We often celebrate women who find their place in the world, but a woman who has created her place, made something new, expanded the world in some way deserves special “huzzahs.” Elsa Peretti, who died last week at age 80, was just that latter type of woman.
She was at one point a model who later “was responsible for a revolution in the world of jewelry design.” That’s according to Tiffany & Co., and they ought to know a revolution in jewelry design when they see one.
During her model days in New York, the Italian-born Peretti played around with ideas for jewelry that quickly caught on. One of the her new developments was working with sterling silver when gold was still the standard for serious jewelry. But her real step forward was using nature as her muse. “Her collections of organic, sensual forms have inspired generations,” Tiffany stated in a press release announcing her passing.
“Over the past nearly 50 years Elsa has created some of the most innovative jewelry and object designs in the world. Elsa explored nature with the acumen of a scientist and the vision of a sculptor.”
A Designing Life
Peretti was probably best known for her “bone cuff” bracelet, a sleek, almost fluid band of silver or gold that she says was inspired by bones she had seen in underground Roman crypts as a child. Another signature design was the of a heart-shaped frame that hung with the chain through the open center. The design always has a jaunty look to it, almost whimsical; it was Peretti’s genius to give metal personality.
Tiffany signed Peretti in 1974, which proved to be a very shrewd business move. In some years, sales of Peretti’s creations accounted for as much as 10 percent of company revenue. In 2019, Tiffany estimated that its stores around the world sold an object designed by Ms. Peretti once every minute. Items with her “open heart” design were sold once every three minutes.
Nature was not only her muse, but her cause. She founded the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, dedicated to the memory of her father, which supported the environment, social welfare, human rights, as well as the preservation of arts and culture. “We could do so much better,” Peretti said about the foundation. “I’m trying to do something good.”