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Jewellery Icons of the 20th Century

Jewellery Icons of the 20th Century

Talia Wallis |

The postwar fashion silhouettes of shorter hemlines, lower cinched waists and more adventurous necklines were nothing short of revolutionary for the time. With these drastic changes came the need for a drastic change in how women accessorised. More contemporary hairstyles- both short cuts and up-do’s left much more room for extravagant earrings and a jewel-adorned décolletage. Here are some of the most iconic jewellery enthusiasts of the 20th Century. 


Elizabeth Taylor
 known for her infatuation with jewellery had a most impressive collection. She had a deep love for jewels and particularly liked the esteemed jewellery houses Bulgari, David Webb, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. Elizabeth cultivated an impressive collection in her time and upon auction, it raised approximately £74.9 million. Some of the best-known pieces in Elizabeth’s collection included ‘La Peregrina’, a 16th-century pearl, once owned by Mary Tudor. The pearl was strung on a simple gold chain but the necklace was much too subtle for Elizabeth’s taste. She was inspired by a portrait she had seen of Mary Queen of Scots and commissioned Cartier to create a more impactful necklace with it. Cartier constructed the necklace with two rows of pearls, clusters of diamonds, and generous cushion-cut rubies and topped it all off with the La Peregrina pearl. 
Taylor is also known for The Krupp diamond ring, a potentially flawless emerald-cut diamond ring. The ring was auctioned at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York City and Richard Burton entered a bidding war with Harry Winston himself to obtain it.  On May 16th, Richard Burton successfully purchased the diamond ring and presented it to Elizabeth Taylor as a gift. Taylor often dressed and styled herself, she was well known for her magnificent jewellery combinations both on and off stage and over time her persona became so tightly intertwined with jewellery it was rare to see her without it!  

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Wallis Simpson
Wallis Simpson the Duchess of Windsor and American socialite was known for her vast collection of jewellery. In fact, she held the record for the largest private jewellery auction before Elizabeth Taylor’s collection took the title. At a Sotheby’s auction in 1987, it sold for a total of $53.5 million. King Edward VIII of the British Royal Family was enamoured by Wallis and showered her with extravagant jewellery gifts. Some of her most well-known jewels include her 31-carat diamond ring. Simpson’s Three Ostrich Plume Diamond Brooch was one of her most interesting pieces and was well-loved by her close friend Elizabeth Taylor who eventually bought it. 
Another one of her favourites was an amethyst necklace. This stunning piece echoed the love story between the Duke and the Duchess. The Duchess commissioned Cartier to design the necklace in 1947. She was inspired by jewellery from India and decided on a ‘draperie’ design. The necklace features amethyst, turquoise cabochons and diamonds. The Duchess debuted this breathtaking piece in June 1953 in Versailles. Simpson had a very specific love for Cartier’s Panthere collection. Edward had two impressive ‘panthere’ pieces commissioned for Simpson. Wallis Simpson is actually even thought to have kicked off the feline-fueled jewellery trend. 

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Grace Kelly 
Following her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco, Grace Kelly became the name and face of the Hermes Kelly bag and accessory line. Grace’s most well-known piece is the Van Cleef and Arpels diamond tiara that was only worn once- to her daughter’s wedding. Some of Grace’s most loved designers were Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. In fact, the engagement ring presented to her by Prince Rainier was a Cartier emerald-cut diamond ring.
Her most well-known and most photographed piece is a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond tiara. She wore it only once, on the occasion of her daughter's wedding. The tiara features 144 diamonds and is set in platinum and white gold. The tiara has since been in Van Cleef and Arpels’ possession. Princess Grace also had a charming infatuation with animal-inspired brooches and an endless love affair with pearls- she famously said “The pearl is the queen of gems and the gem of queens.”
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Maria Callas 
20th-century opera extraordinaire had a deep love for jewellery. It comes as no surprise, seeing as she was always in the spotlight, it only makes sense to be adorned in shimmering jewels. She was fascinated by jewellers like Van Cleef & Arpels, Faraone and Cartier and often caused a frenzy when she stepped out in a stunning gown and glimmering jewellery. In the late 1950s, Maria Callas visited Van Cleef & Arpels and fancied herself a necklace. She tried on a magnificent diamond collarette set and the piece was given to her on loan by the jewellery house- accompanied of course, by matching earrings. 
One of her most esteemed pieces was her ruby and diamond necklace which was constructed of undulating hypnotic lines of rubies edged by diamonds and mounted in platinum. The Greek Soprano’s diamonds and pearls were photographed worldwide- whether by the legendary Cecil Beaton or by paparazzi, people simply couldn't get enough of her jewels. 

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