Jewels in the shape of animals and insects have been worn by women since ancient times, and lately these motifs seem to have exploded in popularity. Powerful images such as lions, owls and snakes are front and center this year — it is, in fact, The Year of the Snake in the Chinese lunar calendar. But all creatures great and small, including butterflies, spiders and even the lowly housefly, are the province of contemporary and iconic jewelry designers. Whether it’s a classic David Webb animal bangle from the 1960s, or Hemmerle’s ultra-hip Fly Pendant Earrings from their fall collection, you can’t go wrong with jewelry designs inspired by nature. They simply never go out of style!
Take a walk on the wild side
One of the most famous of all jeweled animal motifs – and an enduring symbol of the house of Cartier — is the Cartier panther, which first appeared on one of the company’s wristwatches in 1914. When Jeanne Toussaint, a contemporary of Coco Chanel, became Director of Fine Jewelry at Cartier in Paris in 1933, she incorporated the “great cat” into the collection, earning her the nickname La Panthère.
In l948, the Duchess of Windsor commissioned a brooch from Cartier in the form of a golden cat perched on top of a cabochon emerald. The panther design was quickly adopted by heiress Barbara Hutton and Princess Nina Aga Khan, whose husband ordered an entire collection featuring the elaborately bejeweled jungle cat.
The mid-century period of the 1940s to l960s was the golden age of animal and figurative jewelry design. Artists at Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, and David Webb, among others, combined precious and semi-precious stones, organic shapes and detailed enamel surfaces to fashion animal jewelry ranging from panthers and horses to serpents and fish.
Maintain an eagle eye
Many of these signed pieces are still available today at premier auction houses, vintage shops and online auction sites. Popular styles to look for include whimsical sea creatures elaborately detailed with moveable jeweled scales…and birds festooned with brightly bejeweled feathers and gemstone eyes.
Another great way to acquire a piece of animal jewelry is to “shop” the closets and jewelry boxes of your mother, aunts and grandmothers. And remember, even if you can’t afford to buy vintage animal-inspired brooches or super-fly earrings from the fine jewelry department, there are many affordable examples of this ever-popular trend available in stores today. So buzz on over!
Do you have a favorite piece of animal motif jewelry? Or do you collect a particular species? Inquiring minds at OBJ want to know…