2014 was a big year for Verdura and the iconic jewelry house celebrated in singular style with an unprecedented exhibit last fall. In a beautiful Daniel Romualdez designed space adjacent to their salon, The Power of Style, Verdura at 75, commemorated their landmark anniversary, noting 75 years since Fulco di Verdura opened the doors to his Fifth Avenue boutique. Including over 200 of Verdura’s original pieces, the story of the legendary master jeweler unfolded, highlighting his revolutionary style, international coterie of clients and wide ranging influences. Susanna and I had the privilege of walking the exhibit with Verdura owner and CEO Ward Landrigan who shared insights of the fascinating man and his work. Join us for a dazzling behind-the-scenes peek.
As Vogue proclaimed in 1937, Verdura’s work was “The Real Thing – enormous, entertaining, ornamental, personal and witty.” Born into Sicilian aristocracy, he showed an early proclivity for drawing, a curiosity about the natural world and a healthy disdain for convention. It was meeting Linda and Cole Porter on their Grand Tour in Sicily that started it all. In 1925, at a party in Venice, they introduced him to Coco Chanel and by 1927 he was working for her in Paris. With her influence, he forged a new colorful and bold look in jewels, changing the course of jewelry design for the rest of the 20th century.
As it became time for Verdura to move out of Chanel’s shadow, Hollywood beckoned. He began designing for Paul Flato, then the favored “jeweler to the stars.” Among many other pieces for stars and their films, he designed a beautiful brooch for client Tyrone Power to give to his wife that was the inspiration for the now famous Wrapped Ruby Heart Brooch, below.
But Verdura came fully into his own back in New York. With the partial backing of Cole Porter, he opened his Fifth Avenue boutique on September 1, 1939 and became the darling of New York society for decades to come. Each piece was unique and expressed as much about his individual clients as his own creativity. Combining old world elegance with a new unpretentious approach to jewelry, his treasures focussed more on taste and style than intrinsic value. The Maltese Cross Brooch below, commissioned by Clare Booth Luce in 1944, repurposed her own diamonds.
And in 1941, Verdura and Salvador Dali collaborated on a small collection. The “Medusa” Brooch, below, features a miniature painting by Dali. It was originally from the collection of Millicent Rogers, another Verdura client and fan.
Inspiration came from anywhere and everywhere. Soon after opening the boutique, Verdura acquired some antique ivory chess pieces, which he fashioned into irresistible jeweled brooches. Such chessmen ultimately found their way into the collections of the first Mrs. William Paley (later Dorothy Hirshon), Mrs. Tyrone Power, Mrs. Henry Fonda and Doris Duke. Below an antique ivory, jade, emerald, sapphire, diamond, ruby and pearl “Maharaja & Maharini Chessman” brooch from 1940.
But he also designed exquisite objets, some of the most interesting for Mr. and Mrs. Jock Whitney. Below a gold amethyst, peridot, rose-quartz and petrified wood “Vine” Objet d’Art from 1967 that Mrs. Betsey Cushing Whitney commissioned as a 25th anniversary gift for her husband. Inscribed on the base is the family motto “QVOD HABEO DESIDERO,” translated by Mr. Whitney as “I like what I got.”
And as a Christmas present for her husband, Betsey Whitney commissioned in 1966 this amazing miniature painting (Verdura was an accomplished miniaturist) on a gold and sapphire easel, representing masterpieces in Jock’s collection including a Van Gogh self-portrait, as well as works by Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir.
But my favorite might just be what Jock gave Betsey for their twentieth wedding anniversary. A golden tree set into rose quartz had branches hung with miniatures framed in sapphires and diamonds illustrating all the Whitney houses, from Long Island to Kentucky, Georgia, Fisher’s Island and Saratoga.
And in addition to the boxes Verdura created for Cole Porter, he also received commissions for others, personalized to client’s particulars such as this charming platinum, diamond and gemstone “Biography” box.
His fascination with nature persisted through his entire career. From flowers
to hearts and shells, his love of nature and history were probably his strongest interests.
Verdura at 75 was curated by Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera and their daughter Patricia Lansing. Mr. and Mrs. Herrera knew Verdura, bringing a personal perspective to the show. They know that when you buy a piece of Verdura, you own not only a beautifully crafted jewel but a piece of social and design history. His is a legacy that lives on not only through his extensive archives but through those who appreciate and understand how to make his style their own.