The beauty of animals has inspired artists forever. The cavemen already painted bison and mammoths on the walls of their caves. From the early history of jewellery making until today, precious animals has been an excellent source of inspiration. Animalia and nature are rich subjects in jewellery.
Precious Animals in history
The scarabs and snakes from ancient Egypt adorned Queens and Kings. The renaissance enamelled pendants featured various animals. Pins and brooches in the shape of animals were very fashionable during the Victorian Romantic Period. The ring Prince Albert gave to Queen Victoria for their engagement had a serpent with an emerald set in its head; the snake being the symbol of eternal love. Notably, the Art Nouveau era produced magnificent colourful butterflies, dragonflies and birds. By the way, the Art Nouveau was so incredibly rich in jewellery design that it deserves a chapter on its own. So let’s leave it for some other day.
Cartier and Precious Animals
More recently, Cartier designed an array of birds using precious gemstones for their colourful plumage. Jeanne Toussaint, of Cartier, designed for the Duchess of Windsor in 1940, one of the most impressive and famous bird brooches in history, a flamingo in platinum and yellow gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies, which became the Duchess’ favourite brooch. Actually, since Toussaint’s arrival at Cartier, the French jewellery house has been invaded by fantastic animals and insects, particularly birds and jewelled cats as panthers, leopards and tigers.
Birds of Paradise
During that same period, other French houses such as Mauboussin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Boivin, and in the USA, Verdura and Raymond Yard, all made exuberant jewellery depicting colourful animals. Many of these designs were with detachable parts that could be used separately and that showed great craftsmanship and imagination. Van Cleef & Arpels for example, produced a fantastic bracelet in a honeycomb pattern and on it, three bees that could each, be detached and used as separate brooches. Birds of Paradise, with their wonderful plumage, were the number one choice of the jewellery designers.
Fulco di Verdura’s Zoo
Fulco di Verdura, the Italian Duke who made Chanel’s jewellery, including the now-iconic Maltese Cross Cuffs, and one of my favourite designers ever, made uncountable animal jewels. Verdura designed fishes and other sea creatures, dogs, frogs, snails, horses and all sorts of fantastic animals. Today, the brand continues to create pieces based on Verdura’s massive archive, which has more than 10.000 original sketches. So we’ll keep on having the marvellous Jewelled Menagerie he designed.
Animalier by Roberto Coin
Another Italian who is inspired by the animal kingdom is Roberto Coin, who launched his eponymous jewellery brand in 1996. Roberto Coin has a collection called Animalier, with jewels that are like little sculptures covered in colourful gemstones.