While working on the mood board for a current photoshoot, I came across the work of Italian model and jewellery designer Elsa Peretti and was so inspired with her elegance and refinement that I really wanted to explore her universe, work and life.
The designer was born on 1 May 1940 in Florence, Italy to an aristocratic Roman family. She began modelling in 1964 while in Spain. Four years later, she moved in New York where she quickly integrated into the social circles of Charles James, Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, Andy Warhol and Halston, and became part of the Studio 54 set.
Her first bottle necklace was made for fashion designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo in 1969, inspired from the vases that were on the back of chauffeured cars to hold single flowers: a sterling-silver bud vase that Peretti fashioned after a flea-market find and strung on a leather cord appeared on a model in the designer’s runway show.
She’d always been drawn to the shapes of objects, especially natural ones she found on the beach. The urge to transform them into pieces of her own first surfaced one day in 1969 when, as she recalls, “I said to Giorgio, ‘I’d like to do some jewelry.’ ;” Inspired by a silver flower vase she had found at a flea market, she made sketches, then took them to a silversmith in Spain with whom she hammered and filed a prototype for a two-inch sterling-silver bud vase, worn around the neck on a leather thong. When a model at Sant’Angelo’s next défilé appeared wearing the piece, with a rose stem inside, it caused a sensation. “Everybody wanted that little flask!,” Elsa recalls.
Peretti is best known for her long-standing collaboration with American fashion designer Halston, for whom she designed jewellery and perfume bottles, citing Brancusi and Gaudi’s architecture, among others, as her inspiration.
It was Halston who introduced Peretti to Tiffany & Co., beginning a relationship that lasted for nearly 50 years. Many of the designs she made for Tiffany’s are iconic, like the Bottle Pendant, for which Peretti took her inspiration from Portofino where the women would put gardenias in their hair or in their décolleté. The designer wanted to create something that would keep the gardenias alive. Later on, in the days around Studio 54, the bottles would be used for drugs, not flowers, something quite present in Elsa’s lifestyle.
Another of her iconic designs is the Open Heart Pendant, inspired by a Henry Moore sculpture: “It celebrates what’s inside your heart—that what is inside is more important than what is outside. And the open space is for you to fill it.”
The Bone Cuff was inspired by a childhood encounter with a human bone in a church, that Peretti took against her mother’s wishes. The cuff was worn by luminaries such as Diana Vreeland, Sophia Loren and Liza Minelli and still graces the wrists of trend-setting actresses such as Rosamund Pike, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts. (The Jewellery Editor) These biomorphic designs, inspired by bone fragments, teardrops and pebbles, would be her hallmark.
Elsa Peretti’s elegant, sensual, sculptural shapes and new approach to luxury forever changed 20th-century jewellery design, revolutionising tastes in accessories and repositioning sterling silver as a luxury material. She passed away at her home in Sant Martí Vell, a village in Catalonia, Spain, on March 19, 2021. She was 80.
La Torre, Peretti’s house in Porto Ercole, Italy, a 16th-century watchtower, was decorated by Renzo Mongiardino in 1980; here, Yuki, one of her Akitas, sits by the fireplace, which was cast after a Bomarzo garden “grotesque.” / via Vanity Fair
One of Elsa Peretti’s first jewellery designs. Pendant in 18k gold. Size medium, on a 28″ chain. 45 x 35 mm. Bottle is open and can hold a flower. Original designs copyrighted by Elsa Peretti. / via Tiffany & Co.
“Peretti, creator of the open heart, the seed of life, the teardrop of emotion, left behind an immeasurable legacy: of friendship, loyalty and unparalleled design, those amulets that transcend time and place. The jewels of humanity.”
Jewelry writer, historian and journalist Vivienne Becker
One of Elsa Peretti’s first jewellery designs. Pendant in 18k gold with a removable stopper of hand-carved turquoise. On a 28″ chain. 35 x 28 mm. Original designs copyrighted by Elsa Peretti. / via Tiffany & Co.