Lena’s Picks: Top 5 Designer Jewelry Collections of All Time

Date: 07/23/2021

In a recent article, I wrote about the top five most iconic handbags of all time, and since then I’ve been eager to follow up with a similar list that encompasses my love for jewelry, and more specifically the timeless designs and collections in which I continue to love.

Before I begin though, let’s try something a little different! Pull out a pen and paper, or a note-page on your phone, and write down the first five jewelry collections that come to mind – either from your own collection, or from your accessory wish-list.

Got ‘em? Great! I’m excited to see how our styles and aesthetics compare as we explore my top five picks…but I’m even more excited to hear from you about what you’ve been wearing as your own collection is either starting or has its grown. Are you surprised at the results? Did we build almost identical lists? Let me know through Instagram!

But yes, let’s get on with my list of my top five picks for the most iconic designer jewelry collections of all time.

Top 5 Designer Jewelry Collections of All Time

5. Bvlgari Serpenti
4. Tiffany & Co. Elsa Peretti
3. Van Clef & Arpels Alhambra
2. Cartier Collections: Love & Juste un Clou
1. Cartier Panthére

5. Bvlgari Serpenti

If you have been following me or just starting to, you will see that color is a guiding source of joy and peace in my day-to-day. I use fashion as an excuse to bring more color into my life!

It is this love and enjoyment of color which has always brought me back to the Bvlgari Serpenti collection (post-1960, as the design house didn’t use color for this collection until after that year). Truly, it is a collection which sets itself apart in being able to blend all the bolds of the rainbow in a way that is as smooth and seamless as the serpents after which this collection is modelled.

Not that there’s just one reason to fall in love with this set; for instance, I have always been taken with the individual and unique nature of each piece the design house produces for this collection. As well, every serpent design seems to mould itself to its wearer as if alive and holding itself there, or at least as if it were made completely and only for them.

DID YOU KNOW: the longest Bvlgari Serpenti bracelet design wraps around the wearers arm seven times?

As I’ve since found out, that’s not so far from the truth of how Bvlgari designs each piece; according to this article, Bvlgari’s creative director of jewelry will receive gems so rare, sourced from all around the world, that they will design an entire piece around the unique characteristics of that rare and precious gemstone! Bvlgari’s archives are also said to contain sketches for at least 1000 separate designs. Oh what I would do to get a look at those sketches!

True to the timelessness and true popularity of the serpent icon throughout history, Bvlgari’s Serpenti collection includes much more than just the original watches and bracelets debuted in the early 1940s, but spans other casual jewelry options and accessories such as belts and necklaces, and in 2011, a handbag as well.

One of the most fascinating things I find about many of the jewelry, accessory, and fashion designs I love so much isn’t just the way they look or feel, rather, it is the pop culture history that’s been attached to them—and which often boosted those very designs in to notoriety! With the handbags I talked about previously, it was women like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn who made names for the design houses they represented.

In the case of the Serpenti collection, it would be Elizabeth Taylor herself – already a famous lover of jewelry and famous actress in her own right – who would jumpstart the popularity of this particular collection back in 1962. As the story goes, Taylor not only wore one of the Serpenti pieces as part of a photoshoot to promote her famous film Cleopatra, but continued to build the collection thanks to the vying attentions of her husband, Eddie Fisher, and her on-set co-star, Richard Burton, who apparently both purchased several Bvlgari pieces to win her affections.

I absolutely adore my Serpenti bracelet and ring given to me by my dear friend. They are both incredibly versatile and goes wonderfully from day to night.

4. Tiffany and Co. Elsa Peretti

Whether you’re a jewelry aficionado, a life-long collector, or looking to buy one piece and one piece alone, I wanted to quickly share some of the history associated with Tiffany and Co. from the early nineteenth century onward—particularly regarding their diamonds.

For instance, as early as 1870 Charles Tiffany had become known as the ‘King of Diamonds’, and by 1878, Tiffany and Co. had purchased the iconic Tiffany diamond, which is noted to have weighed 128.54 carats on sale. Much later in 1964, Elizabeth Taylor received a diamond sapphire and emerald ‘Dolphin Brooch’ for a film premiere. That piece would later go up for auction in 2011, only to sell for $1.2M.

Considering Tiffany’s first day sales take away in 1837 was $4.98USD, and that Abraham Lincoln purchased Tiffany jewels for his wife, the design house is a notorious choice for any list that focuses on iconic and historic designer jewelry.

And though there is much to be said for the historic design house’s everlasting mark on our love for accessories, it is truly Elsa Peretti’s designs which have caught my eye, and which have continued to keep my interest and affection. No matter what I’m wearing, I know I can pull out an Elsa and give my look that final touch of daring sophistication—so much like Peretti herself.

A little about Elsa Peretti: In 1974, Peretti began her remarkable career and is said by Tiffany and Co. to have ‘heralded a never-before seen aesthetic’ for the design house, including the introduction of sterling silver as a craft material.

She has several acclaimed designs that you may recognize, many of which include fluid sets of diamonds set in long chains – like her Diamonds by the Yard creation – or other precious metal fluid-forms in sweetheart shapes. To recognize the accomplishments of her lifetime as a designer, Tiffany also established the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where Peretti received an honorary Doctorate of Fine Art from the same establishment in 2001.   Her death this past year at age 80, makes me cherish my collection and remember this truly remarkable artist.

MY FAVORITE PEICE(S) FROM THIS COLLECTION

When I first came to the US, my family was not rich – certainly not enough to afford a single item from Tiffany and Co. I remember dreaming so earnestly about having a piece of Tiffany jewelry of my own that when my Mom later gifted me my first Tiffany and Co. accessory for my birthday, I was ecstatic!

That’s why I think – even though many of the designs are beautiful and continue to wow my friends and family when they catch the sun just right – my number one favorite piece from this collection would have to be the Elsa Peretti Star Necklace, with a classic set of Tiffany Diamond earrings running a close second.

3. Van Clef and Arpels Alhambra

One of the most recognizable collections on the market, notably for its simplicity and spectacular focus on precious gemstones cut into a signature four-leaf clover shape, Van Clef and Arpels Alhambra collection is literally a cut above the rest when it comes to offering what some refer to as an incredibly ‘broad palette of natural materials’.

Recognized for the four-leaf clover shape repeated in many of the designs and created in 1968, the Alhambra line has since become a timeless symbol of luck and charm in the world of jewelry design. The very first piece in the ever-growing collection?  A long necklace composed of 20 clover-shaped ‘motifs’ in yellow gold and segmented with gold beads.

Here are a few other precious jewels, materials, and gemstones that the Alhambra collection often features in its designs:

  • Onyx
  • Diamond
  • [rare] Turquoise
  • Lapis Lazuli
  • White, Yellow, or Rose Gold
  • Rock Crystal
  • Grey Mother of Pearl
  • Coral
  • Malachite
  • Rock Crystal
  • Tortoise Shell
  • [rare] bois d’amourette (also known as letterwood)

So why do I love the Alhambra collection? Well, one of the main reasons (aside from the gorgeous designs themselves!) is the history that the collection made when it premiered. This article puts it best when they say Alhambra “became a revelation in an era when women began to be more interested in everyday staple pieces than high jewelry.” (Think night-time formal designs to day-time wearables).

In the early 1950s, the designer duo put an emphasis on bringing high-end jewelry into the everyday market, and on making their jewelry more accessible. Much like my choices for number one and two on this list then, I believe I’m drawn to these pieces for their ability to complement many looks as opposed to being a main statement piece.

What Inspired the Clover Design: While some are quick to disregard this fact as rumour or speculation, it is said that James Arpels, famed nephew of brand founders Estelle Arpels and Alfred Van Cleef, would often seek out and find four leaf clovers in his own backyard and offer them to his employees as a gift of hope. And why the name Alhambra? Some say it is named after the sweeping archways in Spain’s Grand Palais.

MY FAVORITE PEICE(S) FROM THIS COLLECTION

When the television show 24 was still all the rage, I remember my husband and I watching avidly. In the middle of all the excitement though, we both couldn’t take our eyes away from this incredible turquoise VCA necklace worn by one of the characters.

We both loved it so much that we went to find it right away after the show, but when we found out the price we said forget it! Now, years later, I can rarely find a turquoise one anywhere on the regular OR secondary markets, and when I do it’s almost double or triple the price it was back then!

There is something about the mix of turquoise and other precious metals that I will always find completely eye-catching, which makes this piece among my favorites from this collection.

2. Cartier Juste un Clou

I know there are many out there who would lambast my decision to choose the Juste un Clou line over Cartier’s iconic Love collection. And while I could have chosen both and just been done with it, in the end there was no way I could pick the Love Collection for this list and stay true to my personal style.

To be sure, both collections are based on clean and fluid designs that are highly recognizable to the average wearer. And while they each stand out as being timeless and classic pieces that can move easily from day to night wear, I have always felt that all the hype over Cartier’s Love collection is simply tied to the fact that often, the pieces these wearers love so much are given to them by someone they love dearly. It’s biased! (haha!)

No, I am mostly joking, but I am curious to hear what your preferences are: Love? Or Juste un Clou?

In the meantime, here’s what I ‘love’ most about the Juste un Clou collection from Cartier. And for those of my readers who can’t live without Cartier’s other popular collection, Love, I’ll also include some tidbits and notes about that collection as I go:

From what I’ve seen in all the movies, New York City in the 1970s was a bold time filled with spirited rejections of the common social order – a break away from more formal ways of living and into explorations of other (minimalist) ways of living. This movement is perhaps best represented in jewelry by Cartier’s Juste un Clou collection, debuted at the beginning of that decade.

This lineup collection, inspired by the silhouette of a simple nail (hence, ‘juste un clou’, or ‘just a nail’ in French), is designed after Aldo Cipullo’s original bangle design – still very much the mainstay piece of the collection itself. As of 2017 however, the collection has grown to include other iconic pieces such as earrings, cufflinks, tie pins, and even a necklace.

Cipullo, being the designer behind Cartier’s Love bracelet, is said to have enjoyed making beautiful even the most ordinary, everyday objects. For instance, this article says that the true ingenuity of the two bangle designs (the Love and Juste un Clou) is their commitment to showcasing the most ‘essential’ element of each design itself.

In the case of the Love bangle, the screws which hold the bracelet together are left visible, and the design requires the wearer to screw and unscrew the bracelet to take it on and off. For the Juste un Clou, right before the ‘head’ of the nail-bracelet, five subtle ridges are engraved, as well as four in the rings, both of which remind wearers of a flat-headed hardware nail.

MY FAVOURITE PEICE(S) FROM THIS COLLECTION

Definitely the iconic centre-piece itself, the Juste un Clou bangle!

Again, I know how much some people really pine after the Love bracelet, but I personally find the Clou to be slightly edgier and…well…more me. It’s a really light-weight, gorgeous little addition to any outfil, and is always stunning in either rose, yellow, or white 18K gold. Plus, I like to wear a bracelet without having to almost-permanently attach it to my wrist!

1. Panthére de Cartier

Number one is…drumroll please…Panthére de Cartier! Haha, I’m sure you may have guessed this since my name on Instagram is panthere_instyle, after all!

But that’s why I won’t apologize for having two Cartier favorites, and neither should you! Cartier is an iconic jewelry design house and I believe their prestige shows in their designs, as well as in who they hire to build from the original ‘voice’ of the brand itself. Even more iconic however has to be the collection which started it all for Cartier, and which distinctly looks back to the house’s Art Deco roots.

The story of this iconic collection begins in 1914, when one of the three brothers, then in charge of Cartier, commissioned a water color painting by a French painter (George Barbier). From what history shows, that painting – called Dame à la panthére – marked the first time the company would use an animal in their marketing, but also can be attributed with launching the panther theme.

Soon, some of the jewelry that would be released by Cartier would come to feature panthers in their designs, including a watch that continues to be a hot-ticket designer jewelry item today (even recently being featured in Vogue!)

How the Panther watch is made: When I first discovered this collection, I was immediately enamoured with the creativity that must have gone into the design of a watch that is so very lovely to look at. Even the later iterations which depict a panther on the face of the watch instead of the band are incredible to look at!

What’s more, according to this article the creation of any such watch requires a ton of work (duh). For instance, each of the gemstones are hand-carved and individually surrounded with tiny grains of metal that are then folded into tiny threads upon the stone to make the jeweled panther’s fur seem extremely realistic.

Still, it was when Jeanne Toussaint came onto the scene and joined the ranks of Cartier’s elevated designers that the panther icon truly took off – in fact it would be her lively nature and feminine style that would later give her the nickname “La Panthére” to the masses, and “Petite Panthére” to Louis Cartier, launching the popularity of the design ever further.

By 1983 many designs had come to join the original Panthére collection, and as of 2014, Panthére celebrated their 100-year anniversary with the release of a 56-piece set of the iconic designs, exhibited at Paris’ Grand Palais.

MY FAVORITE PEICE(S) FROM THIS COLLECTION

I really had a hard time choosing a favorite, but when it comes down to it, it’s the Panthére ring that I love the most. It’s a statement piece that gives me a feeling of being fierce any time I wear it.

Did you have any of the same top choices or favorites as me? Let me know through Instagram, or through my website anytime! Can’t wait to hear from you.

Until next time,

Lena

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