Harry Winston: A Diamond Legacy

Floral motif diamond and platinum necklace, converts into two bracelets, circa 1959, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

From the red carpet to royalty Harry Winston jewels are seen sparkling on some of the world’s best known luminaries at some of the world’s most high profile events. Winston himself became quite famous due to the important diamonds and gemstones that he acquired and through his penchant for sharing his passion for diamonds and gemstones with the public.

Harry Winston was born in New York City in 1896. His father had a small jewelry shop and young Harry spent a great deal of time there. The defining moment for his future career as a purveyor of exceptional diamonds and colored gemstones happened when he was just 12 years old. Winston stopped by a pawn shop and was looking through some costume jewelry, when he saw a green stone. The pawn shop owner thought it was a piece of glass, but Winston knew better. He bought the stone for 50 cents. Two days later he sold it for $800. The piece of glass was actually an emerald.

In 1909, Winston’s family moved to Los Angeles where they opened a store. Young Winston worked there alongside his father before moving back to New York City a few years later.

Harry Winston’s First Company

When Harry Winston arrived back in New York City, in 1920, he opened his first business, the Premier Diamond Company. It was a fortuitous year for Winston, he also met his wife Edna, that same year, although they did not marry until 1933.

After opening the Premier Diamond Company, Winston realized the complexity of the diamond market and breaking into it with few resources. Known for being an astute business person, Winston made a name for himself by purchasing the estates of well-known socialites, industrialists and other notable families. These acquisitions gave Winston access to diamonds and colored gemstones that he would not have otherwise been able to acquire. He often took the jewelry apart and reused the stones in his own creations.

Harry Winston ring with 52-carat Colombian emerald, minor oil, diamonds and gold, 1970s, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Winston opened his eponymous store on Fifth Avenue, in 1932. And a couple of years later he was making headlines with the purchase of the famed Jonker Diamond, the 726-carat rough diamond was discovered in South Africa and named after the miner who found it. Winston brought the rough diamond back to New York and promptly sent it out on a press tour around the country. While on tour the uncut diamond was photographed with stars of the silver screen, Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert. After its press tour the Jonker was finally cut, yielding 12 gems, with the largest weighing 125.35-carats.

That was the start of Winston and his connection to some of the most important diamonds in the world. Harry Winston has also been the guardian of the Vargas Diamond, Winston Diamond, Star of Independence, The Washington and perhaps most famously, the Hope Diamond.

Court of Jewels

Harry Winston and diamonds were so inextricably intertwined that in 1947 Cosmopolitan Magazine, dubbed him the “King of Diamonds”, a title that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Winston loved sharing his passion for jewels with other people and wanted to make sure that the public was informed about gemstones. He also had a passion for philanthropy, so in 1949 he created another headlining event: “The Court of Jewels” a traveling exhibition of spectacular gemstones and jewelry. The exhibition toured several cities and in each destination  money was raised for local charities. He later donated The Hope Diamond and some of the other items from “The Court of Jewels” to the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, he mailed The Hope Diamond to the museum through the United States Postal Service.

The Harry Winston Cluster

Classic cluster diamond and platinum earrings by Harry Winston, circa 1969, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

Harry Winston is known for the use of exceptional diamonds and gemstones in its jewelry. Winston always let the stone dictate the design rather than the setting being the main focus. With that in mind, the cluster design is one of his most renowned creations and the idea came from a rather unusual source: A holly wreath.

Winston arrived home in Scarsdale one winter night and glanced at the wreath on his front door that was sparkling with snow and frost. The next day Winston went to his head designer, Nevodon Koumrouyan and together they created the now iconic “cluster” design. The Cluster which features diamonds in round, pear and marquise shapes all in one piece is designed so that the gems are angled and in perfect proportion to each other creating spectacular sparkle. The diamonds are always set in platinum so that the setting is barely visible instead emphasizing the gems so they appear to be floating. It’s a look that is closely associated with the firm.

Hollywood has come knocking on Harry Winston’s doors many times. Its sparklers have been worn in a number of films including the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Notorious”, “The Graduate” and  “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”.  And who could forget Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”  purring the famous line – “talk to me Harry Winston” — as she sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.  Winston also started the trend of loaning jewels to stars walking the red carpet for various award shows, which earned him a second nickname: Jeweler to the Stars.

Harry Winston passed away in 1978. His son, Ronald Winston took over daily operations of the business until he retired in 2014. The company was sold to Aber Diamond Mine, which later sold the company to Swatch. But Winston’s legacy of “rare jewels of the world” continues to today as a new generation of clients discover the magic of his jewelry.

Authored by Amber Michelle

10 Tips for Evaluating Antique Jewelry

Floral motif Victorian era silver topped gold brooch, en tremblant, set with old mine and rose cut diamonds, converts to hair ornament, French assay marks, infitted case by Henri Blanc Paris. Courtesy, Gorky Antiquites.

Purchasing antique jewelry is a bit like going on a treasure hunt. Each piece is a little bit different, you never know what you’re going to find and of course you’ll know it when you see it. Once you find “the one” you want to be sure that the piece is what it is represented to be, that it is in fact a true antique jewel — which for the purposes of this blog is defined as through the late Victorian period — and not a reproduction.

The first thing you want to do is start by working with a reputable jewelry dealer or retailer. Always ask for any gemological reports and other paperwork that may help to authenticate a piece. While it takes an expert to verify the authenticity of an item, every jewel will give you clues to its background. First you have to know what to look for and then it’s a lot like playing  detective. Careful examination of a piece of jewelry from all angles is necessary. If you’re buying a very expensive or exceptionally rare piece of jewelry, then you may want to have it reviewed by a third-party, such as an appraiser, who does not have an interest in the sale of the jewel.

To help you get started in determining if a piece is worthy of a second opinion, Gail Brett Levine, GG, executive director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA) offers ten tips for determining if a piece of jewelry is actually an antique. “If you want to find out more about a piece, go to an appraiser who has a jewelry history background,” she advises.

Illustration of C Clasp, used in antique jewelry, image courtesy NAJA.

• A reproduction will normally have modern safety clasps and will not have handmade pin stem and joint tube hinges unless designed to defraud.  “In an antique brooch the pin stem will be considerably longer than the catch,” explains Levine. “The pin will go one-quarter to three eights of an inch over the outline of the brooch. These early clasps were C clasps with no safety catch. The extra length on the pin was there to catch the fabric so the brooch would be held in place more securely.”

• Look at the prongs on a piece for more clues as to its age. In old pieces prongs will be worn smooth. In a reproduction piece the prongs will be large, a bit chubby, and they will show no wear.

• Hinges on a reproduction bracelet will be “wiggly” and heavy. The snap will generally be a “two piece solder” rather than a one-piece bent over snap.

Illustration of 1880 threaded post, image courtesy NAJA.

• The backings of reproduction earrings will be post and friction nut style rather than post and screw nut style. In newly made pieces the post is smooth and the back, or nut, will slide right on to the post. In an antique piece, the nut or post will sometimes have threads, similar to a screw, and the nut will screw onto the post back.

• Threaded areas should show wear and tear in antique jewelry. “With repeated wear the threading on the nut will wear out. The hole in the nut will become enlarged and it doesn’t hold well anymore,” says Levine.

• There were no cultured pearls before approximately 1910. Additionally, cultured pearls were not widely available until the 1920s. The only way to determine if a pearl is natural or cultured is to  have it examined by a gemological laboratory. Older pieces will have handset pearls, where the post is fashioned to fit the drill hole of the pearl, rather than glued pearls.

• Reproduction chains do not show the wear and tear that old chains will show. “The links, especially larger links like you will see in Georgian era jewelry will show indentations in the metal from wear,” comments Levine. “The links on pieces that were worn a lot will rub against each other and you will be able to see an indentation that looks a like a woman’s hourglass figure.”

• In a modern piece you will often find the metal karatage stamped on or near the clasp. The clasps are generally finely made and they will have a tongue that fits into a groove to open and close the jewel. “On antique pieces the clasp is often bulky and thick,” says Levine. “For the most part if a piece of gold jewelry is stamped 18-karat it is European, if it is stamped 15-karat it was made in Britain, 15-karat gold is no longer made so that is an indicator of age. It was also possible to find 9-karat gold, or silver topped gold that made the gems shine more brightly.”

• Make sure that the gemstones — type and cut — and materials are typical of the period and style represented. Various gemstones were discovered at different points in time and some gems were not discovered until the 20th century — for example, there is no tanzanite in antique jewelry. “A good rule of thumb is that generally a sharp cornered or step cut stone will not be in an antique piece,” says Levine. “The technology for that type of cut did not exist at that time. If the piece has sharp corners it does not belong. You start seeing those angular cuts in jewelry starting in the 1920s.”

• Stamped markings for gold karatage will be too crisp and clean in a reproduction, but may be somewhat worn away in an older piece.   

Every piece of jewelry has a story to tell — including its own history. A careful examination of a jewel will tell you much about it, from whether or not it has been repaired, is a reproduction or even its approximate age.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Suzanne Belperron: Visionary Designer

Portrait of Suzanne Belperron and Toi et Moi Virgin Gold ring, all images courtesy Belperron.

Recognized as one of the 20th century’s most influential jewelry designers, Suzanne Belperron remains a bit of an enigma. Fiercely private, almost secretive, her talent was undeniable. Despite being conceived many decades ago, part of the genius of Belperron is that her work looks as contemporary today as when it was first produced.

“She was a woman designing for women at a time when jewelry making was dominated by men,” explains Nico Landrigan, president, Belperron. “She mastered many jewelry making techniques and then combined them all.”

Born Madeleine Suzanne Vuillerme in Saint-Claude, France in 1900, her family moved to Besançon a year later. She became Madame Belperron when she married engineer Jean Belperron in 1924.

Her mother recognized Belperron’s talent at a young age and encouraged her to pursue her art. Belperron attended the Besançon Ecole des Beaux Arts. After graduating from school in 1919, Belperron moved to Paris, where she was hired by the Maison Boivin as a model-maker and designer. She never signed her work, but her style was recognizable and it changed the design aesthetic of the firm. 

Suzanne Belperron and Bernard Herz

Belperron Vintage Pyramide Brooch with sketch.

After a few years at Boivin, Belperron was offered a position by Bernard Herz, a high-end gem and pearl dealer. She was hired to design exclusively under his company name, B. Herz, and was given free rein to design as she pleased. Again she declined to sign her creations famously stating that “my style is my signature.”

So how do you know if a piece is by Belperron? She had a very extensive archives of 9,300 sketches and in 2015 Nico Landrigan and his father Ward, relaunched the brand, after acquiring the archives and the Belperron name and trademark in 1998. One of the things that they needed to figure out before the launch was how to distinguish the newly made Belperron from the vintage pieces.

“The new pieces are signed Belperron in bold block letters,” says Landrigan. “Some pieces are rock crystal or hardstone and there is no space for a signature so we put a coded scratch number on the piece. We have a record of all the pieces we’ve made.”

When Belperron left Boivin for B. Herz, she kept the same workshop, Groené et Darde, and the pieces designed by Belperron have those maker marks. According to Landrigan, the French system of marks is very structured and those pieces with the workshop marks help to identity her vintage jewelry. The Belperron archives can also be accessed to verify that a jewel is actually her design.

“The archives are critical to identifying Belperron’s work,” comments Landrigan. “You have to study how a piece is constructed, see the markings, but without the archives, it’s hard to be sure if the pieces are authentic.”

Belperron and World War II

In 1941 when World War II was on Europe’s doorstep, Bernard Herz asked Belperron to purchase the business from him so she could keep it going during the Nazi occupation of Paris. A year later, he was arrested and sent to jail. Belperron was part of the French Resistance and she was able to get him released, but he was arrested again and she was unable to secure his release the second time. He was sent to a concentration camp and did not survive the war.

Despite the difficulty in accessing materials to make jewelry, Belperron kept the business going throughout the war and in 1945, after spending five years in a prison camp, Bernard Herz’s son Jean Herz returned to Paris. Belperron gave the company back to Herz and he made her an equal partner in the business — Jean Herz-Suzanne Belperron, S.A.R.L.

During her career Belperron challenged traditional thinking about what jewelry should look like and how it is made. She created large-scale, curvaceous and voluptuous pieces that are as stylish now as when they were first made.

“She was an exceptional artist,” observes Landrigan. “I think she foresaw a modern style. She looked into the future. She had restraint and balance in her jewelry. She never gave everything away at a first glance. You really have to zoom in and look at her pieces, the more you look the better it gets.”

Belperron and Serti Couteau

Belperron Paisley Serti Couteau Spinel Earclips.

Landrigan notes that Belperron invented her own style of setting to accommodate her designs. She liked to create pieces with multiple gemstones in different sizes and shapes, so she developed a special setting, serti couteau, or knife edge, to hold the stones in place. The setting technique, which looks like an irregular honeycomb on the back, became a part of the design. The setting allowed Belperron to mount stones of various shapes and sizes into her pieces in a random pattern.  She also pioneered the setting of gemstones into hardstone, a favorite combination was diamonds in rock crystal. Some of her all gold pieces were textured — through the use of microhammering and scratching – to look ancient.

Belperron worked very closely with her clients. She custom made jewels in collaboration with her client, taking meticulous measurements of the fingers and wrists to make sure that the finished jewel was a perfect fit.

In 1963 Belperron was given the Knight of the Legion of Honor award by the French government for her contributions as a jewelry designer. It is the highest distinction given to a French citizen. In 1974, after 55 years in the business, 42 with the Herz family, Belperron and Jean Herz closed up shop and retired. Belperron passed away in Paris in 1983, but her artistic legacy lives on through the jewels she created.

The late great designer Karl Lagerfeld summed up the essence of Belperron’s work when he wrote the forward to the book “The Jewelry of Suzanne Belperron” by Patricia Corbett, Ward Landrigan and Nico Landrigan. “There is a humble splendor you can never find in other designers’ work before her. One feels that the heart always prevailed,” concluded Lagerfeld.

 Authored by Amber Michelle

Treasure Hunters: Women Who Sell Jewelry

The jewelry business is a fascinating world filled with designers who create the sparkling jewels that we love to wear and dealers who find amazing jewelry from bygone eras and give them a second chance to be loved and worn again. We’ve spoken to three women who started jewelry businesses and the path that led them to selling all that sparkles.

Celine Catalaa, French Collection

Celine Catalaa, French Collection

Based in Amsterdam and Paris, Celine Catalaa, travels the world searching for the most unique jewelry. Celine brings a deep passion for jewels with a story — and over a decade’s worth of experience — to her company French collection. She prides herself on discovering some of the best fine jewelry in the market to meet the tastes of her clients. French Collection is Celine’s homage to treasures with a past that come from some of the most famous heritage jewelry houses including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co. as well as bespoke, one-of-a-kind pieces.

What attracted you to the jewelry business?

When I was growing up, at my house, jewelry was not a business, but a love affair. I have vivid memories from my childhood of a “treasure chest” that belonged to my mother and grandmother. I was always fascinated and emotionally touched by the beautiful and precious little jewels that it contained. I never imagined that I would become a jewelry dealer.

How did you get started in the jewelry business?

I was a journalist and I decided that I needed to make a radical career change. A friend of mine, who really believed in me, gave me some help. When I was 35 years old, I became the oldest intern at Drouot, the famous Hotel des Ventes auction house in Paris. During the few years that I was there, I met many interesting people in the business… including my very talented husband. Changing careers was the best decision I ever made.

What is your favorite era for design and what makes jewelry from that era special?

I can easily fall for a beautiful piece of Art Deco jewelry, but I’m a 1970s lady! I like bold, colorful jewelry. I can’t resist anything with amethyst, turquoise or lapis lazuli. It’s happy jewelry and that’s what we need, don’t you think so?

What makes vintage jewelry relevant today?

Preloved jewelry and vintage jewelry has never been as popular as it is today. There are many reasons. First, there is sustainability, the carbon footprint of a piece of vintage jewelry is close to zero. Vintage jewelry is also very high quality. Most of it is handmade with a high level of craftsmanship. The pieces are also quite rare because most of the jewelry was handmade so the production was limited and pieces were often uniquely one-of-a-kind.

Sara Sze, An Order of Bling

Sara Sze, An Order of Bling

Singapore-based Sara Sze, is a jewelry designer and founder of An Order of Bling. She immortalizes words and phrases into diamond jewelry creations that can be handed down through the generations. Sara’s designs are often inspired by the gem she is working with and this leads to pieces with their own unique personality. A self-taught designer, Sara won the Design Competition in the Singapore International Jewelry Exhibition in July 2019.  During the covid-19 lockdown, she was part of a virtual panel discussion with Fabergé and VAK hosted by the India International Jewelry Show (IIJS). Sara’s jewelry has been featured in the  Robb Report Centennial Edition on pink diamonds, Vogue Singapore, Harper Bazaar Singapore and most recently in Her World.

What attracted you to the jewelry business?

My love affair with Jewelry started when I was 16.  My grandfather gave me my first diamond to mark the occasion. The diamond came with a story about his life that he wanted to share. I remember thinking that no other gift was ever that significant. A family’s oral history and the precious gifts that accompany it are a forever gift.  When I finally had the chance to start my own business, jewelry design felt like the best thing I could do because I wanted to spend my time doing something that had great emotional and social impact. The ability to capture love stories in beautiful pieces that my clients wear next to their skin always pulls me back to the love I share with my family. 

How did you get started in the jewelry business?

I started An Order of Bling in 2016. It was a culmination of all the repressed creative energies that have been bubbling below the surface since I was a child. I do not come from a family that has obvious artistic talent and so I never dreamed I could be a designer. 

You say that you are a “gem whisperer” tell us about what that means to your designs.

Working with diamonds and gemstones is an incredible experience. We are so transient — here for at most one hundred years. However, gems have been here for millions, even billions of years. For me, working with gems over time, they emit a sort of energy that translates into a thought. Not all gems will resonate with me, but the ones that I select for a design at An Order of Bling have a very magnetic pull and the design idea occurs almost instantaneously. It’s like the gem decides how it wants to be presented. The result is usually quite distinctive.

What makes good design?

In my mind, the best bespoke designs truly belong to one person.  They can’t be repeated for someone else because when I conceived it for that person, the whole process involved thinking about who that person is, the emotions they stirred up in me when I met them and the emotions that I saw stirred up in the person who came with them, it’s highly personal. It’s so personal that if someone asked me to make another one of the same design, I would never do it, it’s not right.

Inez Stodel, Inez Stodel Kunsthandel

Inez Stodel and Leonore van der Walls, Inez Stodel, Kunsthandel

Specializing in jewelry and small works of art for over 50 years, Inez Stodel opened her namesake store, Inez Stodel Kunsthandel, in the heart of Amsterdam in 1964. She sells rare and wearable antique jewelry and is known for her extraordinary eye for design and exceptional taste, both of which she developed from watching her antique dealer father sourcing pieces for his store. Her daughter Leonore van der Walls, who was an attorney, joined Inez in the business in 2004.  Jewelry in the collection dates from antiquity to the 1970s and features pieces from esteemed houses including Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus & Co., Mauboussin and Boucheron. The collection also features jewels from renowned designers such as Carlo Giuliano, Alexis Falize, Jean and Georges Fouquet and Seaman Schepps. In addition to jewelry, the company also carries objets de vitrine — boxes, scent bottles, micromosaics and more.

What attracted you to the jewelry business and how did you get started?

My father was an antique dealer and while I was growing-up he took me on some of his buying trips. He opened his store right after World War II and he bought everything from Chinese ceramics and Oceanic art to jewelry. I fell in love with the jewelry. Now, that spark has passed to my daughter, Leonore van der Walls, who is currently managing Inez Stodel as a third generation dealer.

What is your favorite era for design and what makes jewelry from that era special?

I love early jewelry because of its soft appearance and the romance of past eras. It’s the same for vintage gemstones, the way they are cut is softer to the eye. I do not have a preference for any period. I am more interested in the proportions of the design and the quality of the jewel. When a piece of jewelry is pleasing to the eye, then that makes it good. I also love some contemporary designers like Jacob de Groes, who is from The Netherlands.

What makes vintage jewelry relevant today?

It is the workmanship and history, but so much more as well. We, as a society, need to be careful about what we want to produce. By selling antiques we both recycle and upcycle.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Marina B. Jewelry: A Woman Designing for Women

Stack of three gold and diamond necklaces with a triangle motif that Marina B. favored. The necklaces have a spring closure and may be worn singly, two or three at a time. Image courtesy Marina B.

Her style was innovative and bold, with jewelry pieces that fit a woman’s evolving lifestyle — that is the design DNA of Marina B., whose creations were the epitome of 1980s opulence.

“Marina B. is an incredible icon,” says Guy Bedarida, creative director of the firm. “Her entire story is a beautiful adventure. It is the story of woman empowerment.”

Born into the Italian Bulgari jewelry dynasty in 1930, Marina’s father, Constantino, was the eldest son of Sotirious Bulgari, who founded his namesake silversmith firm in 1884. When his sons — Constantino and Giorgio —  joined him in the business, jewelry was introduced.

How Marina B. Started

As a young child Marina was already showing an interest in art, design and math. She attended St. Mary’s College in England and when she returned home, Marina began adding her design ideas to the family business going into the workshop and laying out stones for different pieces which ended up selling quite well.

 In 1973, when Constantino passed away, Marina and her sister Anna took over the operation of Bulgari along with their cousins — Nicola, Gianni and Paolo. At the time Marina saw it as her opportunity to make her mark in the jewelry world. She was right, but it wouldn’t happen in the family business. Anna was married and left the business, leaving Marina to deal with three cousins who tried to push her into administrative work in the accounting department.

By 1976 it was clear that Marina wanted more than what she was going to get in the family business, so she cut ties with the firm and struck out on her own. A very daring move at a time when the jewelry industry was dominated by men. A mere year later, Marina B. opened her first showroom in Geneva, which through the years led to boutiques in New York, Paris, Milan and Monte Carlo.

“Her brand quickly became one of the most famous in the world,” comments Bedarida. “Marina B. jewelry is bold and colorful. She used black gold, which became a signature of her work. Her unthreaded beads were also unique to her. Marina was famous for her collars and chokers. She designed for women and she wanted to make jewelry that was easy to wear.”

Jewelry That Does Double Duty

Determined to bring her designs to life, Marina made the decision to have her jewelry made in Paris because that’s where all the finest jewelry of the day was being fabricated. By the end of the 1980s, Italy had become synonymous with the production of high quality jewelry, so Marina began to have some of her jewelry made in the Milan area. Two of her first collections were  Onda and Pneu. 

French for tire, Pneu was inspired by the oversized tires on an airplane. The collection was uniquely groundbreaking in that it was convertible — the earrings may be worn as studs or drops. But it didn’t stop there, the earrings are also interchangeable allowing more options for wear, the wheel comes off and can be changed to another gemstone wheel.

Marina designed jewelry that was not only easy for women to wear, but the pieces were created for women to buy for themselves.  Her business started at a time when women were entering the workforce at an unprecedented rate and the concept of a woman purchasing her own jewelry was a relatively novel idea. But as women entered the workforce and dressed for success, they also needed jewelry that they could easily buy and wear every day from the board room to cocktail hour.

One thing that can be a bit tricky is putting on and taking off a necklace or bracelet; clasps can sometimes be hard to use. To address this issue, Marina added springs to some of her pieces. This not only made the pieces easier to put on and take off, but it also made the jewelry sleeker with no clasps to interrupt the design.

“Marina made big chokers on a spring that could easily be divided into three,” explains Bedarida. “It’s very versatile. A woman can start with one during the day and then add more if she is going out.”

The Marina B. Cut

Sketch of Marina B. Fuchxia earrings, image courtesy Marina B.
Sketch of Marina B. Pivomab earrings featuring her signature “Chestnut” motif, image courtesy Marina B.

To fully create pieces the way she really wanted them to be, Marina developed her own colored gemstone cut known as the “chestnut”, or Marina B. cut. Marina came up with a design for a gemstone shape that is a cross between a triangle and a pear, it’s rounded on the bottom with a point on the top, a bit like an inverted heart with no cleavage. The shape became a signature motif for Marina B. and it shows up in her jewelry in gemstones and in the precious metals used in her creations.

“It’s a very strong signature for her,” comments Bedarida. “She took an oval cut that was not too elongated and turned it into the chestnut. It is a voluptuous, feminine shape.”

The brand was extremely popular during the 1980s and 1990s , but as fashions changed, the brand languished a bit. Now it’s set for a revival and according to Bedarida, there is big demand for Marina B. jewelry, especially vintage pieces, which he notes are hard to find.

“There is a big comeback of the 1980s,” concludes Bedarida. “There is a return of jewelry, accessories, fashion and big shoulders from that era. Marina B. was forgotten for about 20 years, but there is always a return to good design, it is fashionable forever. Marina B.’s vintage pieces are especially in demand but they are hard to find because people are keeping her jewelry. We try to buy those pieces when we can so we can create a museum of Marina B. jewelry.”

Marina B. is now retired and living in Rome, but her jewelry continues to resonate with a new generation of women who buy their own jewelry and make their own rules.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Oscar Heyman Jewelry: It’s All in the Details

The story of one of the most prestigious American jewelry firms actually started in Latvia in 1888 when Oscar Heyman was born. One of nine children, Oscar along with his older brother Nathan, apprenticed in their great uncle’s jewelry workshop in Kharkov (Ukraine). The shop did work for the incomparable Fabergé and the brothers were trained in the finest jewelry making techniques.

In 1906, Oscar and Nathan made the trip across the Atlantic to New York City. A year later their brother Harry followed. Oscar had learned to work with platinum during his apprenticeship in his uncle’s shop and was well versed in using the new high-tech oxyhydrogen torch that made it possible to fashion the metal — which has an extremely high melting point — into jewelry. He soon landed a job with Cartier and was the firm’s first New York bench jeweler who was not French. Nathan worked for Western Electric in the tool and die shop. After leaving Western Electric Nathan continued to make tools and Oscar Heyman holds a dozen or so patents for jewelry making.

The Family Business

It didn’t take long for Oscar, Nathan and Harry to strike out on their own. In 1912 they opened their doors in downtown Manhattan at 47 Maiden Lane as Oscar Heyman & Brothers.  Later that same year, six more siblings arrived in the City and through the years all but one spent their entire careers working in the business.

The firm was making jewelry for all the big-name jewelers of the day including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Black, Starr & Frost, J.E. Caldwell and Van Cleef & Arpels among others. Currently, Oscar Heyman continues to produce jewelry for high-end jewelers but also brands its own collection.

Oscar Heyman was known for its high-quality manufacturing and jewlery design and today the company has an extensive archives of about 200,000 sketches. Color is at the core of the firm’s aesthetic, which is known for its exceptional gemstones.

“We look through the designs in our archives continually for inspiration and ideas,” comments Tom Heyman, co-president of the company and a third-generation family member. “We let the gems speak for themselves. That means that the design should show off the gem, not compete with it.”

The Jewelers’ Jeweler

The design talent and manufacturing skills of Oscar Heyman & Brothers was on full display at the New York 1939 World’s Fair House of Jewels where five luxury jewelers exhibited. It turns out that Oscar Heyman & Brothers had made the jewelry for four out of the five participating jewelers — Cartier, Marcus & Co., Udall & Ballou and Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham — leading to the firm being nicknamed “the jewelers’ jeweler”.

A couple of short years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Oscar Heyman & Brothers got in touch with General Electric, Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, offering to adapt their factory to wartime use. A portion of the factory was set aside for jewelry making and the rest of the factory was making items needed for the war effort such as jeweled bearings which were used in airplane instruments, compasses and watches. Meanwhile, much of the jewelry being made at that time had a patriotic theme especially American flags and military motifs.

It is the ability to adapt to the times that has helped the firm — which rebranded to Oscar Heyman in 2012 when it turned 100 — stay in business. “We continue to make pieces that are very classic,” explains Heyman. “It starts with the stones. Our Boolean bracelet is a good example of how we change with the times. It is a two-row bracelet originally made in the 1950s comprised of baguette and round diamonds. For the first 40 years the bracelet was all diamonds. Then 15 or 20 years ago we began to make the bracelet with baguette diamonds and round sapphires, rubies or emeralds. Now, the bracelet is made using round multi-color gemstones for a more playful variation.”

The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Another big milestone for Oscar Heyman came in 1969 when Cartier asked the firm to design and manufacture a necklace for Elizabeth Taylor showcasing the 68-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond. The catch —  there was just one week to make the necklace as Ms. Taylor wanted to wear it to a 40th birthday party for Princess Grace of Monaco. A few sketches were quickly rendered and one was selected — the diamond dropping from a dazzling necklace of pear-shaped diamonds. All other production that was happening in the Oscar Heyman workshop was put on hold and all hands were working feverishly on the necklace to meet the delivery date. It was delivered on schedule to Cartier and was flown directly to Monaco for the festivities.

Many celebrities and even royalty has worn jewelry made by Oscar Heyman including Queen Sirikit of Thailand. Most recently, actor Billy Porter created a sensation on the 2019 Academy Awards Red Carpet when he accessorized his Christian Siriano gown with jewels from the company worth $1.5 million. 

So after 100 plus years in business how does Oscar Heyman continue to maintain its standards?

“We uphold three values,” concludes Heyman. “We use the best quality gems, best quality designs that showcases each gem simply and elegantly and we have the finest manufacturing in the world. We pay attention to details, we care about our jewelry and we want to be the best. We are consciously, continuously striving to do that.” 

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Engaging History of the Engagement Ring

Rose Cut diamond, 14-karat gold and silver, circa 1900, courtesy of French Collection

One of the most highly anticipated rituals around marriage is getting engaged and with that announcement comes a little something sparkly…usually a diamond ring. Engagement rings and wedding bands date back many thousands of years and they have evolved through the ages. While the exact origins of engagement rings are a bit murky, we do know that it was the ancient Romans who popularized these tokens of love.  

Vein of Love

The Romans made rings from bone, ivory, copper, flint and iron. There were also gold rings for those who could afford it and it was common practice to have two rings — a gold ring to wear out in public and an iron ring to wear at home.

We can also thank the Romans for starting the practice of wearing an engagement ring on the fourth finger of the left hand. They believed that the vein in the finger next to the pinky on the left hand led directly to the heart and they referred to it as the “vein of love”. Some cultures wore an engagement ring on their index finger, or on their right hand, but the romantic notion of wearing a ring on the finger that connects to the heart caught on and continues today.

Engagement rings got the official nod of approval in 850 when Pope Nicholas I decreed that gifting a ring symbolized a man’s intent to marry. As we moved into the middle-ages engagement rings were elaborate affairs with generally a ruby or sapphire in an opulent setting. Gimmel rings were also a popular choice during those times. A gimmel ring is two rings that join together to become one. When a couple became betrothed, each person got one ring, on the wedding day the rings were put back together and both were worn by the woman. Another big advance in the engagement ring story came in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a diamond engagement ring, the first one on record.

Diamond Engagement Rings Gain Favor

By the 1700s engagement rings were becoming more common, the Fede ring, which features clasped hands symbolizing the strength of marriage, was a favorite. In 1727 diamonds were found in Brazil, leading to a steady and regular supply of these gems, which were a must have for fashionable Georgians. The cluster ring featuring a diamond center stone with smaller diamonds around it was popular for engagement rings and sometimes included colored gemstone accents. It was during this era that King George III gave Queen Charlotte a diamond engagement ring widening its acceptance.

Three major events happened to further the diamond engagement ring’s place in society during the 1800s. First, the industrial revolution created a lot of new wealth and a burgeoning middle class with money to spend. The second event was the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1867, which provided an abundant supply of the sparkling gems. Then in 1886, Tiffany & Co. debuted the Tiffany Setting, a simple hoop with the diamond set high and six prongs holding it in place, allowing maximum light to flow through the stone creating exceptional sparkle. It was a big hit and the style continues to be desired by brides today.

Edwardian era engagement rings often centered on a diamond set in platinum with elaborate detailing from millegrain and piercing that gave the rings a light and airy look. The Art Deco era continued the movement of platinum (or sometimes white gold) engagement rings, but the white-on-white lacy look of the Edwardian days gave way to geometric forms often accented with ruby, emerald, sapphire or onyx to enhance the linear shapes. The late 1930s and 1940s saw gold return to favor as platinum was declared a strategic metal and was reserved for war use. Diamonds were often pulled from existing pieces to create a new engagement ring.

A Cultural Imperative

Diamonds solidified their position as the number one choice for engagement rings during the 1940s. With money tight during the 1930s due to the depression and a world war raging into the early 1940s, diamond sales dropped. Diamond miner De Beers, in conjunction with the NW Ayer advertising agency began marketing diamonds as a symbol of love. But the big break came in 1947, when the agency’s copywriter assigned to the account, Frances Gerety, was charged with finding a tagline for the gem that conveyed both its symbolic expression of love and its very practical nature of being durable. The story goes that while working late one night and out of ideas, she jotted down the phrase “A Diamond is Forever”. It caught on and the diamond engagement ring became a cultural imperative for the contemporary bride. In 1999 Advertising Age magazine named “A Diamond is Forever” slogan of the century.

After World War II ended, the 1950s saw a return to platinum settings in engagement rings. The most popular styles of the time were quite simple — a center diamond, prong set, embellished with two side stones. The popularity of this style continued for many years with gold once again becoming more favored from the 1960s to the 1980s. In the 1990s styles shifted once again and fancy shape center stones became more popular as did a mix of yellow gold and platinum for a two-tone setting. Moving into the early aughts, the halo setting became ubiquitous and continues its reign as a beloved setting.

Another shift that has taken place in recent years is that more couples are selecting colored gemstones, uncut diamonds or salt and pepper diamonds for the center stone to reflect their unique style. There are plenty of engagement ring choices, but if you take a step back in time, you’ll find a selection of distinctive vintage engagement rings that express your personality and your personal love story.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Swinging 1970s Jewelry

From Left to Right: Silver Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff, signed Tiffany & Co., courtesy Tiffany & Co.; Coral, diamond and gold earrings, 1970s, signed David Morris, courtesy Berganza; Lapis, turquoise, diamond and gold brooch, 1970s, signed Kutchinsky, courtesy D&E Singer; and Gold Taurus zodiac medallion, 1970s, signed Fred, courtesy Charlotte Fine Jewelry.

Bohemian, The Me Decade, Jet Set, Women’s Rights, Watergate, Eastern Influences, Ethnic, Oversized, Bellbottoms, Disco, Environmentalism, Earth Day all defined the 1970s.

WHEN: 1970-1979. The 1970s started out with the Vietnam war at the forefront of the news as protesters continued to fill the streets with antiwar demonstrations. The war ended in the mid 1970s and the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. Pop psychology directed people to explore feelings and relationships. Rock remained popular with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zepplin and Queen leading the pack. As the decade progressed disco hustled in to take over clubs and music radio spawning a whole new fashion story and cultural touchpoint. The movie “Saturday Night Fever” crystallized the disco scene along with music by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People among others.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Bulgari, Cartier, Chaumet, David Morris, David Webb, Fred Paris, Kutchinsky, Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels

MOTIFS: Florals, Zodiacs, Fanciful Animals, Abstract Forms, Bold Color, Geometric, Medallions, Big Link Chains, Ancient Coins

THE LOOK:  Statement Pieces, Textured Gold, Sleek Silver, Chunky, Colorful, Layered, Multicultural

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Wood/Shell Combined with Gems or Gold, Fancy Shaped Diamonds, Antique Coins  

The early 1970s were an extension of the 1960s with bellbottoms and frayed jeans, prairie dresses and floral prints a core style. Towards the middle of the decade, miniskirts headed south and the mid-calf length midi took hold. “What’s your sign?” was the question on everyone’s mind and the interest in astrology spawned a constellation of zodiac jewelry. During the 1970s large, intricately designed gold medallions — sometimes with gemstones — on long chunky link chains were popular. The large scale of the pieces held up well to the highly patterned fabrics that were everywhere in clothes. Layering was back in style and chain link and/or bead necklaces were piled gleefully around the neck, while multiple bangles jingled on the wrist and large hoop or drop earrings completed the look. Who could forget Rhoda Morgenstern and her huge hoop earrings on the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

In 1975 the Vietnam war ended; hippies and the peace movement began to fade into the background as the counter culture turned mainstream.  As the decade progressed, clothes and jewelry changed especially as disco took hold and the look became much more streamlined.

Daytime was easy dressing, the Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress was ubiquitous. Nighttime brought out all the glitter and glam of the club scene — sequins and rhinestones sizzled unapologetically. The look was sleek and the stretchy fabrics were made for easy movement. Patterns were replaced with shiny fabrics and monochromatic pieces.  Studio 54 was famous for its dancing and decadence and many of the decade’s most influential artists and designers were regulars, including jewelry designer Elsa Peretti who joined Tiffany & Co. in 1974. Her sensual silver designs gave the white metal a new glamour and her Diamonds by the Yard made it simple to wear diamonds during the day with more casual clothes – even jeans. The Cartier Love Bracelet designed by Aldo Cipullo was a huge 1970s hit that continues to entice couples today.

The jetsetters — a term that had been around for a number of years, but saw a resurgence with the introduction of the Concorde Jet in 1976 — were jetting off to the world’s most glamourous playgrounds inspiring a more multicultural style that borrowed motifs from other countries, especially Morocco and India. Morocco made its way into fashion through Yves Saint Laurent. The fashion designer had homes there where he hosted his jetsetting friends and clients as his fame was rising during the 1970s. Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier were both leaders in jewelry that drew upon the East for inspiration, creating oversized pieces with colorful gemstones generally set in gold. Another very popular motif in the 1970s was coin jewelry. Bulgari introduced its Monte Collection of jewelry made with ancient coins in the mid 1960s and by the 1970s it was everywhere, gaining in popularity as the 1980s took hold and everything big – hair, shoulders, jewelry and life in general was on a grand scale.

Authored by Amber Michelle

When Alfred Met Estelle The Van Cleef & Arpels Jewelry Dynasty Launched

From Left to Right: Emerald and diamond ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: Vogue Italia. Gold, turquoise, diamond and ruby ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: Christie’s. Ruby, diamond and pink sapphire Lolanta ballerina brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photo Courtesy: The Jewellery Editor.

It was Paris, 1895 and love was in the air. That’s the year that Estelle Arpels married Alfred Van Cleef and it was a marriage that created a jewelry dynasty. Both came from families in the jewelry business — Estelle’s father was a gem dealer and Alfred’s father was a lapidary. It comes as no surprise that in 1906 the Maison of Van Cleef & Arpels was launched in Paris across the street from the Ritz Hotel at 22 Place Vendome, where it still remains. The couple partnered with Estelle’s brother Charles and were later joined in the firm by her two other brothers Julien and Louis. The firm remained a family affair until it became fully owned by Swiss luxury group Richemont in 2003.

Over the years Van Cleef & Arpels (VCA) has been one of the most innovative and prolific jewelry design houses. One of the first artistic directors of the firm was Renée Puissant, the daughter of Alfred and Estelle, who held the position from 1926 through 1942. She and designer René-Sim Lacaze teamed up and created a style and visual direction for the company.

The Art Deco Years

During the Art Deco era of the 1920s and 1930s VCA created sumptuous jewels in platinum and diamonds characterized by the era’s geometric forms. The firm was heavily influenced by the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 as well as Japanese, Chinese and Indian motifs. In 1925 VCA was awarded the grand prize at the Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Deoratifs et Industriels Modernes for its Roses bracelet comprised of diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Perhaps one of the best-known creations of that time was the minaudiere — a bejeweled vanity case. The idea to create the cases came about when Florence Gould, wife of railroad tycoon Jay Gould was running late for an appointment with Charles Arpels and tossed all of her essentials into a small metal box and ran out the door. When Charles Arpels saw what she had done, it sparked the idea to create a much more glamourous way to tote those necessities around and the minaudiere — which had compartments for lipstick, powder, cigarettes, lighter and money — was launched into the world.

Mystery Setting

One of the most famous signature styles for Van Cleef & Arpels is the Mystery Set, which is a way of setting stones so that no metal is seen. The stones, usually sapphires or rubies, which are square with a groove on the bottom — must be cut very precisely to slide into a “rail” that holds the stones in place so that the metal is completely hidden.

A masterpiece of jewelry engineering, the Mystery Set, is a very exacting process that requires each stone to be specially cut. It also entails tremendous skill, time and patience on the part of the setter to make sure that the gems don’t break while they are being placed. The technique was patented by VCA in 1933 and the iconic setting is still being made today.

The Zipper necklace, another amazing feat of jewelry engineering, was first designed in the 1930s and was finally perfected in the 1950s. As the name implies, the design replicates a zipper that you would find on any piece of clothing, but glams it up with precious metals and jewels. The working zipper, does double duty — unzipped it’s a striking necklace, zipped it’s a chic bracelet. 

Ballerinas and Fairies

Van Cleef & Arpels has created a fanciful bejeweled world filled with ballerinas and fairies. The first fairy clip debuted in 1941 as a symbol of hope. The Ballerina Brooches came out around the same time and are perhaps one of VCA’s most renowned jewels. They were inspired by Louis Arpels’ love of ballet. The ballerinas frequently have a rose-cut diamond face and each one gracefully depicts a dancers pose, while wearing a costume of precious jewels. The vintage ballerinas are quite rare and are highly prized by collectors.

The Ballerina Brooches were also the inspiration behind the New York City Ballet’s “Jewels”, a three-part work, each dance is named for a precious gem — Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. The idea came about when Claude Arpels met New York City Ballet co-founder and artistic director Georges Balanchine in 1965. Balanchine was so taken with the Ballerina Brooches that he choreographed “Jewels”, which is still performed by the company.

Alhambra

Another iconic design from VCA is the Alhambra necklace. First launched in 1968, Alhambra, one of the firms best known and most popular designs, is a beautiful symbol of luck based on a four-leaf clover. According to the company, Jacque Arpels, who was the nephew of the Maison’s founders, would pick four leaf clovers in his back yard and give them to his staff for good luck. Created with various gemstones, the style remains a jewelry wardrobe must-have for daytime wear and casual evenings out.

Throughout its history, Van Cleef & Arpels has been on the forefront of design appealing to celebrities and royalty including Grace Kelly, Barbara Hutton, Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran, Wallis Simpson and many others. Today the firm continues its heritage of creating innovative jewelry designs to appeal to new generations.

Authored by Amber Michelle

The Mod, Mod World of 1960s Jewelry

From left to right: Gold and turquoise bracelet, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Charlotte Fine Jewellery. Pear and marquise shaped diamond earrings, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung. Coral, diamond and gold ring, 1960s. Photo Courtesy: Hancocks of London.

Organic Shapes, Abstract Forms, Yellow Gold, Turquoise, Coral, Texture, Mod, Pop Art, Hippies, The Great Society, Space Age, The Beatles and tremendous social change all defined the 1960s.

WHEN: 1960 to 1969. At the start of the 1960s John F. Kennedy had just been elected President, the look of the time was put together and ladylike with gloves, pillbox hats and a prim strand of pearls accessorizing a simple sheath dress or suit. By the end of the 1960s, hippies were taking to the streets to protest the Vietnam war. Bright colors, bold color blocking, miniskirts and go-go boots were of the moment and the bohemian look began to take hold as styles became more casual and free from the strict rules of earlier decades.

FAMOUS MAKERS: Cartier, John Donald, Andrew Grima, Jean Schulmberger for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, David Webb, Harry Winston

MOTIFS: Textured Gold, Space Age Influences, Flaming Stars, Animals, Birds, Flowers, Angular Shapes, Architectural, Asymmetrical 

THE LOOK: Textured yellow gold with bold color combinations, abstract, large-scale, chic and playful. Starbursts, sunbursts and other “space” themes. Cluster rings were popular with a large stone resting on top of a cluster of stones – often diamonds. Ballerina settings were also a favorite with a large center stone surrounded by diamonds — frequently baguettes — that appear to float like a dancer’s tutu, around the central gem.

MATERIALS: Yellow Gold, Silver, Turquoise, Coral, Sapphires, Rubies, Emeralds, Pear and Marquise Diamond Shapes, Cabochon Cut Gems, Baroque Pearls, Lapis and Other Hardstones, Sometimes Carved.

The 1960s were a time of unprecedented change. The U.S. and Russia were competing to see who could land on the moon first, civil rights were in the spotlight and the British Invasion saw rock ‘n roll rise to the top of the charts as the Beatles took over the world. And jewelry design reflected the times. The more formal matchy-matchy ladylike sets of the previous decade were being replaced with bigger, bolder more colorful jewelry that reflected a changing world that was more casual and incorporated influences from foreign lands. Unlike previous eras where there was jewelry that was for day and jewelry that was for night, the 1960s had more of an anything goes attitude and it became acceptable to wear any type of jewelry at any time.

Hollywood also put jewelry in the spotlight. In 1961, the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released. The iconic Fifth Avenue jeweler played its own part in the film and its star Audrey Hepburn wore the Tiffany Diamond on her press tour for the movie. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made headlines with their shopping sprees at Bulgari and other jewelry purchases. Harry Winston made its own press by loaning jewelry to movie stars for various events. These celebrity connections put jewelry front and center in the minds of consumers.

The diamond-centric look of the previous decade began to see color take centerstage. Like the changing times, 1960s jewelry saw a shift away from traditional faceted gemstones set in platinum or white gold and a movement to textured yellow gold set with colored gemstones. Cabochon cut colored gemstones became a popular choice in the 1960s, they had a “new, modern” feeling to them and they changed the look of a design. The smoothness of the cabochons provided a distinct contrast to the textured metals that embraced the stone. The combination of textured yellow gold and cabochon gemstones was a chic evolution in jewelry style. It fit the more casual dress code that was coming into play during that decade. It also put hardstones such as lapis lazuli and malachite — which are perfectly complemented by yellow gold — front and center. Oversized rings, bracelets and necklaces began to emerge.

Brooches were still in demand during the early 1960s but they were generally smaller than in previous eras. Birds, animals, flora and fauna as well as abstract shapes were all interpreted in a more playful manner. David Webb created many of his bejeweled creatures — frequently in the form of brooches — during the 1960s, which were wildly popular and are highly collectible.

By the end of the 1960s the Vietnam war was raging, psychedelia was everywhere and it was the “dawning of the age of Aquarius”.

Authored by Amber Michelle