Visionary Designers Who Have Shaped the Jewellery Industry As We Know It

Meet the trailblazers.

Behind every great jewellery house stand great jewellery designers. They are original, ambitious, and to some degree, prophetic. Their inimitable artistic vision is only surpassed by their urge to defy convention. Jewellery to them isn’t a frivolous little thing with nothing to offer other than shines and sparkles. A piece of jewellery, in their hands, becomes a stern statement that reflects the times. Their ingenuity holds the power to shape the culture.

A good case in point would be the legendary Jeanne Toussaint. A muse of the social scene in Paris, the fashion maven blazed the trail for female creatives when she ascended the ranks at Cartier in 1933. As the house’s creative director, one of the first women to occupy such a position in the industry, Toussaint asserted that jewellery was a symbol of independence and this was certainly reflected in her now-iconic design, the panther.

Renée Puissant, who inherited Van Cleef & Arpels from her parents Alfred Van Cleef and Estelle Arpels, is another industry pioneer. At the top of her craft in the 1930s, Puissant introduced some groundbreaking technology to the industry including the transformable Zip necklace. It’s a piece that can be worn either open around the neck or closed around the wrist—widely regarded as the first exercise of making the mundane magnificent.

Similar design codes may have been adopted by others since then but nothing came close to the level of prominence of the Love bracelet by Aldo Cipullo. Created when he joined Cartier in 1969, the bracelet’s main intrigue lies in its fastening system where a special screwdriver is required. Cipullo followed his seminal design with a collection inspired by the unrefined nails, imagined to be wrapped around the finger or wrist: the Juste un Clou.

Another jeweller who was inspired by the “gritty glamour” of the 1970s New York—a rather glossed-over term given its precarious state at the time—was Donald Claflin. Known for his inclinations for the witty and the whimsical, Claflin’s Ball and Chain bracelet with a diamond-encrusted padlock in tow for Tiffany & Co. was surprisingly subversive. His hard-edged design would soon serve as the blueprint for the Tiffany HardWear collection.

Tiffany & Co. was a creative hub for jewellery designers in that particular decade. Paloma Picasso’s arrival in 1979 continued the tough-cookie trend with her innovative ideas that were anchored by generous scales, vibrant colours, and graffiti-inspired shapes. Her bold and beautiful Paloma’s Graffiti collection, for instance, brought urban street art into the mainstream as she crafted the writings in precious materials and made them endlessly covetable.

Also imparting her brilliance to the jewellery house was Elsa Peretti. The once-in-a-generation designer was a craftswoman in every sense of the word and this is best demonstrated by the Bone Cuff; one of her definitive works. A testament to her artistic creed that good lines and good forms are timeless, the bracelet parades the organic sensuality of Peretti’s aesthetic vocabulary with a sculpted silhouette that captures the shape of a wrist bone.

Singular in their creative approach, which more often than not was influenced by their own worldview, each of these jewellery designers heralded a whole new wave of jewellery making. Their uninhibited audacity to challenge the very meaning of fine jewellery continues to inspire the next crop of jewellers to break the mould in pursuit of something truly new. Who knows, we might see the likes of Rosh Mahtani and Valérie Messika on this list soon.