Verdura

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Verdura cuffs.jpg

Sicilian jeweller designer famous for his work in the 1940’s and 50’s. Fulco Santostefano, Duke of Verdura, was born in Palermo in 1898. He spent most of his youth in Sicily and, later, Venice. Verdura’s wit, erudition, and charm made him a prized guest at high-society parties. Living on an increasingly diminished inheritance, he flitted about the continent; Europe’s glitterati adored him. In 1929, Coco Chanel invited Verdura to design jewellery for her at her Paris workshop, and he accepted. At Chanel, Verdura created both costume and precious jewellery. It was Chanel’s view that a woman should wear both fake and real gems. “I find it disgraceful to walk around with millions around your neck just because you are rich, “ she proclaimed, “The point of jewellery isn’t to make a woman look rich but to adorn her; not the same thing.”[1] At Chanel, Verdura’s most notable creation was a Maltese Cross bracelet. As with much of his jewellery, the piece was meant to accent current fashions; but it also made subtle references to historical sources. The cross hailed both to war-time medals and also, specifically, to an aristocratic, eleventh century Catholic fraternity, the Knights of Malta, that adopted the Maltese cross as their emblem.[2] It became one of his signature motifs. Rich colours, both in gold and gemstones, were also characteristic of his pieces. In 1934, Verdura moved to the United States, first setting up residence in Hollywood, where he socialized with jewellery designer Paul Flato, and then in New York. In 1939, financed by friends, Verdura opened a jewellery boutique at 712 Fifth Avenue, a location that Cartier inhabited thirty years earlier. From his recently-imprisoned friend Paul Flato, he inherited a stellar sales staff as well as a famous Hollywood clientele. In the two decades that followed, his success continued to grow. In 1954, Verdura opened a second location near the Place Vendôme.


The 1940’s and 50’s were Verdura’s heyday. During those years, Fulco created his most celebrated designs. These include voluminous bow and knot motif pieces, puffed heart brooches featuring plush cabochon-cut gemstones wrapped delicately in gold, and massive colored-stone parures. During this time, Verdura also introduced shell-motif jewellery. The pieces often featured actual molluscs, which were embellished with diamonds and wrapped in wire. “What I get a kick out of,” he told the New Yorker, “is to buy a shell for five dollars, use half of it, and sell it for twenty-five hundred.”[3] Verdura was also famous for creating intricate vanity cases, some of which were designed specifically for opening nights of films like The Man Who Came To Dinner (1939) and You’ll Never Get Rich (1940). Whimsical sculptural pieces were also a prominent part of his inventory. Of these, a handful deserve special note: an intoxicated snowman in gold, enamel, and sapphire; a set of Indian chessman; a series of medieval knights on horses, complete with chainmail armor; intricately-detailed Blackamoors; a Pleides brooch; a diamond-encrusted swan whose body consists primarily of a baroque pearl; an enamelled and bejewelled elephant carrying a hulking old-mine cut diamond; a bouquet of multi-colored violets inspired by the Victorians; curvaceous Italian putti; and a lush, multi-color, leaf-motif brooch. While his work is often compared to that of Tiffany designer, Jean Schlumberger, Verdura’s pieces are visually softer and less spiky than Schlumberger’s; they also play more on historical references. In his later years, Verdura also began to paint miniatures, which he set and sold as brooches. He is also credited with re-introducing the rope-motif into jewellery, a design element that became highly popular thereafter.[4]


In the early 1970’s, Verdura sold his business and retired. In 1978, he died. E.J. Landrigan is now the owner of and designer for Verdura.[5]


Verdura

Verdura.svg

Verdura
USA
New York NY
e.1939

Specialties

1926

  • Fulco moves to Paris.
  • Worked in the textile department of Chanel.
  • Produced costume jewelry for Chanel.

1935

  • Went to Hollywood, then New York and worked with Paul Flato.

1939

  • Opened his own jewelry business.

1972

  • Sold out to Joseph Alfano and retired.

1985

  • Verdura Inc. sold to Ward Landrigan.

Influences

  • Royal Jewels
  • Byzantine art
  • The Maltese cross


Verdura.jpg

Notes

  1. Cited in Corbett, 64
  2. Ibid., 70
  3. Cited in Ibid., 114.
  4. Traina, 139
  5. Ibid., 141

Sources Consulted

  • Corbett, Patricia. Verdura: The Life and Work of a Master Jeweler. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Very informative, ample biographical information. Fantastic photos.
  • Traina, John. Extraordinary Jewels. New York: Double Day, 1994.

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