Many of today’s most revered and famous jewelry designers first began fashioning exquisite designs during the 19th century and early 20th century, with many of their signature designs dating back to their earliest days. As a result, antique fine jewelry pieces are now prized treasures, unmatched in style.
It was these famous jewelers from centuries past who shaped how we adorn ourselves in modern times. Whether they are known for innovating classic designs, defining statement jewelry style or for utilizing some of the world’s most magnificent stones, these jewelers will continue to be world-renowned and highly respected for centuries to come.
Uncover their stories below and learn how these jewelers, most of whom hail from humble beginnings, earned their fame.
Tiffany & Co.
What is known worldwide today as Tiffany & Co. began as Tiffany & Young in 1837 in none other than New York City. When it first launched, Tiffany & Young was known for fine stationery. However, its popularity swelled when Charles Lewis Tiffany brought exquisite diamonds over from Paris in 1848, a time during which French nobles were eager to sell their precious gems while the Revolution raged. Later, Abraham Lincoln purchased Tiffany & Co. jewels for his wife, who wore them to his inaugural ball, establishing the brand as a jeweler to famous icons. While stationery is still a part of its current catalog, Tiffany & Co. is renowned for its timeless fine designer jewelry and diamond engagement rings.
Tiffany’s flagship store is home to one of the most iconic diamonds in the world, a 128.54-carat fancy yellow diamond called the “Tiffany Diamond.” In addition to sourcing and owning one of the world’s most coveted diamonds, the “Tiffany Setting” is another one of the jeweler’s hallmark styles. First created in 1886, the Tiffany Setting is a six-prong solitaire setting that exquisitely shows off a brilliant round diamond. However, what may be most recognizable to the general public is not Tiffany & Co.'s namesake diamond or setting but its signature color. A “Tiffany Blue” box tied up in a silky white ribbon epitomized fine jewelry during the 20th century and still does to this day.
An Iconic Brand
Louis-François Cartier could have only dreamed of the incredible influence his eponymous brand, Cartier, would bestow upon jewelry design craftsmanship and society as a whole when he opened shop in 1847 in Paris. The founder lived by the motto, “Never imitate, always innovate,” which attracted high-end clientele from its inception. Cartier’s early use of platinum paired with diamonds made his jewelry designs quite sought after. His initial success, however, came from the quality and character of his watches.
Synonymous with Luxury
Throughout the history of Cartier, this iconic brand has been recognized for its luxurious designs. Wristwatches such as the Santos and Tank watch were and still are hallmarks of Cartier, but it is the jeweler's symbolic jewelry designs that opened the doors to opulence. An assortment of colorful gemstones like rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds made up the eye-catching Tutti Frutti collection. The unique mixture of fine jewels and precious metal used in these necklaces and bracelets is what made this collection particularly memorable. The innovative Trinity Ring was another first of its kind. Cartier mixed yellow gold, rose gold, and white gold to create the iconic trifecta. Other notable Cartier creations include the coveted Love bracelets and its signature symbol—the panther. You can also spot a Cartier piece by its exemplary red box, rimmed in a delicate gold jewelry design.
Dating back to 1858, this Parisian jeweler is known for daring and unusual designs that awarded him a great deal of recognition and reward. Boucheron was the first jeweler to open a shop on the elegant Place Vendôme and the first to merge bronze, ivory and gold. Inspired by his family of drapers, founder Frédéric Boucheron incorporated fluidity into his jewelry style that was very unlike his colleagues. Boucheron was also known for his unparalleled skill of engraving diamonds, a practice that is still uncommon today.
Boucheron’s Daring Style
In his day and age, clasps were the only way to secure a necklace, making it necessary for a woman to have help to wear one. Boucheron changed this when he created the first claspless version in 1879: an elegant Question Mark necklace dripping in diamonds. This achievement was only outdone by a 159-carat sapphire necklace made for Marie Louise Mackay years later. These significant innovations caught the royal family’s attention, so, in 1921, Boucheron created the Queen Mother Elizabeth’s favorite Diadem, later worn by the Duchess of Cornwall.
Van Cleef & Arpels
A Family Flush with Talent
BuccellatiThe Buccellati legacy began long before the eponymous brand began. Contardo Buccellati worked as a goldsmith in Milan in the mid-eighteenth century, where Mario Buccellati would later found Buccellati in 1919. The lineage maintains the family legacy, serving as head designers for the brand still today. The Buccellati family is also credited with the founding of the Italian Gemological Institute, further establishing its influence in Italian history and jewelry craftsmanship.
One-of-a-Kind MetalworkBuccellati jewelry is most renowned for goldwork and intricate engraving techniques reminiscent of Renaissance jewelry. While the jeweler’s metallic pieces are most notable, they also used unique colorful gemstones. These features make Buccellati's works easily recognizable. Buccellati also made a name for itself with fine jeweled compacts and silver flatware.
Harry Winston was established in New York in 1932 by the brand's namesake. However, that wasn’t Harry Winston's beginning in the jewelry business. The young Harry Winston worked in his father’s small jewelry shop before setting off on his own and opening The Premier Diamond Company in 1920. Later to be declared “The King of Diamonds,” Harry was a gem expert at a young age, discovering a precious emerald in a tray of costume jewelry at a pawn shop which he sold for a small fortune at the age of 12. Little did he know he would one day become one of the most famed jewelers of all time.
The King of Diamonds
David WebbDavid Webb is the most recent famous jeweler to join the ranks of his predecessors, but his place is well earned. The founder and namesake of the brand established it in 1948 in New York, where all of the jewelry is still crafted in-house. Webb was inspired by his love of culture, architecture, and ancient gold. These inspirations led him to fashion truly unique, bold designs beloved by many throughout the retro jewelry era of the 60s and 70s and into the modern era.
Webb’s style can only be described as iconic. His unique designs for which he is best known include enameled animal bracelets and other crystal and animal jewelry pieces. Some of his most notable animalistic designs depict frogs and zebras. In addition to his use of animal motifs, David Webb also is known for his bold use of color and dramatic designs for necklaces, brooches, and the like. His style attracted Jackie Kennedy, who commissioned the designer to create the Gifts of State in 1962, and Elizabeth Taylor, who showed off her Webb antique pieces in her films.
As styles have evolved throughout the jewelry eras, so have these jewelers, which is why they remain popular today. The modern-day creative directors continue to create designs that exude the uniqueness upon which their brands were founded. The antique jewelry and vintage jewelry designs from each jeweler still in circulation encapsulate their identities and carry an immense history—they will never go out of style.