Last night’s 64th Primetime Emmy Awards saw the arrivals of countless Hollywood stars, dressed in the most elegant evening gowns and sparkling jewels. Time and again during the red carpet interviews, Fred Leighton jewels were repeatedly credited and the famed jewelry house appeared to be Hollywood’s favorite spot to find the perfect adornments for their ensembles.
Despite my awareness of the prominent jeweler, I was curious to see what exactly makes Fred Leighton so beloved by not only the A-list actresses but by New York City’s social set, devoted patrons of the jeweler’s Madison Avenue shop. After taking a tour of their website and available collections, I get it now. The carefully curated selection of red-carpet ready baubles is astounding, with each piece uniquely fashionable, regardless of when it was created, and dripping with glamour. The timeless style and eclectic design of their jewelry collection contribute to the firm’s continued success. Their website boasts gorgeous pieces from the 18th & 19th centuries, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Retro, Mid-20th century and Contemporary jewelry periods, all of which exhibit beautifully the aspects for their respective eras. Awestruck by the quality and vast quantity of museum-worthy items, I selected the ones that impressed me the most. This was no easy undertaking as the entire inventory warrants a moment in the spotlight. Alas, here is my curated collection.
From the 18th & 19th Century Collection
The 18th and 19th centuries cover some of the most important early periods in jewelry design, the Georgian and Victorian eras, named for Britain’s ruling monarchs. The Georgian period spans from about 1715 into the 1830s and is named after the four successive English kinds George I through IV. The Victorian period is named for Queen Victoria, who ruled Britain from 1837 to 1901. Together, the Georgian and Victorian periods represent some of the most important and creative periods in jewelry history. The Victorian era was one of prosperity, romanticism and sentimentality, themes that translated to the jewelry designs of the day. Victorian jewelry encompasses many different styles and aesthetics, from old mine diamonds collet-set in silver topped gold, to hand-chased gold and enamel jewels, to personal rings and lockets worn as symbols of mourning. Many notable revival movements began during the latter part of the 19th century, including Egyptian, Etruscan and Renaissance. Some of the most enduring jewelry motifs have their roots in the Victorian period, including hearts, serpents, stars, butterflies and bows.
From the Edwardian Collection
The Edwardian period officially began in 1901 when Edward, son of Victoria, ascended to the British throne. Elegance and fashion were the predominant values of the day, and the jewelry reflected this beautifully. Edwardian jewelry is light and lacy with delicate filigree patterns in monochromatic color schemes. Diamonds and pearls were the favored gemstones of the day, and advances in metal-working gave way to widespread use of platinum in jewelry. With new capabilities at their disposal, the jewelers of the period gave new creative expression to the bows, ribbons and garlands of Victorian jewelry. New jewelry forms such as the dog collar and the sautoir became popular.
From the Art Deco Collection
The Art Deco period is one of the most popular and enduring design periods in jewelry’s history. The style reflected the flamboyant and playful attitudes of the era and gave birth to forms and motifs that continue to live on today. While the Art Deco period covers the early 1920s through 1935, its influence extends all the way through the 1950s and 1960s and indeed to the current day. In sharp contrast to the jewels of preceding periods, Art Deco jewelry design is defined by geometric forms and bold colors. Diamonds were extremely popular in the period and were often accompanied by the bright colors of rubies, sapphires and emeralds. The use of black onyx in contrast with white diamonds and rock crystal is a defining style of the period. Some of the great jewelry houses, including Cartier, Tiffany and Van Cleef & Arpels, are considered to have created some of their most iconic work during the Art Deco period.
From the Mid-20th Century Collection
The mid-20th century dating from the 1950s through the 1970s was a time of great creativity in jewelry design, driven in a large part by the changing tastes and fashions of the American consumer. Many of the great makers remained at the pinnacle of the field, and a number of important new designers emerged to redefine style for a new generation. The 1950s were a decade of prosperity and a growing middle class, and fashion, femininity and classic glamour returned to style. Jewelry designs remained sizable, but were more open and textural than the chunkier styles that proceeded it. Diamonds became increasingly popular with DeBeer’s introduction of the famous phrase “A Diamond is Forever,” and were featured as spray designs in brooches and earrings. The dynamism of the 1960s was reflected in the bold and colorful jewelry of the era. Gold began to grow again in popularity and animal and nature inspirations were popular. The 1970s reflected a continuation of these trends – long necklaces, medallion pendants and oversized earrings were all in fashion. Gold still ruled and favored gemstones of the day were darker and more natural in color in shades of burgundy, deep blue and purple. The important makers of the mid-20th century include Van Cleef and Arpels, Bulgari, David Webb, Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany, Harry Winston, Sterlé, and Kutchinsky.
From the Contemporary Collection
All photos and period descriptions courtesy of Fred Leighton