If you’re exploring the wide (very, very wide) world of jewelry collection, you’ve likely already become familiar with some of the most famous and historic names in the biz, such as Cartier and Tiffany. However, there are quite a few other iconic jewelry designers from the past century that you’d do well to know. Meet the most iconic jewelry designers of the 20th century, both those that you might not know about and those that you likely do know but could maybe know a little better.
While Wolfers Frères was founded in 1834 in Belgium, the son of founder Louis Wolfers, Philippe Wolfers, joined the design house in the late 1800s, taking his designs into the 1900s. At that time, Wolfers’ pieces began to stand on their own, apart from the items that Wolfers Frères had already become known for, thanks in part to Wolfers’ Art Nouveau style and Japanese inspiration. However, Wolfers only created just over 100 pieces before retiring his jewelry designing in favor of sculpting, making antique Wolfers Frères pieces from the 1900s especially valuable. One piece, sold in 2016 by Christie’s, went for more than $260,000 at auction.
Dig into 20th-century jewelry design and one name always comes up: Suzanne Belperron. The groundbreaking designer offered looks under her last name only, using curved designs and hard stone materials, such as crystal, quartz and chalcedony. Her work has an artistic feel, and you’ll spot her craft among the collections of many a notable celebrity and even royalty.
Design house René Boivin was founded in 1880, but when the founder by the same name passed in the early 1900s, his wife, Madame René Boivin, as she liked to be called, stepped into his role, where she became one of the world’s most beloved designers of the 20th century. In fact, Suzanne Belperron worked for Boivin for a time, until the 1930s.
In its heyday, René Boivin was known for offering Art Deco pieces in unusual styles, with vivid colors and unique shapes. One of the most unique and most famous Boivin pieces is the starfish brooch, which has appeared in Vogue shoots multiple times.
Boivin was passed along through the family until it was sold and then, closed, in the 1990s.
While Chanel is often thought of in connection to its clothing, purses or even perfumes, it’s worth noting Coco Chanel’s jewelry collections and, especially, the work Coco Chanel did in the 1930s with Fulco di Verdura. Verdura created the iconic Maltese cross for Chanel, which went on to appear in cuffs and broaches, using a range of precious stones and metals. Later, Chanel would introduce a fine diamond collection.
More recently, Chanel re-introduced a fine jewelry collection in the 1990s, reimagining some of those 1930s looks. Today, one of the most notable Chanel pieces is the “comete” choker, which features a shooting star draped around the wearer’s neck.
Like we said, you know Cartier. You likely have purchased or considered purchasing some Cartier jewelry, whether vintage or new. If you’re looking at vintage Cartier jewelry from the 1900s, though, look to some of the brand’s Art Deco looks, such as the brand’s famed 1925 diamond, pearl, emerald and onyx bangle.
The Vever house was established in the late 1800s, when the family business began developing jewelry taking inspiration from the Renaissance Revival. In the 1900s, the house became an expert in Art Nouveau jewelry, though. Much like Wolfers Frères, Vever pieces have been sold for high prices at Christie’s auctions, such as an Art Nouveau 1900 enamel and gem-set pendant that sold for $270,000 in 2001.
You might not know Jeanne Toussaint at first mention, but you know her lover: Louis Cartier. While Toussaint may have taken second place to Cartier (at least where fame is concerned), she boasts her own collection of highly prized works. She worked for Cartier from the 1930s to the 1960s, during which she created ground-breaking works that went against the trends of the day. She’s known for influencing Cartier’s Panthere collection and created multiple pieces for the Duchess of Windsor.
Founded in 1858, Boucheron is credited for creating, in the 1920s, “one of the most important pieces of jewelry ever made” — an Art Deco diamond, enamel and gem-set bracelet that was considered revolutionary at the time. It was part of a design scheme that included fitted pink shagreen cases with geometric designs. Siegelson, a Manhattan brand specializing in vintage pieces, owns one of the few remaining pieces from this design scheme.
Paul-Emile Brandt created Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces both before and after World War I, during which he not only designed jewelry, but also cigarette cases, which are highly in demand at auction. The pieces are indicative of the Art Deco style, with lots of geometric shapes and vibrant color contrasts. However, Paul Brandt’s career as a designer was relatively short, and he turned to other modes of artistic work after World War II.
Talk to many jewelry collectors about iconic names from the 20th century and they’ll mostly talk to you about Art Nouveau and Art Deco designers from the earlier part of the century. However, there were designer making waves in the latter half of the century as well. Elsa Peretti released her Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff in the 1970s, for example. The iconic piece helped define a decade’s fashion and remains a classic today. It’s no wonder that Peretti was partnered with a brand like Tiffany & Co. Looking back at photos from the time period, you’ll spot the cuff on the arms of tastemakers and celebrities aplenty.
Beyond this cuff, though, Peretti designed an array of pieces that have become synonymous with Tiffany & Co., such as the open-heart pendant.
Recognize this talented designer’s last name? That’s right. Paloma Picasso is daughter to Pablo Picasso. The jewelry designer has created famous pieces for brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Tiffany & Co. Like Peretti, she came to name in the 1970s, but has remained relevant thanks to her now iconic and classic pieces, such as the Tiffany & Co. hugs and kisses cuff.
As you begin stepping into the world of jewelry collection, there’s a lot to learn — especially if you’re looking at vintage and antique jewelry collecting particularly. Each house and each designer offers a full history of fashion and artwork. For more information on not just antique and vintage jewelry collecting, but also all things jewelry, subscribe to the La Maison Yamron newsletter.