One of our passions has always been the history of jewellery and, in keeping with our way of understanding a piece of jewellery, we are often attracted by personalities who are little-known to the wider public but who were capable of such innovative ideas that even today, they inspire jewellery and costume jewellery designers.
In addition to the famous names of the great Jewellery Houses, history is full of individuals who though little-known, had unparalleled charm and were so visionary that with their originality and creative boldness, they inspired many of the accessories we see in magazines and which we wear today. Fulco Santostefano della Cerda Duca di Verdura was a jewellery designer, a regular visitor at Parisian salons, who was famous for his legendary lifestyle and his friendships with people including Coco Chanel and Salvador Dalì. Heir to one of Palermo’s greatest aristocratic families, he is famed for having designed jewellery worn by Hollywood celebrities and was commissioned by rich magnates and monarchs from all over Europe for his work. Nature is his greatest source of inspiration: animals, birds, feathers, wings, leaves, shells, flowers and fruit form the essence of his work, transformed into masterpieces.
One jewel he made for Coco Chanel is particularly famous, a masterpiece which marked the beginning of their great friendship and which is still produced today: a white enamel bracelet with a Byzantine cross, which was inspired by a tour the two had done of old Europe, with emeralds, sapphires, topazes, amethysts, aquamarines and rubies set inside. History has it that in the early 1930s, Coco Chanel took all of her jewels that she had received from past lovers to the designer, who was of aristocratic origins, to have them re-designed. One of the pieces obtained was the bracelet in question, the Maltese Cross Cuff. It was so successful that it became an iconic object for Verdura as well as for Coco herself, who wore one on each of her wrists.
From his friendship with the musician Cole Porter, inspired by his most well-known composition Night and Day, Verdura created his celebrated cufflinks in gold, diamonds and enamels: a piece of jewellery which is still made today and sold all over the world.
Verdura’s fame spread internationally, stemming from his collaboration with Chanel, and in the last part of his life, he became the jeweller of the Hollywood scene; Katharine Hepburn, Lana Turner, Greta Garbo and many other famous actresses wore jewels specifically designed for their films.
What makes Fulco di Verdura still relevant today and a kindred spirit to us, is the way he combined precious materials with less noble ones, creating unique pieces. He showed the world that everything could “be” a jewel: semi-precious stones, baroque pearls and shells as well as wood, enamel and leather could become true masterpieces.