Marina B: Marina Bulgari was born in 1930 into a family already highly successful in the world of fine jewellery. In 1976, and by now an integral part of the Bulgari jewellery house, Marina made the significant decision to break away from the family business to pursue her own career in the industry. She used her knowledge of gems and precious metals and drew on her deep-rooted fervour for jewellery and the way it can complement and transform the wearer to design jewels that were an instant success with the highest women of society and Hollywood, from Princess Grace of Monaco to Sophia Loren. In Marina B jewels, look out for the “Chestnut” – a rounded shape between a triangle and a pear – in both her gemstone cuts and gold forms. The most recognisable of her cleverly engineered sprung chokers and bangles feature interlocking rows of “Chestnuts” that complement the curves of the neck and wrist. Read more.
Coco Chanel: Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel founded her eponymous brand in 1910 with a focus on garments, but from the start, she was a great lover of jewellery and gems, real and faux. As the brand grew so did her offering of fashion jewellery, which she brought in to complement the fine jewellery she was already designing. Chanel began growing a reputation for “fine fashion jewellery” that mimicked the fine but was much more affordable and appropriate for everyday wear. She legitimised paste. Byzantine, Baroque, Celtic, Syrian: they fed her imagination and reinvention, changing our relationship with jewellery as much as she did our relationship with clothes. Read more.
Angela Cummings: Born in Austria in 1944 she was three when her parents re-located to the US and settled just outside Washington, D.C. Cummings returned to Europe to study, but in 1968 America called her back and she joined Tiffany & Co as an in-house designer, under the watchful eye of Donald Claflin. In 1975, she launched her own collection, though remaining with Tiffany until 1984, at which time she left to set up her own design studio with her husband Bruce Cummings. Her jewellery is heavily influenced by nature as well as by three-dimensional sculpture, and many of her inlaid designs celebrate less mainstream semi-precious stones, such as black jade, mother of pearl and lapis lazuli.
Victoire de Castellane: She grew up as much at home among the finery (and fine jewels) of French nobility as the fashion houses of Paris, and although not formally trained in jewellery design she stepped into that world with ease, first working for Chanel (taking over its costume jewellery department in her early 20s) and then, from 1999, Dior, where she remains as Creative Director of Fine Jewellery. Colour, fantasy, playfulness, asymmetry: they have all been used to describe her eclectic and flamboyant gems, which have been the trademark of Dior Haute Joaillerie since her first collection for the brand in 1999. She was once perfectly summed up as bringing “a ready-to-wear attitude to haute couture gems”.
Loulou de la Falaise: Anglo-Irish and French, Loulou de la Falaise was the daughter of the model Maxime (an acquaintance of Elsa Schiaparelli), so fashion and style were in her veins. As, too, was rebellion. The relationship she was most known for, however, was that with Yves Saint Laurent with whom she started to work in the 1970s and remained designing accessories for more than 30 years, until his retirement in 2002. Excess, extravagance, elegance: all words used by Saint Laurent himself to describe her work. Although she died in 2011, her fantastical and bohemian creations continue to be made under her independent brand, incorporating glass paste, pearls and semi-precious stones.
Elizabeth Gage: Elizabeth Gage creations are celebrated for their use of colour and gemstones and, most of all, for their effortless day-into-night wearability – a style she has championed throughout her career. Her determination and creative flair brought her swiftly into the industry. Not taken with any of the fine jewellery available to buy, she set out to learn how to design and make jewellery herself. An Elizabeth Gage jewel strikes you with its colours. From its enamelwork to gemstones and the bright yellows of the textured gold, the character of each jewel is immediately evident. Archaeological treasures, cameos, coins, carved gemstones and pearls of all shapes and sizes are part of Elizabeth Gage’s signature. Read more.
Jacline Nataf Mazard: One half of the founding partnership of French company Jean Mahie (the other half was her father-in-law Jean-Marie Mazard), which began life in 1969 and as a brand, with Jacline at the helm, continues to this day. The pair, neither of whom was formerly trained in jewellery making or design, focused on textured gold and jewellery as wearable sculpture. Jacline Mazard was born in Turkey in 1943, and she discovered an early passion for metalwork, later reflected in the hammered 22-carat gold surfaces and textured, sensual figures of Jean Mahie jewellery. Everything from the company was – and is – hand-crafted. “In reality, I am not a jeweller,” she has written. “I am a sculptor but I prefer the expression: forgeron d’or or goldsmith.”
Elsa Peretti: Think Elsa Peretti and you think Tiffany & Co. Born in Florence and educated in Rome and then Switzerland she began her working life as a teacher. After a degree in interior design, however, and time then spent in the modelling world, she began to design jewellery, and designed it beautifully. In 1974, she signed for Tiffany & Co as a designer of silver jewellery, and went on to produce more than 30 collections for the company. One of her most-lauded creations is her “Diamonds by the Yard”: fine chains combined with bezel-set diamonds. If one word could sum up Elsa Peretti’s creations it would be “fluid”, but we’d also like to throw in “tactile” and “sensual” for good measure.
Wendy Ramshaw: Ring sets (but we’ll get to those later). This Scottish jewellery designer was born in 1939 and died in 2018. She originally studied textiles, then teaching, but after postgraduate studies in jewellery at the Central School of Art and Design, finishing in 1970, Ramshaw’s work was spotted by Mary Quant, who began to stock her pieces. Her signature ring sets are, according to The Scottish Gallery, “represented in over 70 public collections worldwide”. In Ramshaw’s own words: “I enjoy making jewellery. I enjoy looking at jewellery and I enjoy wearing jewellery … I make objects whose function is to decorate the human body and I am also concerned that these terms can be enjoyed out of context with the human form and have at times deliberately devised means by which this can be achieved.” Her ring sets achieved just this.
Elsa Schiaparelli: Surreal, novel, certainly influential – all understatements when applied to one of the most provocative figures in fashion of the 20th century. With her fashion house (founded in Paris in 1927), she challenged the “boring reality of merely making a dress to sell”, and her costume jewellery was equally subversive. Metallic insects – some disturbingly over-sized – were one of her favourite jewellery themes, perhaps inspired by the surrealist artists whose worked excited her, from Dali and Cocteau to Giacometti, and with whom she collaborated to help transform the 1930s creative landscape for the fashion-hungry.
With additional writing on Marina B and Elizabeth Gage by Georgina Izzard, and on Coco Chanel by Charlotte Rogers.