Among the jewelry cognoscenti, Verdura is a synonym for boldness, originality and style. The only thing more intoxicating than the jewelry that bears the name is the story of the man who created it. Born in 1899 to an aristocratic family in Italy’s Sicilian city of Palermo, Fulco Santostefano della Cerda – the future Duke of Verdura – grew up immersed in the extravagance and eccentricities of European nobility. A talented artist, his friendship with Cole and Linda Porter, who he met in 1920, while they were honeymooning in Sicily, catapulted him to the center of the Jazz Age glitterati.
After meeting Fulco at a Venetian costume ball, Coco Chanel hired him in 1927 as a textile designer, later commissioning him to reset jewelry she’d been given by admirers – including a Maltese Cross from Russia’s Grand Duke Dmitri. The resulting white enamel cuff featuring colorful cabochons in yellow gold became, and remains, one of Verdura’s most iconic designs. Typical of the designer’s bold, irreverent style, it flouted conventions of the era. He eschewed the dominant platinum-and-diamond art deco style, instead championing semi-precious gemstones and oversized proportions, inspired by his love of Renaissance and Baroque design.
After eight years at Chanel, Fulco emigrated to America, where he designed for famed jeweler Paul Flato. His creations were worn and adored by stars and socialites: Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were all photographed in Verdura for Flato. In 1939, on the day that war was declared in Europe, Fulco opened his own salon on New York’s Fifth Avenue, backed by Vincent Astor and Cole Porter, cementing his status at the center of American high society.
“Fulco di Verdura’s wit was as sharp as the people who surrounded him,” says jewelry historian Marion Fasel. “His work was bold, stylish and original, often with a sense of fantasy and whimsy. The style icons of the time loved his jewels and wore them repeatedly, which adds to the jewelry’s eternal allure.”
Verdura’s legacy was kept alive by Ward Landrigan, the former head of Sotheby’s New York’s jewelry department, who purchased the business in 1983, five years after Fulco died. “I grew up hearing stories about Verdura at the dinner table,” says Ward’s son Nico, now Verdura’s president. “Whenever my dad appraised estates, Verdura pieces tended to be in the ‘never selling it’ pile. That got him interested.”
Verdura’s work was bold, stylish and original, often with a sense of fantasy and whimsy. The style icons of the time loved his jewels and wore them repeatedly, which adds to the jewelry’s eternal allure”Jewelry historian Marion Fasel
For Nico, the enduring appeal of Verdura jewelry stems from the Duke’s rule-breaking approach. “Fulco was surrounded by indisputably beautiful things, and he translated them into equally beautiful jewelry. But he was also known for his wicked sense of humor; he had a fun streak. He took what he knew about classical proportions and blew them up or deconstructed them – that was radical. He was iconoclastic then, and that still resonates today.”
The Landrigans are custodians of Verdura’s archive, comprising almost 10,000 original drawings. As well as reinterpreting iconic pieces such as the Maltese Cuff and the Curb Link bracelet worn by Greta Garbo, the company brings to life everything the Duke imagined, with the same unapologetic style that captivated the 20th-century elite.
“We work with new generations of the families who were Fulco’s clients. Gratifyingly, they see us as worthy custodians of what they consider to be more than a jewelry house – it’s a club,” says Nico. “To those who are familiar with it, Verdura’s design language is instantly recognizable across a room.”
Until recently, to become a member of that club, clients had to travel to the discreet Verdura salon in New York. But now, pieces are available for a limited time to NET-A-PORTER EIP customers – an opportunity that senior fashion market editor Libby Page describes as an honor: “Verdura is a true heritage brand; a well-kept secret in the fine-jewelry world,” she says. ‘Its exceptionally chic, elegant and beautiful pieces have always been reserved for those in the know, so it’s incredibly exciting to offer them to our EIPs.” As for which piece she covets most? “The Curb Link bracelet has been on my wish list forever.”
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