blue Enamel Bracelet Pre-owned France 32grEstate Konstantino Braided & Dot Pattern Heavy Sterling Silver Bracelet ^f MarkFine Vintage 14k Gold 10mm Tahitian Blue Gray Pearl Pierced Stud EarringsVintage Sylvan Bros 10.40ctw Colorless Diamond Ruby 18k Gold Floral BraceletVintage 1.25ctw Natural Chrome Green Tourmaline 18k Gold Two Tone Cigar RingEstate 14k Yellow Gold 3/4 Carat Round Champagne Diamond Stud EarringsTiffany & Co Platinum Diamond Stud Earrings 2.06cts. F Vv1 F Vv2 Chopard Happy Sport 4144 2.52ctw Diamond Sapphire 18k Gold Ladies Wrist WatchVintage Designer .80ctw Diamond Channel Set J Hoop 14k Yellow Gold Earrings3 Michael Dawkins Sterling Snakeskin Drop Granulation Heavy Bangle Bracelets 76gJudith Ripka 30.25ct Canary Crystal & Diamond Sterling Silver Drop EarringsBurberry Britain Genuine Leather Plaid Black Interior Tote Bag Authentic Vintage Buccellati 18k White & Yellow Gold Woven Statement Bracelet 45.3 Dwt NrLevian Vintage 1.00ctw Fancy Chocolate Vanilla Diamond 14k Gold Starburst RingRolex Vintage 1970 Date Model 1501 Solid 14k Yellow Gold Wristwatch All OriginalVintage Designer .85ctw Old European Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Three Stone RingChopard Vintage Happy Diamonds .30ctw Colorless Diamond 18k Yellow Gold RingCartier France Vintage Genuine Burgundy Leather Medium Shoulder Tote BagModern Designer 14k Yellow Gold 1.00 Ct Green Pear Cut Emerald Estate Earrings!John Hardy Dragon Bracelet With Diamonds - Up To 7 1/2" Wrist - Used - ExcellentTiffany & Co Atlas Medallion .25ctw Diamond 18k White Gold Pendant Necklace SetVintage Designer 14.85ctw Natural Australian Opal Diamond 18k Gold BraceletVintage Designer 20.00ct Natural Siberian Amethyst 18k Yellow Gold Cocktail RingTiffany & Co. 13.7mm Golden South Seas Pearl 18k Gold Necklace Pendant SetBreitling Bentley Special Edition A25362 Extra Large 50.0mm Stainless WristwatchEstate Real 14k 24k Huge Heavy Alaskan Gold Quartz Cabochon Inlaid Mens Ring!Vintage Designer 2.00ctw Diamond 18k White Gold Large 45.00mm Hoop Earrings(3) Early Georg Jensen 925 Sterling Silver Brooch Pins W/ Stones 189 / 189aSpectacular Royal Estate Effy 1.5 Carat Sapphire & Diamond Princess Ring 14kEstate Tiffany & Company Sterling Silver Somerset Mesh Ring In T & Co Bag .925Vintage 2.00ct Colorless Princess Emerald Diamond Platinum Anniversary Band RingItalian Designer Natural 1.00ctw Aaa Muzo Colombian Emerald 18k Gold EarringsVintage New York Designer 5.00ctw Champagne Diamond 14k Gold Tennis BraceletNeiman Marcus 28.00ctw Aquamarine Akoya Pearl Sterling Silver Bead NecklaceBreitling Chronomat 41 Cb0140y2 A743 378c 18k Rose Gold 45.5mm Automatic WatchDesigner Estate 18k Yellow Gold Australian Black Fire Opal & Diamond Womens RingRare!! Vintage!! Tiffany & Co. 14k Gold Maple Leaf Earrings Must De Cartier France Vintage Genuine Burgundy Leather Gold Logo Clutch PurseJudith Ripka Sterling 925 Green Chalcedony Emerald Cuff Hinged Bracelet 53.1gr No Reserve ~ Vtg Navajo E. Carviso Sterling Blue Turquoise Necklace Choker 15" Modern Designer 14k Yellow Gold Lustrous Cultured Pearl Diamond Estate Earrings!Vintage Christian Dior 1969 Germany Emerald Green Rhinestone Dangle Earrings Vintage Georg Jensen 925 S Sterling Pin #339 Denmark Henning Kopple Original BoxVintage Comstock Sterling Silver Silversmiths Western Belt Buckle Heritage SetVintage Sigi Pineda Necklace Stunning Modern Design Immaculate Original NrSolid 14k Gold Vintage Tiffany & Co Twist Cuff Bracelet- 52g- Cartier France Vintage Trinity Ring 18k White Yellow Rose Gold Large Size 13.5Gregg Ruth Vintage 1.85ctw Colorless & Canary Yellow Diamond 18k Gold EarringsDesigner 20 Ctw Rose Cut Amethyst 14k Pink Gold Diamond Hoop Drop Earrings Mint Georg Jensen Ring-sterling Silver-purple Stone-#423-vintage-nr!Estate 14k Yellow Gold Tanzanite & Diamond Adl Signed Necklace From ItalyDavid Yurman Large 7.27ct Chalcedony Diamond 18k Gold Sterling Silver Capri Ring

Recent News: Designer Signed Fine Jewelry

Source: Google News

OKG Jewelry Launches Its New Sparkling Collection of Handcrafted Pieces
DigitalJournal.com, October 31st

Little Neck, NY -- (ReleaseWire) -- 10/31/2014 -- OKG Jewelry, the leading jewelry brand since 1969, has unveiled its latest collection of exquisite, handcrafted designer jewelry for its This new collection consists of all handmade design jewelry, set...Read more

News in Brief
Monett Times, October 31st

Designer jewelry, from chains, pins and necklace sets to accessories and gadgets will be available. All proceeds to benefit the Auxiliary's healthcare scholarship fund. For more information, people may call volunteer services at 417/354-1404. The Purdy...Read more

Five Don't-Miss Fashion Events in Houston in November
Houston Press (blog), October 29th

The weather is cooling down just in time for fashion season in Houston to heat up! Clear your calendars (and your credit card balance) because in addition to this onslaught of fashion--Christmas is coming. You know it, I know it, and the retailers in...Read more

Oregon Jewelry Store Sues Flash Sale Site Over Rights To 'Gilt' Name
MediaPost Communications, October 17th

Bixel says in her lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Portland, that her store has sold vintage pieces and designer jewelry since opening in 1994. The entrepreneur, who later expanded into handbags and other accessories, adds that since...Read more

Bernie Robbins offering big deals on jewelry
6abc.com, October 15th

Whether you are looking ahead and doing some holiday shopping, or just want something shiny, Bernie Robbins Jewelers is offering up to 70% off $10 million worth of designer jewelry during their "Marlton Renovation Sale." They are doing some remodeling ...Read more

Polish Jewelry Designers Take Center Stage In Warsaw
Forbes, October 10th

Poland's largest jewelry markets for Polish designer jewelry are Germany, China, Italy and the US. Many of the designs combine a modern aesthetic with a unique artistic perspective from being isolated from the rest of the world during the Soviet...Read more

You Should Know: Jewelry Designer Eva Fehren
Guestofaguest.com, October 6th

Eva Fehren is the designer behind a beautiful jewelry collection featuring contrasting elements, multi-dimensional stones, opaque diamonds, and other unique materials. Popular publications including Vanity Fair, Glamour, Elle, InStyle, Marie Claire...Read more

Designer Geraldine Kane to Join Online Irish Jewelry Store CelticPromise.com
PR Web (press release), September 30th

Leading online Irish jewelry store CelticPromise.com announce that Northern Irish designer Geraldine Kane will be the latest goldsmith to join their online store. This signing continues the store's promise to make Irish jewelry design more accessible...Read more