The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century saw some of the most inventive and technically accomplished jewellery ever seen in the history of the decorative arts. It was a time in which the rich and well off wore jewellery all day, every day- sometimes more, sometimes less, but always something. The many changes of wardrobe often required a change of jewellery- so designers were obliged to be creative in their designs and produced clever pieces which could be taken apart and reassembled as different jewels. Not only did this have novelty value, it proved to be extremely useful for society hostesses.
It is very pleasing to see that jewellery houses are beginning to embrace the concept again with gusto- it has always surprised me that designers have not embraced transformable jewellery earlier, especially in today’s climate where the occasions to wear high jewellery are rare. Transformable pieces have multiple appeal: bigger pieces can be made smaller and worn for less formal occasions; the client gets much more wear for the money they pay; when sold at auction, transformable pieces on average sell at a 20-30% premium, according to Christie’s.
Van Cleef and Arpels recently revisited an old classic with their zip necklace. They have always been masters of jewellery engineering and this necklace is no different. The concept was originally suggested by the Duchess of Windsor, but the first one was not produced until the 1950s. The most recent incarnation is produced in white gold, diamonds and coloured sapphires- and can be refastened round the wrist as a bracelet.
Boucheron actually produced a transformable necklace back in 2002. It featured in Beauté Dangereuse, Solange Azagury-Partridge’s debut collection for the brand as creative director. The Madone necklace, as it was called, could be worn as a belt, or as a necklace and bracelet, the necklace being of adjustable lengths. More recently, they produced and eye-watering necklace named Lys Radiant. Executed in white gold, rock crystal, white and yellow diamonds, this fantastical lily flower can be worn as a necklace or detached and attached to the lapel as a brooch.
Cartier were the undisputed kings of versatile, transformable jewels up until the 1940s. They pioneered the famous Art Deco double clip brooches, which could be worn singly, as a pair or as one large piece clipped onto a frame. They have recently gone back to their Belle Epoque roots with an original diamond hair ornament which can be transformed into a necklace or bracelet.
Speaking of hair ornaments, this was the metier of Chaumet. They reminded us of this last year, when they launched the ‘Natures de Chaumet’ high jewellery collection. The talking point was the ‘Firmament Apollinien’ tiara. Executed as a wreath, reminiscent of the triumphal laurels of Classical times, it is executed in sapphires and diamonds, the leaves beautifully rendered. This piece can be taken off its frame and worn as a necklace.
If you feel that high jewellery is too extravagant a look, or your budget doesn’t stretch to Chaumet and Cartier, most reputable antique jewellery dealers will have something in stock, whether an Art Deco clip or a pair of bracelets that transform into a necklace. Transformable jewellery is particularly special- it requires that much more labour and love to create and represents the inventiveness and creativity of a designer.