On Thursday evening, six months after the announcement of a sabbatical “for health reasons”, the famous jewelry designer Elsa Peretti died in her home in Catalonia, Spain. The 80-year-old has been so influential in her 50-plus-year career that some have even said that only one of her signature designs, the Tiffany & Co. bone cuff, changed jewelry forever.
Peretti was born in Florence and worked as a ski instructor in Gstaad before studying interior design in Milan. A year after her return to Italy, she left it behind for Barcelona to continue her burgeoning modeling career. (Her father, the wealthy, conservative founder of an oil company, cut her off immediately.) Soon she had become a muse to designer Halston, with whom she’d had hard night partying at Studio 54, and to Ralph Rucci. Helmut Newton also came to worship Peretti; His photo of Elsa Peretti in Bunny Costume is now a symbol of the 1970s.
Photo by Ron Galella via Getty Images
Through her modeling and social circles, Peretti eventually found a way to design. She was only 27 years old when she forged a relationship with Tiffany & Co. that ultimately defined her career.
At Tiffany, Peretti established her aesthetic: clean, flowing and abstract forms that are inspired by nature and so sculptural that André Leon Talley once called them “Brancusi made of silver”, her favorite material. And while Peretti’s most famous trademark was the bone cuff, it had others too: bean shapes, horseshoe belts, open heart necklaces, and the Scorpion collection. The collections she produced for more than half a century accounted for eight percent of Tiffany & Co.’s global net sales (approximately $ 328 million).
Meanwhile, Peretti developed a wide range of fans, from women interested in her relatively affordable five diamond necklaces to Liza Minnelli. The singer and actress dedicated her wedding list to Peretti designs, which include functional objects like tableware, and happens to wear a few on all three of her latest instagrams.
“People are forgotten so quickly,” Peretti told Town & Country in 2019. “I want to survive.” Their legacy will no doubt continue to thrive: According to Tiffany, the brand sold a single Peretti jewel or item per minute in 2019. Read some of the homages to Peretti, both as a brand name and as a woman, here.