International Women’s Day - Women Jewellers Throughout History
To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, we have decided to take a closer look at unearthing women jewellers from history. It is no secret that design and arts achievements throughout history have largely been produced by or attributed to white men. Generally, this was because women were not afforded the same opportunities in education, as they were relegated to the domestic sphere.
In the world of jewellery, you hear about the successes of Rene Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Sotiros Bulgari, but little of the women who created the jewellery or who founded the jewellery brands themselves. However, women were making jewellery in history, and there were many established women jewellers in a time where women were rarely seen outside of the domestic sphere. Apprentices and craftspeople in jewellery houses were likely to be women, as well as men, yet their achievements have been overshadowed.
With this in mind, read on to find out more about women jewellers, women jewellery directors and women jewellery designers, that have made a major impact upon the pieces we buy today.
Phoebe Anna Traquair
Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was an Irish-born artist, well-known for her involvement within the arts and crafts movement in Scotland. Traquair significantly was the first woman elected to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1920.
Traquair was enamoured and influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Blake, which arguably impacted her jewellery creations. Traquair also created other art forms, making embroidered domestic textile commissions for hospitals and cathedrals.
Cupid the Earth Upholder, Enamelled Gold Pendant, Phoebe Anna Traquair, c.1902, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Traquair's jewellery work is incredibly stunning. She largely employed enamelling techniques creating intricate and highly-detailed romantic reliefs.
Elsa Peretti (1940-) is an Italian jewellery designer and former fashion model. She has designed for Tiffany and Co extensively, with many of her pieces now in the collections of the British Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts in both Boston and Houston.
Peretti learnt much of her craft and artistic eye through a preliminary career in interior design and architecture. In 1969, after modelling for five years she started creating new jewellery styles for a range of fashion designers in New York.
Silver Snake Necklace, Elsa Peretti, c.1973-34, Source - Metropolitan Museum of Art
In 1974, Peretti signed a contract to work for Tiffany and Co, and by 1979 she was their leading designer. Peretti exclusively worked with Silver which at first was viewed as “common”, yet she made the metal incredibly fashionable amongst 1980’s New York socialites. Her silver pieces were seen as fun, attracting a younger clientele.
Peretti’s signature Silver creations often use Jade, Lacquer and Rattan.
Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983) was an incredibly influential jewellery designer in the 20th century. Based in Paris, Belperron worked for the Boivin and Herz jewellery houses before the outbreak of WW2. Subsequently, she took over the Herz company, renaming it to Herz-Belperron!
Gold Earrings, Suzanne Belperron, c.1955-1970, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Suzanne’s talent for crafting jewellery was refined from a young age. Born in the town of Saint-Claude in rural France, this town was known for its traditional craft of cutting gemstones, and during the long winter months, all of its inhabitants would get involved to help business. Suzanne’s mother knew her daughter was talented, so she was enrolled in the School of Fine Arts in Besançon.
When Suzanne moved to Paris, she became an apprentice to Jeanne Boivin for the French jewellery house Boivin. Her creations were curvaceous and superlative, contrasting with the Art Deco aesthetic of the time. Unlike other women at that time, Suzanne advanced to becoming co-director of the Boivin jewellery house at just 23 years of age.
However, in 1932, Belperron resigned. This is believed to have been because she was not credited for her work, which was not common within jewellery houses. She immediately started working for Bernard Herz, a well-known Parisian precious gemstone dealer, who gave her the freedom to design her own creations.
During the 1930s, her original work brought fame and accolade to the Herz brand, and Belperron quickly became a major artistic figure in France. Her work was featured in fashion magazines along with the likes of Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef and Arpels.
Belperron’s work played with motifs and designs inspired by the distant cultures of Egypt, East India, China, Japan, Africa and Oceania. She pioneered the technique of setting precious stones within semi-precious materials, opting for 22 carat Gold rather than those of a higher purity. Belperron never signed her pieces, believing that the originality of the piece itself was its hallmark.
Due to Bernard Herz being Jewish and the Occupation of Paris, Belperron took full control of the Herz brand, yet she was at one point arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo over Bernard Herz and his relations. Yet, a fiercely loyal friend, Belperron allegedly swallowed the pages of his address book one by one so they could not find the whereabouts of his family.
After Bernard Herz death in Auschwitz, Belperron resumed the business relationship with his eldest son.
For her jewellery commissions, Belperron was known for needing to understand her client’s lifestyle, studying the contours of their face, their skin complexion and the shape of their hands. After the death of her husband, Belperron and Herz agreed to liquidate and dissolve the Herz-Belperron company in the 1970. Yet, Belperron’s prestige as a jewellery designer and member of the resistance, meant that she received the Legion d’Honneur.
Jeanne Boivin, Juliette Moutard and Germain Boivin
Many recognise the Boivin jewellery brand to be the work of Rene Boivin, however, his wife Jeanne, played a large and influential role within the business. The sister of highly-regarded Parisian couturier Paul Poiret, Jeanne Boivin had many connections within the fashion world, meaning that the Boivin jewellery brand had many esteemed clientele. However, in 1917, Rene Boivin passed away, leaving Jeanne as owner.
Known as Madame Boivin throughout the business, Jeanne became the leading designer of the firm. Her style was colourful, symmetrical, large-scale and textural jewellery, often crafted in yellow Gold. Similarly to Belperron, Madame Boivin’s jewellery was never signed, and she did not have a shopfront, rather an appointment only salon in Paris.
Significantly, as shown through the entrustment of Belperron, Madame Boivin liked employing women jewellers in her company. After Belperron’s departure, Madame Boivin employed Juliette Moutard and Germaine Boivin, her daughter. These three women, as well as Belperron, bolstered the Boivin jewellery house. Moutard’s most famous jewellery creations within the company are the starfish brooch comprised of Amethyst and Ruby cabochons.
Marina B, also known as Marina Bulgari, was a well-known jewellery designer during the 1970s and 1990s, creating ostentatious, superlative and bright jewellery for prestigious clients. Marina left her family’s famed Maison in 1976 to launch her own jewellery brand, and her bold, timeless style quickly became noticed and adored.
Marina B created her own gemstone cut ‘the chestnut’ and pioneered the innovative design techniques of spring-mounting, pave diamonds and interchangeable features.
One of the world’s most famous British fashion designers, who had a major impact on the British punk scene of the 1970s, Vivienne Westwood may be known for her intertwining worlds of political activism and clothes, yet her jewellery creations have been overlooked.
In fact, Westwood first forayed into design through jewellery, taking a jewellery and silversmith course at Westminster University. However, she left after one term as she felt alienated by the other students who were typically of higher classes. Becoming a primary school teacher, Westwood continued to create her own jewellery pieces, which she sold on Portobello Road. Through this, she met Malcolm Mclaren who was a musician, clothes designer and manager of the punk band the Sex Pistols.
Like Vivienne Westwood, Coco Chanel is an iconic fashion designer known for her impact on the world of clothes rather than jewellery. However, Coco Chanel was featured in our jewellery influencers through time blog as she dramatically changed the public’s perception on costume jewellery.
Chanel designed the now iconic Chanel Maltese Cross, remaining a mainstay of the Chanel jewellery collection ever since.
In 1932, Coco Chanel created her first fine jewellery line bijoux Diamants, which was met with some criticism by fine jewellery designers at the time because of her costume jewellery pieces. However, this line reignited and bolstered the Diamond trade during the Depression years.
A post-war jewellery artist, Line Vautrin (1913-1997) was creating jewellery and decorative objects from a young age, with her first professional pieces dating to when she was just 21. Her work was characterised by abstract hieroglyphic shapes, visual alliteration, and her extensive use of yellow Gold.
Decidedly modernist, Vautrin shot to fame when she had a stall at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937. Her sculptural style awarded her many clients, whom she commissioned pieces for right up until her death in 1997. Her success at this exhibition meant that she could afford to open her own shop on Rue de Berri in Paris, creating jewellery of all kinds.
Vautrin’s love and natural gravitation towards the art of goldsmithing and metalwork was an unusual vocation for a young woman. Her success could not only be attributed to her talent, but also her determination and fierce independence. In fact, it was believed that she began her journey by working for Schiaparelli, only leaving a few days later because she could not handle the strict regulations.
Dubbed the ‘poetess of metal’ in 1948 by Vogue, Vautrin’s work went from strength to strength, moving to a larger space in Marais in which she transformed it into a workshop and presentation space. In the 1960’s, she began working with new materials like cellulose acetate that was emerging on the market. It was during this time that she started creating stunning mirrors akin to sunbursts.
It was known that Vautrin loved the arduous and time-consuming process of creating mirrors. She was interested in the art of alchemy and the cosmology of life, the combination of two primitive substances that through contact, opposition, and struggle would render something beautiful.
Born at the start of WWII in Sunderland, Ramshaw was interested in arts and crafts from a tender age, creating trinkets out of scraps when she was just 6 years old. This time of rationing and hardship did not prevent her artistic talent from shining through.
After the war, the euphoric feeling in Britain led to the Festival of Britain in 1951, in which 12-year-old Ramshaw attended. This show celebrated the historical achievements of the British in science, agriculture, literature, art and industry. This exposure to modern art and design provided the impetus to Ramshaw to pursue her craft, studying illustration and fabric design at Newcastle between 1956 and 1960 and moving onto Reading University in 1961.
It was here that Ramshaw met her future husband David Watkins, another famous British artist who designed the London Olympics 2012 medals. Together the couple worked on their crafts and collaborations. In the 1970s, the art director Graham Hughes bought some of the Ramshaw’s pieces for Goldsmiths Hall, which catapulted her career.
Ramshaw achieved the fellowship of both the Chartered Society of Designers and the Royal Society of Arts, and she was one of the first women to be admitted as Freemans of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. In 1993, she was awarded an OBE for her services to the arts and in 2003 she was awarded a CBE.
The daughter of Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, Paloma is a well-known jewellery designer and maker for Tiffany and Co. It is unsurprising that the daughter of two of the most well-known artistic persons inherited their talent. Originally a costume designer, Paloma forayed into the jewellery world by accident in 1968 as some of her costume creations from rhinestones garnered attention from critics. From this, she pursued formal schooling in jewellery design.
A year later in 1969, she presented her first jewellery creations to her friend and famed couturier Yves Saint Laurent, who immediately commissioned her to design accessories to accompany one of his collections. In 1980, Picasso started designing jewellery for Tiffany & Co.
Two American museums, the Smithsonian Institution National’s Museum of History and the Field Museum of Natural History have acquired her pieces.
Lost in history, Alma Theresia Pihl-Klee (1888-1976) was one of two female designers at Faberge. The daughter of goldsmith Knut Oskar Pihl and granddaughter of Faberge head jeweller August Holmstrom, it was inevitable that jewellery was in her blood. Alma Pihl started to work for Faberge in 1909, coming to the trade as a self-trained designer. Her task in the workshop was document the items being produced by creating a life-size drawing of the item, documenting the gemstones and materials used, as well as noting the cost.
Whilst this job was time-consuming, Pihl still managed to design sketches that eventually caught the eye of her uncle who was also working at the firm, who asked the workshop to make her designs alongside his own. From this, she became Faberge's first woman designer.
Her ‘big break’ came when Dr Emanuel Nobel commissioned 40 brooches as gifts for his clients, yet his request was that these be “insignificant” in materials so they wouldn’t be seen as bribery. Pihl was inspired by the frosty snowflakes on the window, created in Platinum-Silver alloy settings and rose cut Diamonds. These brooches were a huge hit with the client and subsequently, he ordered many more jewellery items with the same motif.
Pihl designed the famous Winter Easter Egg in 1913, and the Mosiac Easter Egg in 1914, which the latter now belongs in the royal collection of Queen Elizabeth I. The Winter Easter Egg was commissioned to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, and is considered to be the most valuable of all of the Easter eggs. This egg had an ice-themed exterior, which opened to reveal a platinum flower basket, with anemones crafted from white Quartz, demantoid Garnets, and nephrite leaves.
The Mosaic Easter Egg was originally made for the Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, with the floral tapestry pattern encasing the egg designed by Pihl who was inspired by the needlework fire screens found in aristocratic sitting rooms of the time.
The Mosaic Egg Faberge, Source - The Royal Collection Trust
An award-winning jewellery designer, Elizabeth Gage has been creating highly-collectable jewellery for over 50 years. Her unique designers continually captured the attention of fashion magazines and celebrities, and some of her pieces are within the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Portrait of Elizabeth Gage, Source - Wikimedia Commons
According to the designer’s webpage, Gage’s love for design grew from a young age, where she would amuse herself making houses, clothes and other items for her dolls. A manual dexterity and eye that would prove to be useful in later life. She trained for 6 years a goldsmith, with her first major commission for Cartier in 1968. She has won many awards through her life including the Queen’s Award for Export, British Jewellery Designer of the Year and the De Beers Diamond Award for her Agincourt Ring.
Gage works exclusively in 18 carat and 22 carat Gold, with her design approach working solely on the inspiration that blossoms from the materials and gemstones she sees, resulting in a plethora of idiosyncratic sartorial works. Her philosophy surrounding jewellery is that all of her pieces can be worn from day into night.
Tourmaline, Aquamarine, Rubies, Pearl Gold and Enamel Pin, Elizabeth Gage, c.1972-1973, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum
Born in 1898, Elizabeth Treskow at aged 16 attended the Silversmith school in Hagen twice a week. From this, she enrolled in the Crafts Academy in Essen in 1915, becoming an apprenticeship as a goldsmith under the famous Professor Karl Rothmuller.
Dedicating herself to the experiment of the rediscovering the art of granulation, and quickly accrued a variety of awards including the first prize from the German Society of Goldsmith Art in 1933, 1935, and 1936, and she won the Gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937. In 1938, she became the first woman to be awarded the Honorary Golden ring by the German Society of Goldsmith Art.
Elizabeth Treskow had no qualms about breaking into the worlds ruled by men, designing and creating the football trophy of Germanys Bundesliga Championship.
After the second world war, Treskow was appointed head of the Gold and Silversmith class at the Crafts academy in Cologne. Despite her protestant faith, she was commissioned with the weighty task of restoring the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral.
Treskows jewellery commissions was based upon the customer’s personality and style. She refused any anonymous orders and was particularly interested in the customer's hair and complexion, facial form and hands. Her work naturally shifted throughout her life, with her earliest pieces showing clearly angular and geometric forms, and towards the end her pieces were opulent compositions, celebrating decoration and a clear focus on the materials used itself.
After retiring from teaching, she was award the German Cross of Merit and the North-Rhine Westphalian State Crafts Prize work.
A women jeweller from the 19th century, Charlotte Newman carved her career within an overtly masculine world. Not only did she create her own stylish and fashionable jewels, but she also ran her own shop on Savile row.
Charlotte Newman’s jewellery is recognisable today by her hallmark “Mrs N”. Although modern and subversive by creating and selling her own jewellery, allegedly she still answered to her husband, as per of the time. By today’s standards this would be seen as anti-feminist, however, signing her hallmarks as “Mrs” is a key distinguisher that it was a woman making these pieces, yet also honouring convention - a smart move.
Newman’s jewellery creations were quintessentially Victorian in style, taking inspiration from the past by incorporating ancient Byzantine styles and Renaissance revival techniques to Art Nouveau shapes.
It is unknown about Newman’s early life, yet hew jeweller training began when she started working under fellow jeweller John Brogden. Prior to this, she attended Government Art School in South Kensington. After Brogden’s death in 1884, she established her own jewellery business, retaining many of the craftsmen and clientele. It was unusual of the time for not only for a woman to be running her own business, but also to be managing a group of men.
Newman was first and foremost a jeweller, but she was also an artist. She hardly ever reproduced designs, creating something new and exciting for each customer.
Margaret de Patta
Margaret de Patta was a jeweller in the 1920s, creating studio art jewellery; a style that prioritised creative expression, and often used materials that were of a low economic value. Much of studio art jewellery was created during the 1940’s and 1950s, yet its values and techniques can be traced back to the Arts and Crafts movement in the 19th century.
De Patta’s jewellery was remarkably contemporary, created in a fresh guise that would not look out of place today. Her pieces often incorporated kinetic elements, optical distortions, and everyday organic materials.
Whilst she was learning and honing her jewellery craft, she was deeply immersed within the modernist movement, learning about Bauhaus and constructivism - which trickled its way through into her jewellery designs.
Her statement work wasn’t widely received, yet her modernist pieces were worn by a select few art collectors at the time, who recognised that these pieces were fresh and immensely valuable.
De Patta worked with Lazlo Mohogly Nager, the Jewish leader of the constructivist movement, who was largely incorporating movement and light within his photographic and film work. This inspired Margaret to take her jewelling within a new direction.
Margaret de Patta Brooch, c.1934, Source - Wikimedia Commons
Materials wise, De Patta simply was not interested in the faceted gems, flash and sparkle that was often associated and seen in jewellery. However, she did largely incorporate Quartz into her designs, intrigued by the way it can play with and reflect light.
Her biomorphic and refined structural pieces fit alongside the other artists of the time like Picasso, Ernst and Braque. De Patta allowed for the materials to speak for themselves, rather than being forced into shapes and styles that were outside of their modicum.
Margret Craver was also a driving force within the American studio jewellery industry. Like De Patta, Craver took inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement which emphasised that you were an artist, first and foremost, then your design skills and responsiveness to the world of art was at the core of your identity as an artist, rather than executing jewellery as commissions for others.
Craver studied during the 1930s at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and with Baron Erik Fleming, the silversmith to the Swedish King.
Margret Craver Brooch, Source - Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Interestingly, during and in between the wars, veterans were encouraged to take up jewellery as a form of physical rehabilitation, improving their hand-eye coordination and strengthening their arms and hands. Craver, who was working at the jewellery manufacturer Handy & Harman, convinced her employer for her to teach workshops to the veterans.
Margret Craver Brooch, c.1969, Source - The Smithsonian American Art Museum
Through Cravers teaching, many successful post-modernist jewellers were launched. Craver was known for being tirelessly determined to help her students, meaning that she has had a major impact on the American studio jewellery movement.
Director of Cartier’s luxury jewellery department in 1933, Jeanne Toussaint dramatically changed jewellery design. Through her guidance, Cartier moved away from the abstract Deco designs and into the bejewelled figurative work that became characteristic of the house.
Toussaint is responsible for Cartier’s most famous pieces. Including the caged bird that was created in 1940, a symbol against the Nazi occupation of Paris, and another piece four years later on the day that Paris was liberated, a cage with the door open, and a bird mid-flight.
Toussaint designed exotic flamingos, panthers, and parrots whilst she directed the house. With the panther soon becoming the brand’s staple and most recognised ornament. The sleek, powerful image of the panther called out to other women including the Duchess of Windsor, the Duchess of Agha Khan and Barbara Hutton.
One of the most famous designers in history, Elsa Schiaparelli not only straddled the worlds of fashion and art, but she brought them together like no other designer could at the time. Fascinated by surrealism, Schiaparelli's jewellery creations were no different from the superlative and outlandish fashion designs.
Schiaparelli's jewellery creations likely originated from her subversive fasteners. Buttons shaped like padlocks, snails, coffee beans, lollipops, fruits, vegetables and spoons donned her dresses, jackets and coats. Not to mention, many of her couture pieces were heavily bejewelled and ornamented, much like the pieces that are being created today.
Ostier, inc, a New York jewellery firm, winning many accolades through time, was run by husband and wife, Oliver Ostier and Marianne Ostier. The primary designer, Marianne was formerly a practising painter and sculptor in Vienna, however, after the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, she moved with her husband to the USA.
Marianne Ostier’s earlier work was classically deco, creating fluid geometric pieces using Diamonds and Platinum, many which struck a chord with the fashionable New York socialites and elite. Her designs developed dramatically, veering away from the Art Deco movement and becoming more fluid, and widely including Gold.
In 1966, Ostier’s jewellery was included within an exhibition that had Salvador Dali and Georges Braque pieces.
Ostier’s maker’s mark is “MO” or “M.OSTIER”, and she wrote a book on jewellery itself in 1958 called “Jewels and the woman: the romance, magic and art of feminine adornment”.
Ostier inc was closed in the late 1960’s after Oliver Ostier’s death, and Marianne passed away herself in 1976, leaving behind a relatively unknown legacy.
Thank you for reading this dense but highly informative expose on women jewellers, both known and forgotten through the folds of history.
It is incredibly inspiring to hear about how women carved their way into a masculine world, following their passion and talent for jewellery.
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