“I have the feeling of having to prove I exist… through houses and objects,” the jewellery designer Elsa Peretti once said. “I have to crystallise a form.” Peretti’s career grew out of her chance travels as a model in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when she was a muse to Helmut Newton and Halston. After stumbling upon a very tiny flower vase made of sterling silver at a flea market, which she wanted to wear as a necklace, she began sketching ideas with a silversmith in Spain. Her early creations were instinctive and macabre, inspired by animal skulls, scorpions and even X-rays of her own skeleton.
In 1974, she joined Tiffany & Co. as a designer, where her sinuous and sculptural pieces — such as the Bean, Diamonds by the Yard and the Open Heart — quickly became signatures of the 1837-founded American jewelry house. That same year, Peretti traveled throughout Jaipur, India, and the city’s glittering light inspired her to begin working with mesh. Halston debuted a gold mesh bra and scarf designed by Peretti for Tiffany in his fall 1975 runway collection, which she produced on old machinery that had been used to make handbags in fine metal netting and chain mail in the early 20th century. The mesh designs were a hit: “Tiffany was swamped with calls from people dying to get a gold bra,” Peretti recalled.
Throughout the years, she expanded her mesh collection, which has included chain-mail earrings, woven sterling-silver evening bags and, most memorably, her malleable gold mesh collar, which originally appeared in 1997. Free-form and fluid, it contours like fabric around the neck, with diamonds that resemble droplets of dew. The brand’s 2020 iteration, made of yellow gold, is dotted with 66 hand-set diamonds, totaling 3.72 carats.
The design remains largely unchanged over two decades since its first appearance, though Peretti — who’s now 80 and has spent the last 40 years living between New York, Italy and Catalonia — has created new mesh pieces with diamonds as well as tumbled emeralds. “Elsa defies what you think of when you think about jewellery — it’s art, it’s sculpture, it’s something you can wear,” says Reed Krakoff, Tiffany & Co.’s chief artistic officer. “Her work is as fresh today as when she first designed it. Her pieces transcend time.”
Prop stylist: Marci Leiseth.