How a human bone inspired one of the most famous pieces of 20th century jewellery speaks volumes of Elsa Peretti's extraordinary talent and daring approach to design.
In the spirit of the Medici patrons who financed the talent of the best Renaissance artists, four decades ago Tiffany & Co. discerned Peretti's revolutionary take on jewellery and, in 1974, hired the Italian artist on the spot. Today Peretti, the designer behind the legendary Bone Cuff and other timeless designs, is celebrating 40 years of artistic collaboration with Tiffany & Co.
The daughter of a wealthy Italian oil magnate and an artistic mother, Peretti was born in 1940 in a sumptuous palazzo in Florence. Constrained by the conservative career expectations of her family, Peretti chose her own path and studied interior design in Rome.
Thanks to her striking looks and height, she made money modelling and by the early 1970s had settled in New York working with designer Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, who showcased her first silver creation on the runway. American designer Halston was entranced by Peretti's talent and introduced her to the Studio 54 crowd and, more importantly, to Tiffany's CEO Walter Hoving.
Hiring a designer who found inspiration in everyday objects, including bones, apples, feathers and beans, and who elevated sterling silver to high jewellery status was an adventurous move for the American jeweller but ultimately a lucrative one. Almost 10% of Tiffany's net global sales are generated by Peretti's designs.
Peretti's mantra "style is to be simple" involves eliminating excess detail in pursuit of the purity and essence of the object at hand. Her sculptural Bone Cuff, one of the most sought-after accessories of the last four decades, is a study in sensuous, fluid lines. The lacquered hardwood Elsa Peretti Doughnut bangles - also available in sterling silver and gold - are irresistibly smooth and invitingly tactile. Mounted in asymmetric settings, the Cabochon rings and her sinuous tapered snake necklace possess the hallmark ergonomic quality of all her work. Open Heart, one of her best-known designs, was inspired by the work of sculptor Henry Moore and his abstract figures with open space.
Diamonds are also given a new lease of life under Peretti, who freed them from their rigid, classical settings. Suspended on a long gold chain, the very name of this popular collection - Diamonds by the Yard - demystifies the formality associated with the stone, inviting them to be coiled generously around the neck every day of the year.
But perhaps the most eloquent testimonial to Peretti's designs is their enduring appeal over the decades recognised by institutions and royalty alike. The Peretti Bone Cuff was added to the British Museum's permanent 20th century collection in 2009, and the Duchess of Cambridge chose a Peretti Cabochon by the Yard necklace for her engagement photographs.