All text, concepts and images ©2009- 2014, Debra Healy
unless otherwise stated.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Verdura's Jeweled Artistry

Image Verdura Photo by David Behl

Verdura Medusa brooch 1940, gold, rubies, morganite set upside down with
the back painted by Salvador Dali.


My introduction to the jewels of Verdura came through the late D.D. Ryan. She visited my studio in Manhattan to consult me about restoring her original Chanel Maltese cross cuff  bracelet. It was a gift from her friend Halston. It was one of the original pair belonging to Chanel. They were bombé lacquered white and slightly tapered with a gold, multi-colored gem-set Maltese cross.   She thought the white ground was vitreous enamel, my specialty.  It was in fact lacquer. As I am allergic to oriental lacquer and couldn't  touch it up for her, and she didn't want me to use synthetic resin.  D.D. spent the afternoon with me. She inspired me with stories about her life, thoughts about her jewelry, and the interesting designers and people she knew. After this meeting I  started looking out for Verdura pieces at auction and in estate jewelry shops. And reading international fashion journals from  1920-1970’s for information about Fulco di Verdura.


In 1985 my interest in jewelry history lead me to collaborate with Penny Proddow on our first book   “American Jewelry: Glamour and Tradition”. Ward Landrigan had recently purchased the Verdure inventory, archives and business.  We had the pleasure of studying the magnificent design books first hand. There are over 1000 original exquisite renderings. 

A 30-carat aquamarine and diamond ray brooch designed
 by Verdura for Mrs. Henry Fonda. Christmas 1940.

We were also very fortunate to work for a collector who owned
a treasure trove of original Verdura jewels.

Image of the  Villa Niscemi  
from Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999

Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, duc di Verdura (1898–1978). Was born in Palermo, Sicily in the Conca d’ Oro -golden shell- the name for the hills encircling Palermo. He was born into a grand noble family. He grew up in the Villa Niscemi a jewel-like palazzi. At the time of Verdura’s birth, inherited titles and wealth still distinguished people.  His cousin, Duke Guiuseppe de Lampedusa, wove this remarkable world into his book “The Leopard” , which was made into a film in 1963 by the Italian film director  Luchino Visconti, starring Burt Lancaster.

I feel Verdura’s aesthetic taste was shaped by his birthplace, his family home, his rank, his social milieu, and his interests in art, decorative arts and the natural world. He was reared in the ornate traditions of the Italian nobility and the Catholic Church.  Sicily was bathed in the warm glow of the Mediterranean sun enhancing his sophisticated appreciation for color. 

Cole Porter by Horst 1934 Image from
Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999


In 1919 Verdura met Cole and Linda Porter on their honeymoon in Palermo, and they would remain friends and supporters throughout their lives. Verdura moved to Paris in 1927. His cousin Baron Ugo Oddo introduced him to Gabrielle Chanel. Chanel spotted his talent and hired him, he worked with her twice over an 8 year period.

Chanel and Verdura had carefree abandon and a sense of style.  Mixing precious and semiprecious stones together for color effect. Patricia Corbett called this
 "A playful blend of pageantry and nonconformity”

Verdura brooches for Chanel 1930,
 from the collection of Diana Vreeland

In Paris Verdura was absorbing everything from people and shops, to art and exhibitions. He studied medals, croix-de-garre, in the Musée de la Legion d’Honneur et des Ordres de Chevalerie. The Bibliotheque National had an exhibition about the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem; known as the Knights of Malta with their symbolic emblem the Maltese cross. 
Verdura would make this motif his own.

Image of the Byzantine Empress Theodora
 in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy

Byzantine art and Carolingian liturgical works reliquaries, jewel encrusted books, crowns and mosaics of the Italian city of Ravenna, would influence his use of colored stones.

Chanel photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1937.

She is wearing both of Verdura's Maltese cross cuff bracelets.

French Vogue, 2009

In 1934 Verdura left for the United States.  He worked in Hollywood and New York for the jeweler to the stars, Paul Flato. During his time with Flato he learned the art of jewelry rendering.

Jean Howard, Paul Flato, and Fulco di Verdura
on Sunset Boulevard, 1937.
Above: a gold commemorative cigarette case for Cole Porter,
 inscribed, Something to Shout About, 1942

Cole Porter wrote the score and lyrics for the film Something to Shout About.

Verdura's silver box commemorating  George S. Kaufman and Moss Heart's 
The Man Who Came to Dinner Inscribed 
"for Cole Porter because we think your wonderful, Moss and George".
Engraved and inlaid with the gold letters COLE PORTER, and decorated with black lacquer.

When Cole Porter’s musicals debuted on Broadway, his wife Linda would commission commemorative cigarette boxes from Verdura. 
Ruby and diamond wrapped heart brooch 1949
Verdura, New York

Verdura's reputation had grown, his jewels were sought after, and he had a steady flow of clients.  Verdura opened his showroom September 1, 1939 at 712 Fifth Avenue in New York.  His silent partner was his good friend, Cole Porter.   That was 75 years ago.

Right: a Verdura  natural shell,  blue sapphire, gold, and diamond brooch 1945
Left Lyropecten Nodudus or Lions Paw shell 

What does an artist "see"? With inspiration and imagination, he sees possibilities.
The shell on the left is fresh from the sea.  It is not sanded or polished.
The way Verdura saw things was pure genius.
His insight in using real shells was prescient, these shells are rare treasures.
He knew that no two jewels would ever be alike.
Right: a Verdura  natural shell, golden sapphire and diamond brooch 1950.
Left: a natural pecten crytopecten or "painted scallop" shell.

Only Verdura would think to put golden yellow sapphires and diamonds together 
with a sea shell.  The resulting jewel conjures up these words: 
 "The power to beautify is also the power to glorify." -James Trilling, from The Language of Ornament,1985
To glorify one must a have a deep feeling for beauty and a reverence for nature.

 A Verdura "Pin-up girl", Paulette Goddard, photographed by Horst in 1941 for Vogue.
 This Image is overlaid with Millicent Roger's 1941 Verdura lion's paw shell and diamond brooch.
Very like the brooch pinned to Paulette Goddard's scarf over her Hattie Carnegie cabana suit. 

Early 19th century Indian polychrome Rajasthan Ivory chess set 

A woman came into the Verdura show room to sell an original, Indian painted ivory Chess set
from Rajasthan. Verdura bought them. He was inspired by the 
collection of the Green Vaults in Dresden, Germany


-particularly the jeweled scenographic miniature.

The Princely Household at Delhi on the Birthday of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb,
 a masterpiece of the goldsmith's art by Johann Melchior Dinglinger.
Verdura created an original
 jewel with every chess piece; they all sold.
The maharajah (king) of the chess set on his elephant, 1940



Salvador Dali Image from
Fulco di Verdura Gioielli, Novecento, 1999

In 1940-1 Verdura and Salvador Dali collaborated on a surrealist jewelry collection. The pieces were exhibited at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York.


Photo by David Behl

Verdura medusa brooch, 1940: gold, rubies, morganite set upside down with
the back reverse-painted by Salvador Dali.

Image from Bijoux a Portrait by Diana Scarisbrick
French  reverse-painted diamond earring made for the Russian Court.
Reverse-painted stones were not unique to this collaboration, there are historic precedents.


But it was Verdura the master jeweler who understood the optical properties of gemstones,
 where to reverse-paint the image, and how to set it.

The surrealist impulse of one artist complemented and inspired the savvy and expertise of the other. The results were shape-shifting with physiological undertones.

Photo by David Behl, 2013
Verdura and Dali brooch, pink tourmaline reverse-painted and foil-backed, set in sculpted gold, with Persian turquoises and ruby.

This remarkable jewel takes its inspiration from this mythological tale of impossible love. 

Apollo and Daphne

After the great flood, Apollo slew the monstrous poisonous serpent that covered the land with his bow and arrow. Full of pride over his victory, he arrogantly chided little cupid (Eros) who was playing with his quiver of arrows and bow.  “What do you have to do with war-like weapons you saucy little boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them.  Behold the conquest I have won…”. Venus’s son answered, “your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you!”

The gorgeous nymph Daphne (daughter of the river god, Peneus ) was Apollo’s first love. This was not a naturally occurring love, but one borne from malice. Cupid launched a dart of gold imbued with ardent desire. It struck stuck Apollo. Cupid shot another dart of lead filled with repulsion into the nymph Daphne.

Apollo thus love-struck perused Daphne ardently and relentlessly. “Do not fly as the lamb flies the wolf!" he called.  She ran in terror, and even as she fled she charmed him.

As he closed in upon her and her strength failed, she called out to her father, “help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form which has brought me into danger.” Instantly she was transformed into a laurel tree.  Apollo embraced the branches, which shrank from his lips.

"Since you cannot be my wife you shall be my tree; I shall wear you as my crown, you will decorate my harp and quiver."

Adapted from Bulfinch’s Mythology ,1948

Image from Baroque by Stephen Calloway

Verdura's elegant New York apartment in the1960's, mixing baroque sculpture with very plane curtains and high ceilings, palazzo style, designed by Simon Fleet. 

For more information read
VERDURA: The life and work of a master jeweler
By Patricia Corbett, Thames and Hudson, 2002
This book gives
 a brilliant history of the man, his times, 
 and the genesis of his work.