It has been said that Duke Fulco di Verdura (1899–1978) was the most original and protean designer of the Twentieth Century. Born into Sicilian aristocracy, his designs were inspired by classical patterns and natural forms, brightened with intense colors and infused with a sophisticated wit. Fulco’s early collaboration with Coco Chanel shattered the status quo in jewelry design in the early 1930s when, for the first time in centuries, gemstones were pressed into yellow gold in splendid contradiction to one another. Precious emeralds, rubies and sapphires were electrified into new life beside the vivid half-hues of amethyst, peridot and tourmaline. One of the most iconic examples of Twentieth Century design emerged from this exploration: Coco Chanel’s original Maltese Cross cuffs.
Coming to America in 1934, the young duke’s intimate and highly personalized designs for Golden-age Hollywood personalities and sophisticated New York society immediately set him apart. He became an “American jeweler” on September 1, 1939 when his friends Cole Porter and Vincent Astor financed his debut on Fifth Avenue, the day the war broke out in Europe. However, Verdura’s international sensibility and Italian roots stayed with him and his design aesthetic throughout his career.
Garbo poses for photographer, Clarence Sinclair Bull, wearing her Curb-Link watch in a publicity still for her last film, Two-Faced Woman, in 1941.
The list of Verdura’s historical clients reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood giants and great collectors: Orson Wells, the Baroness de Rothschild, Vivienne Leigh, the Duchess of Windsor, Sam Goldwyn, Diana Vreeland, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Alfred Hitchcock, Mona Bismark, Cole and Linda Porter, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Loretta Young, Jack Benny, Henry Fonda, Douglas Fairbanks… even Andy Warhol.
Private families also considered themselves patrons of Verdura’s work, with names recognized on both sides of the Atlantic: Whitney, Mellon, Rockefeller, Fellowes, Astor, Ford, Paley, Roosevelt, Niarchos, Crespi, Ryan, Luce, Harriman, Agnelli.
This tradition continues with modern style-makers. Included among them are Carolina Herrera, Sofia Coppola, Aerin Lauder and Brooke Shields.