COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Verdura’s High Touch
Verdura cross. Courtesy of Verdura.

Verdura cross. Courtesy of Verdura.

Most of our experiences today have become weightless. Think of a grocery list compiled by your electronic refrigerator and delivered to you. Or think of how cleverly your smart phone’s GPS allows your limousine driver to come pick you up from exactly where you stand at a click of a phone button. Don’t even think of using your credit card to pay—Apple revolutionized our retailing system forever. In our world, where conveniences can be enjoyed on credit, we have come to confuse them with luxury.

Luxury is not a convenience—it is usually the opposite for all those involved. It is consuming to think of new designs as a perpetually renewable repertory; it is cumbersome to manufacture something aesthetically beautiful; and it is daunting to craft a story that captivates. In our increasingly “low touch” world of seamless services, some more traditional luxury firms continue to excite their public. VERDURA is one of them.

The company, founded by jewelry designer Fulco di Verdura (1898-1978), was established in New York City in 1939. By that time, the jeweler, of Italian aristocratic heritage, had already worked for Coco Chanel as a jewelry designer and had made a few very powerful connections, primarily among Americans, such as Cole Porter and Vincent Astor. They were indeed the instigators for Fulco to emigrate to the United States, and specifically to New York, via Los Angeles. The social, financial, and influential power of the stars were as true then as they are today. When Fulco moved to New York he already had the financial and marketing backing that a new entrepreneur would need to secure a place within the luxury segment of the market. And that he did.

The exhibition currently on view at VERDURA’s headquarters at 745 Fifth Avenue comprises 51 vintage pieces that form the backbone of what is known today as VERDURA’s signature style. In fact, the father and son team who own VERDURA today, are using that signature style quite literally: they own the entire series of sketches produced by Fulco di Verdura and they manufacture limited series of certain designs, or special orders of others, very tightly controlling the distribution of their product in the market.

The pieces on display are not just exquisite in terms of stone quality and craftsmanship but also share (most of them) a claim to fame because of their association with famous American names (mostly industrialists but also heiresses and actresses alike). Who favored Fulco’s designs? Diana Vreeland, of course, the Duchess of Windsor, Mona Bismarck, Daisy Fellowes, Dorothy Paley Hirshorn, to name just a few.

The story told is one of social distinction, success (of the American type, either connected to industry or Hollywood), flamboyance (Diana Vreeland), and aristocracy (Brooke Astor). And this is perhaps the impression with which the hurried viewer would come away. The real story is one of a designer who is unique in stylistic tendencies and strong in his preferences (for stones, colors, shapes, and size) that he alone, and several years after his death, is as important within the Italian tradition of jewelry design as Castellani had been in the 19th century or Bulgari and Buccellati in the 20th. Fulco was the product of a decidedly Italian tradition. The exuberance of his baroque background is present in all his designs, and perhaps this is what distinguishes them from other eponymous jewelers. It also allows them to remain timeless and desirable today when the only thing we seem to crave is constant change.

In fact, the more we embrace “low touch” in modern life, the more we desire high impact design such as VERDURA’s. Allowing oneself to indulge in the weight and touch of  VERDURA’s pieces is a true luxury, a luxury of “high touch.”

© Thomaï Serdari