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.


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

Are Signed Jewelry Pieces More Valuable?

Van Cleef & Arpels Diamond and Platinum Snowflake Bracelet, Photo Courtesy: J. & S.S. DeYoung

When it comes to rare and exquisite vintage jewelry, signed pieces can be among the most sought after and hard to come by jewels. Those highly coveted pieces of signed jewelry are very desirable to collectors as well as to people who want an assurance that they are getting top quality gems, impeccable fabrication and stellar design. The right signature on the right jewel can also add a premium to the price of the piece.

“Signatures can add tremendous value,” comments Miami-based Steven Neckman of the eponymous firm. “If it’s a recognized signature it shows the quality of a piece. When a jewel is signed Tiffany & Co., Cartier, or Van Cleef & Arpels, you know it is well made and that they use quality stones. Generally, with signed jewelry it’s a given that the quality is excellent with strong design.”

New York-based dealer, Richard Buonomo, principle of the firm bearing his name, agrees that a signed piece of jewelry carries a guarantee of quality, prestige and value, but he notes that there are some caveats to a signature’s worth. “A piece is more rare if it is signed, it is scarcity that drives prices up,” says Buonomo. “Still a signature does not always mean much. Some pieces are so generic or have so little design that it doesn’t change the price much.”

The Status of a Signature

Beyond the precious metals, fabulous gemstones and intrinsic design value, people also want signatures to elevate their own status. “People have a desire to be associated with something that lifts them up in society and enhances their status. It’s a basic human instinct,” observes Janet Levy of J. & S.S. DeYoung, in New York City. “A piece of jewelry with a signature denotes both quality and status.”

But what if two pieces are comparable, essentially the same in terms of quality and styling, yet one is unsigned. How do you decide which piece to purchase? According to Neckman, a signed piece of jewelry is more marketable, but that can also vary depending upon how hot a name is in the current market, something which changes over time.

Certain signatures are always top of the list for those seeking signed pieces – Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston. But Levy has noticed that over the past ten or 15-years name recognition has increased for many other design firms and that has opened up the market significantly. “There is a much wider appreciation of special designers — Sterlé, Mellerio, Boivin. There were a lot of very refined French design houses and a circle of designers who were more art houses. That world has opened up a lot because people have found out about them online. Now people know names that they didn’t know 20-years ago.”

Vintage Versus Modern

According to Levy, the market for signed jewelry can be divided into two areas — modern and vintage. “If there is a quality signed vintage piece it will be more valuable because these pieces are no longer made and they are very collectable. There are more collectors now, so those pieces are harder to find and more valuable,” explains Levy. “With modern pieces the signature is tied to market demand or quality. The pieces are not as rare because they are in production. The value is influenced by how available and how much demand there is for a particular name.”

Neckman considers signed jewelry to be collectable art and notes that some artists are more valuable than others and cites Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulagri and Cartier as three current top sellers.  

“It’s not just a signature that adds value,” concludes Buonomo. “Some pieces of  jewelry are imbued with a certain character of design that is associated with that name. The jewelry will have all the characteristics of design, quality of materials and manufacturing. That’s when you have a perfect storm for everything to add value to the piece and that’s when you can charge more for the jewel.”

Authored by Amber Michelle