Fred Leighton

René Boivin René Boivin


Many jewelers are known for catering to royals, celebrities and socialites. The house of Boivin holds a different status: jeweler to the intelligentsia. Luminaries of fashion, art and academia, including Edgar Degas, Jean Hugo, Cole Porter, Sigmund Freud and Cecil Beaton, were clients. A uniquely avant-garde spirit drew these iconoclasts.

René Boivin, a goldsmith, founded his company in 1890 in Paris. When he married Jeanne Poiret, sister of the famous couturier Paul Poiret, he gained entrée to the high fashion world. His forward-thinking designs rejected the era’s delicate Art Nouveau proportions in favor of chunky jewels inspired by the Middle East and Asia.

When Rene died young in 1917, his wife Jeanne took over the direction of the house of Boivin, a daring act for a woman of the time. She hired mostly female designers, most famously Suzanne Belperron, who conceived many of the company’s iconic creations. This was jewelry for a different kind of woman—strong and modern, with a mind of her own. Boivin pieces marked high fashion rather than high status (although they telegraphed that, too, to those in the know). They were sensual and generous, with texture and dimension. Citrine, aquamarine, topaz and lapis were the colors of a palette that gave life to wearable gold sculpture.

Most Boivin jewels were commissioned one-of-a-kind pieces, and were almost never signed. Jeanne considered them distinctive enough to be recognized on sight. They are just as singular today as they were in their time—and highly desirable. Consider yourself lucky to find a Boivin piece; collectors rarely part with them.

Boucheron Boucheron


Place Vendôme has long been home to the world’s most important jewelers. Cartier, Tiffany, Van Cleef & Arpels…all are in this elegant Parisian square. But Frederic Boucheron, who set up shop in 1893, was the first. Although he had already been in business for 35 years, by placing himself in one of the most elite neighborhoods in town he gained the attention of prestigious clients who frequented the area, including the Countess of Castiglione. Soon, royalty and notables were clamoring for Boucheron jewels. In 1894, the Tsar Nicolas II commissioned a pearl and diamond tiara for his fiancée, Alexandra, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter. She wore the extravagant coronet incessantly, saying it was the only cure for her migraines.

After Frederic’s death in 1902, his son Louis took over the business. The house of Boucheron experimented with many styles and materials, and was a major contributor to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. The exquisite, sophisticated designs continued to draw heads of state and VIPs from near and far.

One such loyal client was Madeleine Astor, wife of multimillionaire John Jacob Astor IV. Mrs. Astor survived the sinking of the Titanic, but her husband, who gave his seat on the lifeboat to another woman, did not. Neither did her jewelry, which all disappeared into the sea—except for a sapphire and diamond Boucheron ring that she wore for the rest of her life in honor of her husband.

Another important client was the Maharajah of Patiala, who was impressed by Louis Boucheron’s many journeys to India. He visited the Place Vendôme shop in 1928, accompanied by servants carrying thousands of diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and ordered 149 extraordinary jewels to be made from his stones.

The house of Boucheron also captivated stars of stage and screen. Sarah Bernhardt’s love of the Animaux de Collection made the jeweled menagerie popular. Joan Crawford treasured her Boucheron suite of aquamarines and diamonds and would often wear it on stage. In 1977, Andy Warhol bought the set in her memory, convinced that it held a part of her soul.

Bulgari Bulgari


Sotirios Boulgaris, a Greek silversmith, moved to Italy with only a few coins in his pocket and opened the first Bulgari shop in 1884. His neo-Hellenic silver jewelry, which combined Byzantine and Islamic elements, enticed English tourists visiting Rome.

By the 1920s, the Art Deco movement was in full swing, and Bulgari followed suit, with geometric designs in platinum and diamonds. The house remained in step with current fashions through the ’30s and ’40s, following the dictates from Paris. During this era, Bulgari introduced its snake shaped bracelet watch, Serpenti, which is still one of the company’s most celebrated icons.

Bulgari hit its stride in the ’50s and ’60s, rejecting the French approach to jewelry-making and establishing a true Italian style inspired by Greco-Roman classicism, Renaissance art and the Roman school of goldsmiths. The renowned Coin designs, introduced in the late ’60s, define this style, featuring ancient Greek and Roman coins from the personal collection of Nicola, Sotirios’s grandson. At the same time, the house popularized the cabochon cut in bold, sumptuous jewels that were all about color and curve.

It was 1960 in Rome during the filming of Cleopatra that Elizabeth Taylor discovered her two greatest loves: Richard Burton and Bulgari. “Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages to working…in Rome was Bulgari’s nice little shop,” she said. Richard Burton lavished her with jewel after jewel, and joked “the only word Liz knows in Italian is Bulgari.” At an auction of Taylor’s jewelry in 2011, Bulgari paid $20 million to bring some of her pieces back to the company’s archives.

Cartier Cartier


Since 1847, Cartier has epitomized exceptional jewels. The Prince of Wales (Edward VII) described Louis Cartier as “the jeweler of kings, the king among jewelers.” And he certainly was: King Edward VII of England, King Alfonso XII of Spain, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the Maharajah of Patiala, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Prince Ranier and Princess Grace were all clients.

In the early 1900s, even before Art Deco style emerged, Cartier renounced the figurative designs of Art Nouveau for abstract shapes and geometric motifs. The house was also the first in Europe to make jewelry out of platinum. During the Roaring Twenties, Cartier became the ne plus ultra of Art Deco grandeur, with designs that often incorporated Asian and Egyptian themes, inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Botanical and fruit designs took their cue from the Islamic flower motifs of the Mughal Empire, marrying Indian stone carving techniques with French platinum and diamond settings. These joyful, colorful jewels would eventually be known as “Tutti Frutti” and are in high demand today.

The Cartier panther, which first appeared on a women’s wristwatch in 1914, became the company’s signature. “The Panther” was also the nickname for Jeanne Toussaint, Cartier’s director of fine jewelry from 1933 to 1970, who was known for her strength and daring sense of style. She would introduce a menagerie of panthers over the years, always lithe and sumptuous, with glinting gemstone eyes. She was also the visionary behind Cartier’s meaningful bird designs, including the caged bird that Cartier introduced in 1942 as a symbol of resistance to the Nazi occupation…and the bird poised for flight that was released in 1944, to represent the end of the war.

Two of the world’s most famous diamonds passed through Cartier’s hallowed halls. In 1910, Pierre Cartier, Louis’s grandson, sold the blue Hope Diamond to American socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean and her husband. In 1969, Cartier sold the 69.42-carat pear-shaped stone that would become known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond to Hollywood’s most passionate and scandalous couple.

Cartier is also known for the quintessential pieces that define everyday luxury and good taste. The Tank watch was born in 1919, and its clean lines are just as chic a century later. In 1924, the Trinity ring—three interlocking bands in yellow, white and rose gold—became fashionable among Parisian society and remains an essential today. And the Love bracelet, introduced in 1969, continues to mark romance and style among Millennials and matriarchs alike.

Paul Flato Paul Flato


“There is nothing more awful than to wear some new jewelry and have nobody notice it, a contingency you can easily avoid by making sure yours are Jewels by Flato, which is to say, conversation pieces.” So read an advertisement in Vogue for Paul Flato, Hollywood’s most influential celebrity jeweler. Greta Garbo, Mae West, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Doris Duke, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh—they all loved and wore his designs, on-screen and off. In fact, not only was Flato the first jeweler to have his name in the credits of a movie, he even appeared in several films himself.

Born in Texas in 1900, Flato moved to New York in 1920 to be a “big fish in a big pond,” as he put it. He spent a year at Columbia University, where he fell in with the young and wealthy set who later became clients of his fledgling jewelry and watch company. He employed several designers, including future luminaries George W. Headley and Count Fulco di Verdura, and bought diamonds from Harry Winston, who was a wholesale gem dealer at the time. Voyages to Honduras, Peru, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, Haiti and Guatemala inspired Flato’s inventive designs. In New York, he hobnobbed with politicians and socialites, thriving even during the Great Depression.

By 1938, Flato had set his sights on Hollywood and opened a store on Sunset Boulevard. His new jewels were sculptural, surprising and whimsical, influenced by the tongue-in-cheek imagery of the Surrealist movement. Perhaps inspired by his own hearing loss, he created a series of gold clips shaped like hands posed in the sign language alphabet. A bracelet called the “gold digger” featured a gold pickaxe. A compact decorated with angels included one cherub on a chamber pot. Once, unable to find his cufflinks, Flato attended a party with bolts in his sleeves. Party guests raved, so he designed a pair in gold, launching a new trend. Flato created conventionally elegant designs, too, like his exquisite series of feather brooches in diamonds and platinum. He also embraced the 1940s trend of convertible jewelry—pieces that could be taken apart and worn in a number of ways.

After legal and financial troubles, Flato moved to Mexico in the late ’60s and attained great success with a new collection of bold, witty styles that took inspiration from local folk art and artifacts. He continued designing jewelry until he returned to Texas at the age of 90 to live with his daughters.

Mauboussin Mauboussin


In 1925, the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris

introduced the world to the Art Deco movement. It also brought great fame to the house of Mauboussin, which won the Grand Prize for its jewelry designs. Although the company had been founded in 1827, it changed hands a few times before Georges Mauboussin took over in 1896 and began to develop the distinctive style that would garner international acclaim at the exposition. By 1929, Mauboussin had stores in London and Buenos Aires, and one set to open in New York City on October 29th.

That very day, the stock market crashed. As the Great Depression cast its shadow, the U.S. branch of Mauboussin made a felicitous decision to merge with Trabert & Hoeffer, a New York-based jeweler with a keen understanding of marketing. The new firm, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin, prospered—not only by dressing celebrities and socialites in extravagant custom jewelry, but also by creating an innovative and accessible line called Reflection that epitomized the era’s Retro styles.

Following the latest trends from Europe, Trabert & Hoeffer-Mauboussin produced gold components in smooth, asymmetric shapes that curled like ribbons and radiated like sunbursts. Clients would choose from these elements and select their favorite gemstones, which were then assembled to create a semicustom piece. The slogan for the collection was “Reflection—Your Personality in a Jewel.” Even though they were widely marketed, each design carried the distinctive stamp of its owner’s taste. Meanwhile, the company’s costlier jewels were being featured in Hollywood films and gaining celebrity clients like Mary Pickford, Marlene Dietrich and Paulette Goddard. Mass appeal coupled with an elite image enabled Mauboussin to thrive throughout World War II even as many of the great jewelry houses were forced to close. The arrangement between Trabert & Hoeffer and Mauboussin ended in the 1950s, but the French division of the company, which had continued unabated throughout, remains a robust presence today.

Patek Philippe Patek Philippe


In 1839, Antoine Norbert de Patek founded a watchmaking company in Geneva. In 1845, Adrien Philippe, the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism, became his business partner. Like the steadfast movement of a Patek Philippe timepiece, the firm has endured to this day without interruption. With more than 80 patents and a reputation for innovation, unrivalled quality and exclusivity, the company continues to preserve the time-honored tradition of artisanal watchmaking.


In 1851, Antoine Norbert de Patek visited New York to introduce his merchandise to Tiffany & Co., which resulted in an order for 130 watches. Not long afterwards, he shook hands with Tiffany founder Charles Louis Tiffany, and the two companies have had an exclusive retail partnership ever since. That was also the year that Patek Philippe went to London to attend the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations. Queen Victoria discovered the company’s exquisite timepieces and bought one for herself and Prince Albert. It was the start of a long royal relationship.

Between 1891 and 1904, Patek Philippe patented many state-of-the-art components and mechanisms used in its watch movements, establishing itself as the maker of the world’s finest, most innovative watches. In 1932, the Calatrava Ref. 96 was introduced. The refined, minimalist design was inspired by the Bauhaus dictate that form must follow function. Subsequent watches heed this principle, from the Golden Ellipse, introduced in 1968, to the Nautilus, which debuted in 1976. These models are still produced today, a testament to their infinite style.

Rolex Rolex


In 1927, the young English swimmer Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English Channel wearing a Rolex Oyster timepiece. At the end of her 10-hour journey, the device hadn’t skipped a second. It was the world’s first waterproof watch and just one of Rolex’s many innovations. For more than 100 years, Rolex has revolutionized watchmaking and accompanied pioneers around the world, from the highest mountain peak to the ocean’s abyss.

When Hans Wilsdorf founded his company in 1905 in London at the age of 24, his first task was to find a name. He combined the letters of the alphabet in every possible way, but nothing felt quite right. One morning, while riding on the upper deck of a horse-drawn omnibus, he said, “A genie whispered ‘Rolex’ in my ear.” This was the first of his many flashes of brilliance.

In 1910, a Rolex was the first wristwatch in the world to receive the Swiss Certificate of Chronometric Precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne. After the debut of the Oyster in 1926, Rolex invented and patented the world’s first self-winding wristwatch with a Perpetual rotor in 1931. To this day, this system gives life to all automatic watches, capturing the energy generated by the wearer’s slightest move.

For every kind of explorer and achiever, there is a Rolex. In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest, were equipped with Oyster Perpetuals. That year also marked the introduction of the Submariner, the first divers’ watch waterproof to a depth of 330 feet, with a rotating bezel that marks how long a diver has been underwater. In 1955, the GMT-Master was developed for pilots in collaboration with Pan American Airways, with a bezel that simultaneously shows the time in two time zones. The popular red and blue version is affectionately referred to by watch aficionados as a “Pepsi bezel.” In 1956, the Oyster Perpetual Day-Date made its debut, the first wristwatch to spell out the date and day of the week on the dial. Produced only in platinum or 18 karat gold, it quickly became the watch of moguls and magnates. In fact, it is said that American presidents wear this watch more than any other. But perhaps the most collectible Rolex on earth is the Cosmograph Daytona, designed for racecar drivers with a tachymetric scale on the bezel that calculates average speed. Introduced in 1963 and beloved by Paul Newman, it has only become more desirable with time.

Jean Schlumberger Jean Schlumberger


1930s Paris was a hothouse of creativity and novelty. Jean Schlumberger, a charismatic young man from a wealthy family, fit right in with the avant-garde fashion and art crowd. He began making audacious costume jewels from antique chandeliers, giving them as gifts to his elite and stylish friends. In 1937, couturier Elsa Schiaperelli discovered his playful creations and commissioned him to make jewelry and buttons for her collections. The collaboration was a huge success, but in 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, Schlumberger joined the army.

By 1946, Schlumberger had survived the Battle of Dunkirk, the war had ended and he yearned to return to a world of beauty and creativity. He opened a salon in New York, where he designed jewels as fantastical as his earlier creations—but now, with precious metals and gemstones. Without formal European design training, Schlumberger was unbound by rules, with the freedom to let his imagination run wild. His vivid, three-dimensional pieces captured the spontaneity of swaying leaves, flying birds and leaping fish. He chose gemstones purely for their color and beauty, not their value (“One might as well pin a check on someone’s lapel,” he said). Nevertheless, his creations were expensive—and just strange enough to appeal to confident women with a hint of a rebellious streak.

In 1956, Schlumberger joined Tiffany & Co. as the first designer allowed to sign his work, and remained there until his retirement in the 1970s. In 1958, he was the first jewelry designer to win the Fashion Critics’ Coty Award. He also won the devotion of a glittering roster of clients, including Millicent Rogers, Bunny Mellon, Babe Paley, Greta Garbo, Gloria Vanderbilt, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. Schlumberger revived the 19th century art of paillonné enamel, layering melted glass over 18k gold leaf to produce a luminous effect. He used the technique in brilliant enamel bangles that became must-haves for the fashion and society set. Jacqueline Kennedy wore them so often they became known as “Jackie bracelets.” Another of his celebrated designs is the Bird on a Rock brooch, first fashioned in 1961 for a large topaz, and later recreated for the renowned 128.54 carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond.

Despite being surrounded by opulence, Schlumberger got his biggest thrill from nature.

He had a house in Guadeloupe, in the French West Indies, where the sea creatures provided endless inspiration. He’d sketch seaweed, shells and anemones and interpret them in magical jewels of gold and gemstones. As Vogue editor Dianne Vreeland, one of his most loyal fans, explained, “He so well understands the fantastic beauty of the world that he is not a fantasist. The world is a fantasy; Johnny is a realist.”

Pierre Sterlé Pierre Sterlé


Pierre Sterlé may be one of the most important jewelry designers you’ve never heard of. His lyrical, highly engineered creations are some of the most distinctive designs of the 20th Century—and some of the most collectible. But because his business was so exclusive and his clientele so elite, his name isn’t as widely known as some of his contemporaries. At the upstairs atelier he opened in 1943 near the Place Vendôme, he saw socialites and royalty by appointment only.

Sterlé manipulated gold like no other jeweler, achieving remarkable fluidity in gemstone birds that appear to fly and leaves that seem to flutter. His works from the ’40s and ’50s best demonstrate this mastery, with gold wire weaved and knotted to create the supple strands he called “angel wire.” Sterle’s diamond and platinum jewels are also a triumph of design and engineering, with enchanting ribbons of round and baguette diamonds and swaying diamond tassels. An intriguing asymmetry gives them a sense of movement and the difficult-to-achieve combination of glamour and ease.

In 1976, Sterlé sold his business to Chaumet and served as an artistic advisor there until his death. Thus, some of Sterlé’s jewelry from this period is signed Chaumet, although the designs are unquestionably his.

Tiffany & Co. Tiffany & Co.


It’s one of the most memorable scenes in cinema: Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly gets out of a taxi in front of Tiffany & Co. on Fifth Avenue, sips her coffee from a paper cup, and gazes dreamily into the window. When Breakfast at Tiffany’s debuted in 1961, Tiffany was already 124 years old, and its little blue box was a renowned symbol of romance and style.

It all started in 1837, when Charles Lewis Tiffany used a small loan from his father to open a fancy goods store in New York City with his school friend, John B. Young. The revenue for their first day in business was $4.38. But business grew quickly, and by the early 1850s, Mr. Tiffany had sole control of the firm and a new store in Paris.

Mr. Tiffany’s obsession with extraordinary diamonds brought the company international acclaim. In 1877, he purchased a 287-carat fancy yellow rough diamond and had it cut to reveal the 128.54-carat Tiffany Diamond, one of the world’s most famous gemstones. In 1886, he introduced the Tiffany Setting, the six-prong diamond ring that has become known as the quintessential expression of love. In 1887, he acquired pieces from the French Crown Jewels, reinforcing his position as a diamond authority.

Tiffany championed the beauty of lesser-known gemstones, too. Beginning in the 1890s, Tiffany’s chief gemologist, Georg Kunz, traveled far and wide in search of extraordinary specimens. In 1902, he discovered a distinct variety of lavender spodumene in California, which was named kunzite in honor of him. He also debuted a pink beryl discovered in Madagascar in 1910, which he named morganite after Tiffany client J. Pierpont Morgan. In later years, Tiffany garnered more publicity for gemstone discoveries—tanzanite in 1969 and tsavorite in 1972.

Captivating gemstones require exceptional design. In fact, Mr. Tiffany’s motto was “Beautiful design makes a beautiful life.” As the company won prize after prize for design and craftsmanship at the world’s fairs and expositions, Tiffany gained a reputation on par with the European jewelry houses. In 1902, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles’s son, became the company’s first design director. A leader of the Art Nouveau movement, he created naturalistic jewels with blackberries, dandelions and grapes, but he is probably best known for his stained glass lamps that reside in private collections and museums. Tiffany would shine during the Jazz Age with long ropes of pearls and must-have diamond bracelets, and forge through the 1940s with Retro jewels. The house’s next laudable design moment arrived with Jean Schlumberger in 1956 and his imaginative, nature-inspired creations.

From Mary Todd Lincoln, who received a suite of pearls from her husband Abraham Lincoln; to Jacqueline Kennedy who was so often seen in Schlumberger bangles that they became known as “Jackie Bracelets”; to the screen stars of today, women in the spotlight have worn Tiffany for more than 175 years. And they all understand exactly what Audrey Hepburn meant when she exclaimed “I’m just crazy about Tiffany’s!”

Van Cleef & Arpels Van Cleef & Arpels


You could say that love and family are the reasons for Van Cleef & Arpels. In the late 1800s, Estelle Arpel, daughter of a precious stones dealer, fell in love with and married Alfred Van Cleef, son of a stone-cutter. The groom and his father-in-law opened a small jewelry business and Estelle’s brothers Charles, Julien and Louis came on board.

In the 1920s, Van Cleef & Arpels embraced the fervor for Far East designs with cherry blossom, pagoda and dragon motifs. They interpreted the Egyptian revival with Art Deco renditions of hieroglyphics and sphinxes, and created Indian-inspired pieces based on the house’s commissions for Sita Devi, the Maharani of Baroda. In keeping with the fashions of the time, Van Cleef & Arpels perfected the sautoir as well as the wide diamond bracelets that sparkled on newly-bared arms.

The following decades saw innovation after innovation. In 1933, Van Cleef & Arpels patented the Serti Mysterieux (Mystery Setting), placing gemstones flush against each other with no visible prongs. In 1934, when Charles Arpels saw socialite Florence Gould toss her lipstick and cigarettes into a tin Lucky Strike box, he had an epiphany. He created a small gold purse that held just the essentials for an evening on the town, and the Minaudière was born. In 1938, the Duchess of Windsor asked Renée Puissant, Alfred Van Cleef’s daughter and artistic director of the house, to design a piece based on the zipper. The necklace, crafted in round and baguette-cut diamonds mounted in platinum, was not produced until 1950. To this day it remains an icon, simultaneously elegant, whimsical and sexy.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Van Cleef and Arpels families, of Jewish lineage, were forced to leave Europe. They opened boutiques in Palm Beach and New York, and revealed an array of new designs influenced by their new world and culture. The company’s signature Ballerina clips were born in the early 1940s after Claude Arpels, the nephew of Estelle Arpels, befriended George Balanchine, the co-founder of the New York City Ballet. These exquisite pieces, along with blithe butterflies, fairies and flowers were seen as symbols of hope during the war. In 1954, Van Cleef & Arpels introduced playful animal clips inspired by cartoon characters to attract new customers—but even sophisticated connoisseurs like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis snapped them up. The company’s famous four-leaf clover Alhambra design debuted in 1968. Princess Grace, who had appointed the company an Official Supplier to the Principality of Monaco, loved the collection and often wore several long necklaces dotted with inlaid quatrefoils.

David Webb David Webb


In 1935, a little boy in North Carolina was introduced to metalworking by a WPA project. He apprenticed in his uncle’s metal shop and eventually discovered a passion for jewelry making. In 1941 at age 16, he moved to New York City and got a job in the Diamond District. When he was 23, he opened his own studio in a small walk-up with three employees. And at 25, he achieved his first triumph as a jeweler: the cover of Vogue magazine. Thus, from rags to riches, David Webb entered the fashion firmament.

He soon became a darling of the New York social set and The New Yorker called him “the new meteor around town.” Fashionable women flocked to his new salon on 57th Street, where everything was produced in his on-site workshop. Webb’s designs were optimistic, bold, and not afraid to take risks—in other words, all-American. His inspirations, though, were global; motifs from Egypt, Rome, India and China figured large in his work, as did Aztec and Mayan themes.

In the 1960s, David Webb made a splash with his signature animal bracelets that wrapped wrists with frogs, panthers, elephants and zebras, richly enameled and studded with gems. In the ’70s, his geometric designs were a celebration of color and texture in hammered gold and enamel. Every piece was dramatic verging on gargantuan, challenging the old rules of taste and propriety. It was a new kind of elegance, often defined by one of Webb’s mottos, “the more barbaric the better.”

Although Nan Kempner, Diana Vreeland, Jackie Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Brooke Astor, Evelyn Lauder and Gloria Vanderbilt adored his jewels, David Webb led a private life and was rarely photographed. He died in 1975 at a young age, but his namesake company lives on.