Thursday, 11 October 2018

Fulco di Verdura: America's Crown Jeweler

Fulco di Verdura
Portrait of Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duca di Verdura, by Horst P. Horst ~ ca. 1932
Image courtesy of: New York Historical Society

Sunburst gold & diamonds brooch, one of  Di Verdura's earliest pieces he created for Chanel
Image courtesy of: Verdura

In the four decades spanning his lengthy career, a career in which he reputedly produced over ten-thousand archival designs, the bon vivant bespoke jewelry (and other uniquely personal embellishments and accoutrements) of Sicilian-born Fulco Santostefano, Marchese di Murata la Cerda, Duca di Verdura (more succinctly known as Fulco di Verdura) adorned European royalty and aristocrats as well as socialites, notable celebrities, and a panoply of Hollywood luminaries, the likes of which included, among others: Wallis, Duchess of Windsor; Princess Grace of Monaco; (the resplendent) Mona, Countess von Bismarck; Betsey Cushing Whitney (whose sister, Barbara 'Babe' Cushing Paley, became Verdura's life-long friend and muse); Marjorie Merriweather Post; Cole and Linda Lee Porter (Verdura would create at least twenty jeweled cigarette cases commemorating the opening of each new Cole Porter show, beginning with the Red, Hot and Blue cigarette case which Cole gifted Linda in 1936); Clare Booth Luce; Barbara Hutton; Greta Garbo (who owned a twin pair of matching yellow-gold curb-link bracelet and watch in the late 1930s which she wore throughout her life); Tallulah Bankhead; Loretta Young; Marlene Dietrich; Katharine Hepburn; Paulette Godard; Millicent Rogers; Joan  Crawford; Joan Fontaine (who purchased a pink topaz, gold, and diamond 'Winged' brooch in 1940 and which she later wore in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 film Suspicion, co-starring Cary Grant); Tyrone Power (who, in the early 1940s, purchased the first 'Wrapped Heart' brooch, now one of Verdura's most iconic designs, as a Christmas gift for his wife, Annabella) and Henry Fonda (who presented his own wife with a 30-carat aquamarine and diamond ray brooch for Christmas 1940).

And, of course, there is the matter of his most seminal collaboration with that little Frenchwoman who was, in her time, the embodiment of timeless, quintessential Parisian chic: Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, the couturière, for whom he famously created a pair of (much-worn and much-loved) Maltese Cross cuff-bracelets which were subsequently acquired and continued to be worn by a mutual friend of both Chanel and Verdura, the famed fashion editor, Diana Vreeland. (In the early 1930s, Verdura created for Vreeland a pair of 'Theodora' and 'Ravenna' brooches—two of Verdura's earliest designs and both of which were based on the breathtaking 5th- and 6th-century mosaics found in the city of Ravenna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, renowned for its ancient Mausoleums and Byzantine Basilicas—which she at times wore in her turban.)

 The famed fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, for whom Di Verdura created the Theodora & the Ravenna brooches, which she occasionally wore pinned to her turban

Above: two contemporary reissues of the Vreeland Theodora ” (top) & Ravenna (bottom) brooches
Below: a contemporary reissue of the Ravenna” cuff, originally made for Coco Chanel

The four images above are all courtesy of: Verdura

The maverick jeweler who would create some of the most original, exuberant and audacious pieces of jewelry of the twentieth century was born in 1899 (some sources cite 1898 as his birth year) in Palermo, Sicily, and raised in his grandmother's house, the Villa Niscemi, situated just outside of Palermo and home of his mother's family—the Valguarnera di Niscemi. Di Verdura, it is said, had enlisted—at the age of seventeen—to serve in the First World War; however, after being wounded, he was sent back to Sicily to await the end of the war. Fulco succeeded to the title and dukedom of di Verdura in 1922 upon his father's death.

At one point in 1920, while traveling through and honeymooning in Palermo, Di Verdura met and became acquainted with the lyricist and composer Cole Porter and his wife, Linda Lee (the couple—who led an exhausting, ever-moving social life among the international set, and would soon gain the sobriquet les Colporteurs—married on December 18, 1919, in Paris, where they had originally first met in January 1918), thus igniting a life-long friendship (and commissions from the Porters; with their extensive social connections, the Porters would likewise play a decisive role in Verdura's career as a jeweler).

Portrait of Coco Chanel by Man Ray ~ ca. 1935
Image courtesy of: Pleasurephoto

Di Verdura, like most of the social glitterati of the age, spent the 1920s traveling back and forth between Paris and Venice, that 'floating city' situated along the lapping waters of the Adriatic Sea, then the fashionable playground of the idle rich, the famous, the bohemian and the simply artistic, where all-night masked costume balls were de riguere. It was in Venice and through the Cole Porters (who were renting a palazzo there and at their invitation) that Verdura first met Coco Chanel at a party in 1925, who, along with such friends as the Polish-born Parisian saloniste, muse-to-artists and coquette of the Belle Époque, Misia Sert, and Ballet Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev (who was also acquainted with Cole and Linda Porter), used to frequent the city throughout the 1920s. Thanks to their introduction by the Cole Porters and unbeknownst to either one at the time, the friendship kindled between the Sicilian Duke and the Parisian couturière would eventually set forth Verdura's career as jeweler to the stars on an international scale—and, as with the House of Chanel, the House of Verdura would live long after its founder's demise. It is hardly conceivable, therefore, to imagine Verdura's life path—or, rather, career—without its link with that of Chanel's; the two are inevitably connected. Coco Chanel, as it turned out, was Di Verdura's very first and plausibly most influential client.

Portrait of Daisy Fellowes (wearing Verdura's Mercury Wings clips for Coco Chanel) by Cecil Beaton ~ 1930s
Image courtesy of: National Portrait Gallery

Verdura's Mercury Wings clips for Coco Chanel & owned by Daisy, Mrs. Reginald Fellowes
Image courtesy of: Pinterest

Any form of success, professional careers notwithstanding, is largely dependent on a series of correctly-taken steps following wisely-made decisions—and perhaps a dash of timely, fortuitous opportunities. It was once again through the persuasion of Cole and Linda Porter that Verdura moved to Paris where, in 1927, Chanel initially engaged him as her lead textile designer, hence beginning an eight-year collaboration at her Rue Cambon headquarters. However, “Quickly noticing Verdura's talent as a jewelry designer, Chanel commissioned him to help her create her boutique jewelry collection, as well as to rework much of her own personal jewelry, which she had received, in large part, from various aristocratic admirers.” (Quote: Mulholland, T., The New York Times, May 2, 2008)

By 1930, Verdura moved from textiles and began, instead, designing jewelry for Chanel. Along with his partnership with Chanel and his own keen interest in history and historic jewelry, artifacts and other objects of art, Di Verdura eschewed the current trends in and tastes of the 1920s and 1930s for 'white-on-white' jewelry—that is, the custom of mounting white diamonds within platinum settings—and embarked upon what is commonly known as his “Byzantine” period, whereby he employed (cabochon as well as cut) gemstones, both precious and semi-precious, and setting them in his preferred metal: high-karat yellow gold. In 1930, both Coco Chanel and Diana Vreeland obtained 'Theodora' and 'Ravenna' brooches; always with an eye to re-working and modifying existing pieces of her personal jewelry, Chanel had hers set in hinged, bone-coloured enameled cuffs. (In 1932, after a tour of Italy that Chanel and Verdura undertook—they often took sight-seeing excursions together—he also designed for her an egg-shell enameled hinged bracelet, studding it with cabochon and rectangular-cut simulated gem-stones of red, green and blue, mimicking and inspired by the mosaics the two had seen in Ravenna, undoubtedly at the ancient Basilica di San Vitale. Most assume that Di Verdura was a costume jewelry designer; in fact, he created personal jewelry for Coco Chanel—often refashioning existing pieces from her personal collection of jewelry and gemstones—but it was Chanel who modified and re-created them into costume jewelry for retail.)

Fulco di Verdura for Coco Chanel ~ 18k gold, tourmaline & diamond brooch
Image courtesy of: artnet

Coco Chanel's original & renowned 'Maltese Cross' much-worn & much-loved signature cuff bracelets
(The bracelets—made of one of Verdura's earliest jewelry designs, the 'Ravenna' brooch—which she wore consistently throughout her life, became Chanel's signature & were eventually acquired & worn by Diana Vreeland after Chanel's death)
Image courtesy of: The Globe and Mail

Portrait of Coco Chanel by Cecil Beaton ~ 1938
Image courtesy of: The Red List

The two images above are courtesy of: Pleasurephoto

Coco Chanel with Fulco di Verdura, photographed (at 31 Rue Cambon) by Boris Lipnitzki
Image courtesy of: IO Donna

He was intelligent, charismatic, cultured, sexually ambiguous perhaps, Italian and, above all, a duke, and anybody who was anybody in America at the time wanted a piece made by 'the Duke.' ~ Kirsten Everts

Coco Chanel photographed by Cecil Beaton ~ 1937
The above two images are courtesy of: The Red List

Neither Paris nor his position at the House of Chanel could dampen Di Verdura's resolute ambitions or his yearning for travel. Seeking his fortunes in America and accompanied by friends Baron Nicolas 'Niki' de Gunzburg and (the beguilingly beautiful) Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley, Verdura first disembarked in New York in 1934 and, from there, meandered—in a Packard convertible—west: first stopping at Palm Beach and from there continuing to his determined destination, Hollywood. (In December 1935, Cole and Linda Porter followed suit and also ventured out to Hollywood where Cole wrote music for such films as the 1936 Anything Goes, starring Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman and Born To Dance, also released in 1936, featuring Eleanor Powell and James Stewart.) There, according to a New York Historical Society article (June 19, 2017), America's Crown Jeweler, “he encountered a different sort of royalty—the stars of the silver screen—who were purveyors of the illusion of glamorous elegance that talented designers were called upon to accessorize. While the duke had hoped to parlay his extensive knowledge of art, culture, manners, and society into a job as an advisor for costume dramas, he quickly learned that Hollywood and the worlds it depicted on film were 'desperately remote' from the reality of his patrician existence in the Old World.”

Aquamarine & ruby Belt necklace, commissioned by Cole Porter for his wife, Linda, from the firm of Paul Flato & designed by Fulco di Verdura ~ ca. 1935
Image courtesy of: Antique Jewelry University

Not long after his Hollywood sojourn and once again back in New York (“Given the uncertain political climate in Europe, along with his observation that movie people liked to wear things from New York[Quote: New York Historical Society, America's Crown Jeweler, June 19, 2017]), it was Diana Vreeland who, in 1935, was responsible for Di Verdura's introduction to the society jeweler Paul Flato (who also happened to be a friend of the Cole Porters), who hired him as head designer at his firm; in 1938, Verdura was assigned a position at Flato's exclusive and newly-opened Hollywood boutique (designed by British architect Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings), established at 8637 Sunset Boulevard, designing “Verdura for Flato” pieces for Hollywood stars as well as for the films in which they appeared. (Paul Flato, whose name may not today be familiar to many but was then known by the moniker 'Jeweler to the Stars'—and for good reason—was worn by every major Hollywood celebrity, on and off the silver screen: Greta Garbo, Mae West, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh, Ginger Rogers and the heiress and socialite Doris Duke; additionally, he was also distinguished for being the first jeweler whose name was credited in a film.) During his tenure at Flato where he perfected his craft, Di Verdura “designed photogenic pieces that dazzled in the movies, garnering for the Flato name more screen credits than any other jeweler of the time.” (Quote: New York Historical Society, America's Crown Jeweler, June 19, 2017)

Above: Design sketch for the “Wrapped (Sash) Heart brooch, initially designed in 1941 as a Christmas gift for Tyrone Power's wife, Annabella (shown wearing it in the above photograph), & which has since become one of Verdura's enduring & iconic designs
The above two images are courtesy of: Verdura

The “Wrapped (Sash) Heart ruby, diamond & gold brooch by Verdura for Tyrone Power ~ ca. 1940

 The “Verbum Carro” pierced heart brooch ~ ca. 1938
Above: the pierced heart brooch was designed by Di Verdura (for the Paul Flato firm) for (Standard Oil heiress) Millicent Rogers
The 18-karat gold brooch includes rubies, calibré-cut yellow diamonds & calibré-cut sapphires with the Latin phrase, “Verbum Carro,” which loosely translates into “A word to my dear one
The above two images are courtesy of: The Adventurine
(The two images are found in Joanna Hardy's 2017 book, Ruby: The King of Gems)

 “Wrapped Heart rubies, diamonds & gold brooch by Verdura ~ ca. 1949
The above image is courtesy of: Katerina Perez

In Europe, September 1st, 1939, marked the ignition of the Second World War; in America, September 1st, 1939, marked the launch—with the financial backing of well-connected friends Cole Porter and Vincent Astor—of Fulco di Verdura's jewelry boutique (and the founding of his jewelry firm with former Flato colleagues Joseph Mann and Joseph Alfano) in New York, situated at 712 Fifth Avenue, in the same building that Paul Flato's firm had once occupied. The opening of Verdura's boutique officially signaled, as Tara Mulholland, The New York Times writer, states in a May 2008 article, Fulco di Verdura: The elegant beguiler of stars, “...the arrival of Verdura, who, as an aristocrat and a designer with impeccable credentials, was to become a jeweler - and the friend - of America's high society.” With much of Europe enkindled by war and the great fashion and jewelry Houses now off-limits to well-heeled Americans, Di Verdura quickly gained an ardent following; his first eponymous jewelry collection was apparently received with great acclaim. 

With the establishment of his jewelry firm and a solid base of clientele (unlike most other well-established fine jewelry firms, Verdura never sought publicity and worked strictly on personal commissions; in actual fact, he was completely disinterested in something as banal as commercialism—each piece has a historical link to a specific client at a specific period of time; each created piece, therefore, is intimate and unique), Di Verdura began, in 1941, a collaboration on a small, definitive (surrealist) jewelry collection with none other than the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. The five-piece historic collection incorporated miniature paintings by Dalí enclosed within Verdura's jeweled settings; the pieces were exhibited and sold at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. According to the Verdura Website, The collaboration sparks Dalí's lifelong fascination with jewelry and Fulco's passion for miniature painting.” One such notable piece is the 'Medusa' brooch: a reverse-painted morganite crystal brooch encompassed by an assemblage of thirteen intertwined, writhing, ruby-eyed golden serpents. (Dalí's miniature painting portrays the legendary yet venomous Medusa.) Another illustration of the same 1941 Dalí-Verdura collaboration is the 'Apollo and Daphne' brooch, composed—much in the same manner as the 'Medusa' piece—of a reverse-painted pink tourmaline, rubies, turquoise and gold. (Both brooches were purchased and owned by Millicent Rogers.)

The Dalí-Verdura “Medusa” brooch—one of five historic, collaborative pieces created in 1941 and sold at the Museum of Modern Art in New Yorkmade from a reverse-painted 73-carat faceted morganite crystal (with a miniature portrait of the Medusa), gold & rubies
(Originally in the collection of Millicent Rogers)
Image courtesy of: Verdura

Dalí-Verdura cigarette case of gold, painted antique ivory, opal & pearl

Another example of the Dalí-Verdura 1941 collaboration: the “Apollo & Daphne” brooch
Composed of reverse-painted, faceted pink tourmaline, turquoise, rubies & gold and originally owned by Millicent Rogers
(Photo by David Behl ~ 2013)

The Dalí-Verdura “Amoeba” brooch of diamonds, rubies & gold
The three images above are courtesy of: Bejeweled

At the same time while he was collaborating with Dalí on their limited collection for MoMA, Di Verdura created a pair of 'Night and Day' cuff-links for Cole Porter in commemoration of the lyricist's hit tune of the same title from his 1934 smash musical film, The Gay Divorcee, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 

As has already been mentioned in the introductory paragraph of this posting, Linda Porter was in the habit of memorializing every Cole Porter Broadway show or play and film with a one-of-a-kind cigarette case and gifting it to her husband—over the years, Di Verdura was commissioned to create at least twenty cases for Porter. Cole, too, gifted his wife with Verdura-commissioned items of jewelry, compacts and jeweled cigarette cases. A couple of examples of which is the platinum case created for the opening of the 1936 Howard Lindsay and Russel Course stage musical, Red, Hot and Blue, for which Porter furnished the lyrics. The 'paved' case consists of diamonds, rubies and sapphires; the central theme being a sunburst in white diamonds on a background of faceted (and divided field of) blue (sapphires) and red (rubies). Additionally, the end panels as well as the bottom of the case are inlaid with golden stars. Another example is the rose gold 'Shell' cigarette case that Linda commissioned for Cole, in celebration of the 1941 musical comedy, You'll Never Get Rich, which starred Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire. 

Verdura's sketch for the gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies & sapphires Red, Hot and Blue cigarette case commissioned by Cole Porter for his wife, Linda, in 1936
Image courtesy of: Verdura

Verdura's rose gold Shell cigarette case commemorating the 1941 release of Columbia Pictures’ You’ll Never Get Rich—which starred Rita Hayworth & Fred Astairegifted to Cole Porter by his wife, Linda
The above two images are courtesy of: Jewels du Jour

It could be argued—either for or against—that the pinnacle of Di Verdura's creative output began in the 1930s and finally reached its apogee in the following two decades, the 1940s and the 1950s. Never one to abide by conventionality, either in the voguish tastes of the times or in the subject matter he chose for his jewelry (he was one of the first jewelry designers to set a precedence by making it both modern and modish for women to wear diamonds during the daytime and not restrict them solely for evening, as was the custom; likewise, he favoured using yellow gold in his belief that women were more apt to wear gold jewelry during the day rather than white metals such as platinum, which was more associated with the glamour of evening-wear), in addition to colour choices and gemstone combinations. It was Di Verdura who, according to Carol Besler in a brief article on Verdura for NUVO Magazine, who set precedence by shattering “...traditional boundaries of jewellery design, mixing metals and enamels, precious and semi-precious stones in a way that no one had done before. It preceded the decorative works of Jean Schlumberger, who was mentored by Verdura.” 
(Quote: NUVO, Verdura Jewellery: The Original, February 27, 2012)

The apparent thing, looking at Di Verdura's work, is the consistency of the quality of each singular piece created individually for a client; and, perhaps just as importantly, the clever wittiness and whimsical playfulnessstriking (and obvious) allusions to the intelligence of the man. With the advantage of time, looking at and comparing Verdura's work with those of other fine jewelry Houses—in particular, the great and long-standing haute joaillerie French firms—it becomes apparent that, in terms of technique and quality, Di Verdura's pieces are able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best of them. But it is his innovation and the waggishness of his pieces which sets them apart from other jewelry Houses; they possess a vivacious sprightliness that other examples of fine works of jewelry by other great names—though, indisputably, magnificent works of art in and of themselves and in their own right—seem simply to lack. Due to his affinity for the natural world, he chose, for instance, animals, flowers, fruits and vegetables as subject matters for his jewelry and objets (and he was one of the first jewelers to utilize and bejewel seashells, which he would purchase from the American Museum of Natural History in New York—which used to sell them, at the time, for two dollars per piece; Millicent Rogers, Tallulah Bankhead and Betsey Whitney all possessed examples of Verdura's shell jewelry, set in gold and embellished with precious and semi-precious gemstones). 

Shell compact
The above two images are courtesy of: Jewels du Jour

Di Verdura's  bejeweled Lion’s Paw brooch featuring natural shell, sapphires & diamonds in gold ~ circa 1942 
(Commissioned by the Prince de Boncampagni Ludovisi)

Another example of a bejeweled Lion’s Paw” shell brooch (created for & worn by Tallulah Bankhead) ~ ca. 1940
(Di Verdura acquired shells for two dollars a piece from the American Museum of Natural History in New York)
The above two images are courtesy of: Verdura

A table ornament comprised of gold, enamel, rubies, pink tourmaline & citrine 'seeds,' garnets & coloured diamonds

A gold, rock crystal & sodalite rhinoceros
(Formerly in the collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon)

An 18-Karat, tri-coloured gold & diamond cigarette case
(Formerly in the collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon)
The three images above are courtesy of: Sotheby's

“Target” gold & diamond ear-clips favoured by the likes of Millicent Rogers & Dorothy Hart Paley (later, Mrs. Hirshon) 
(shown wearing the clips above)
The two images above are courtesy of: Verdura

Most of his work was not done to impress people, but rather to flatter the woman wearing it. He made brooches in the form of pomegranates, eggplants, onions, pinecones, camels, mice, and all manner of things not associated with jewelry. ~ Ward Landrigan

Re-issue of the “Lily-of-the-Valley brooch (this version is comprised of pearls, diamonds & emeralds) originally commissioned by Mary 'Minnie' Cushing Astor Fosburgh
The original brooch purportedly featured the milk teeth of her children by her first husband, Vincent Astor, instead of the pearls used in the above version
Image courtesy of: quintessence

“Indian Maize” brooch of gold, diamonds & black pearls
Image courtesy of: Verdura | Facebook

Gold, rubies & diamonds Pomegranate brooch ~ ca. 1950
Image courtesy of: Zep Jewelry

Enamel, gold & diamonds “Hippopotamus” 
Image courtesy of: Introspective Magazine

“Elephant” brooch of gold, diamonds, rubies & baroque pearls
Snails & cherubs enamel brooches

Pink topaz & diamond “Winged ” brooch created for Joan Fontaine in 1940 (Fontaine wore the brooch in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 film Suspicion, co-starring Cary Grant. The brooch was later purchased by Henry Fonda for one of his wives)
The above three images are courtesy of: Jewelry News Network

Wings were one of his favorite motifs. He was born in Palermo in 1898, and his home was very grand. Every square inch is decorated with flying this and that, putti, angels, you name it. He was steeped in it.” ~ Ward Landrigan

Oval-shaped sapphire (weighing 26.77) carats set between wings accented with round diamonds and calibré-cut sapphires
Image courtesy of: Sotheby's

The spectacular yellow and white gold, and diamond tiara specially commissioned by Ambassador John Hay Whitney for his second wife, Betsey Cushing Whitney, on the occasion of the Ambassador's appointment to the Court of St. James's in 1957—a tenure which lasted from 1957 through to 1961 and a position he apprehensively accepted at the request of President Dwight D. Eisenhower—may conceivably be Di Verdura's most memorable and singularly important piece of jewelry he designed in the 1950s. The feathered Indigenous American headdress-inspired tiara, formally known as the 'Whitney Tiara' or, alternatively, the 'Feather Headdress,' set with 1,223 diamonds weighing 28.32 carats and evoking the allegorical figure of 'America' on old European maps and in frescoes on palatial ceilings dating back to the 16th century, was worn by Mrs. Whitney at Buckingham Palace when she and her Ambassadorial husband were, as protocol dictated, formally presented to Queen Elizabeth II, which likewise required the obligatory tiara worn by married ladies on formal occasions. (While the impetus of its inspiration were, admittedly, the majestic headdresses of the Indigenous Americans together with the allegorical figures of America, in objectively considering the overall design of the 'Whitney Tiara,' its superficial yet suggestive resemblance to the Roman wreath known as the Corona triumphalis—the triumphal wreath awarded to and worn by victorious military generals, woven from the leaves of the sacred laurel tree, scientifically known as Laurus nobilis—in the forward current of its individual 'feather' components is also discernible.)

Elucidating the design and historical significance of the 'Whitney Tiara' in her book, The Art of Jewelry and Artists' Jewels in the 20th Century (Giunti, 2001:263), author Marilena Mosco writes: “From the sides of a fine gold ribbon rise two sets of feathers. Shaped like lances, converging at the center, they are decorated with engraving and relief ribbing or with a pavé of diamonds. ... For this creation Fulco di Verdura was inspired by the feathered headdresses of the native Americans. His keen sense of humor found expression in an amusing provocation to the formal rules of the aristocratic ambiance from which he himself came. Structure and form -- a simple circle with two bunches of feathers springing from it -- ran counter to the prevailing style of European jewelry of that decade, where ornaments for the head in particular still followed the decorative canons of the early 20th century 'garland style,' revived with greater emphasis. Instead the slender, linear structure, the accentuated realism of the plumage, the soft brilliancy obtained by engraving alternating with smooth ribbing, and the sunny colors set the Whitney Tiara well apart from the others of the same period. In this creation too, although designed to be worn at a solemn occasion, Fulco di Verdura preferred to the anonymous, abstract decorativism of gemstones and cold diamonds a figurative, personalized language, expressed with theatrical flair, and a taste for costume.”

Sketch by Di Verdura who, when designing the “Feather Headdress” tiara for Betsey Cushing Whitney (formally known as the “Whitney Tiara”), was inspired by the feathered headdresses of Native American Indians

The Native American-inspired “Feather Headdress” tiara (also known as the “Whitney Tiara”) commissioned by Ambassador John Hay Whitney (Ambassador from 1957 to 1961) for his second wife, Betsey Cushing Whitney (seen above dancing at Buckingham Palace), on the occasion of the Ambassador's appointment to the Court of St. James's in 1957
Constituted of yellow & white gold & 1,223 diamonds (weighing 28.32 carats), the tiara's design was an  allusion to the allegorical figure of “America” in old European maps & frescoes
The three images above are courtesy of: Verdura

The above image courtesy of: A Fine Prospect

As the 1970s dawned and after four decades, Fulco di Verdura's career as a world-renowned jeweler was coming to an end. In 1973 (and five years prior to his death), Di Verdura sold his business to his long-time associate, Joseph Alfano, with whom he had previously worked at the firm of Paul Flato in the mid-1930s and with whom he began his eponymous firm in 1939, and retired, relocating to Eaton Square in London. (During his retirement, in 1976, Di Verdura published his memoirs, entitled, The Happy Summer Days: A Sicilian Childhood.) When he passed away in 1978, at the age of seventy-nine, he was cremated and his ashes were sent to and deposited in the Di Verdura family vault at Cemetero di Sant'Orsola, located at No. 2, Piazza Sant'Orsola, Palermo.

Joseph Alfano held the Verdura firm till the 1980s. In 1984, through a mutual friend, the subject of acquiring the firm was broached to Ward Landrigan, the former head of Sotheby's (U.S.) Jewelry Department, and who pounced at the opportunity of purchasing the business from Alfano in 1985. Landrigan had first heard of Di Verdura when—in 1965—as a young man in his mid-twenties, journeyed down to Dallas, Texas, to have lunch with and conduct an appraisal (on behalf of Sotheby's) for former French actress and opera soprano Lily Pons who had amassed a considerable collection of Di Verdura pieces that she wanted to auction. At the time of his meeting with Pons, Landrigan had no knowledge or awareness of Verdura. It was at her advice that Landrigan, once back in New York and at Sotheby's, began to research and acquaint himself with Di Verdura's work. Since his acquisition of Verdura (and from a base of nearly ten-thousand original archival design sketches, less than only half of  which, according to the Verdura Website, have been realised), Ward Landrigan has sought to introduce the designs and design aesthetic of Di Verdura to an entirely new generation of customers—which have since included the late Diana, Princess of Wales, Sarah Jessica Parker and Sofia Coppola—and continuing the brand namesake's legacy well into the twenty-first century. The Verdura gallery is presently located on the 12th floor of 745 Fifth Avenue, New York, suite 1205. (As they did with Verdura, in 1999, Ward and Nico Landrigan purchased the rights—along with thousands of archival design sketches and vintage pieces—of another little-known but just as influential jewelry brand, Belperron. The negotiations for the purchase alone took nine years to complete and then, following the purchase, another sixteen years were spent reanimating the brand, originally founded by the late Suzanne Belperron; the newly-revived firm of Belperron was relaunched in 2015.)

As of late, Ward Landrigan's son, Nico, joined Verdura in 2004, becoming its president in 2009. In 2014, in celebration of Verdura's 75th anniversary, the Landrigans marked the milestone occasion with a retrospective exhibition of 216 pieces, The Power of Style: Verdura at 75, assembled from private collections and curated by Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera, along with Patricia Lansing, their daughter. In the hands of the Landrigans, the Verdura name and heritage continue to evolve and be recreated.

(Sources: Verdura, 2018; Verdura, Macklowe Gallery, 2018; America's Crown Jeweler, New York Historical Society, June 19, 2017; DeMarco, A., Verdura Jewelry Exhibition Opens, Forbes Magazine, October 14, 2014; DeMarco, A., The Rebirth of Belperron JewelryForbes Magazine, October 10, 2015; Atkinson, N., The Sicilian duke who was jewellery designer to the stars: a look at Verdura's iconic worksThe Globe and Mail, published December 2, 2014 | updated June 5, 2017; Besler, C., Verdura Jewellery: The Original, NUVO Magazine, Spring, 2012; Mulholland, T., Fulco di Verdura: The elegant beguiler of starsThe New York Times, May 2, 2008; Howe, R. F., What is This Thing Called Love?, Smithsonian Magazine, July, 2004;

Gold & diamonds “Leaf” brooch ~ 1973
Image courtesy of: Verdura

Suggested readings:

Verdura: The Life and Work of a Master Jeweler (2008), Thames & Hudson: Patricia Corbett

The Happy Summer Days: A Sicilian Childhood (1976), Weidenfeld & Nicolson: Fulco di Verdura