Based on Jennifer’s talk given at the V&A Museum’s DIOR: Top To Toe Course on June 22nd 2019
Once in a lifetime you discover a designer that completely takes your breath away and for us it has to be the insanely talented couturier, Christian Dior. Utterly captivated by his timeless and exquisite collections from top to toe, we wanted to share the fascinating story of Dior jewels through the decades.
With a glorious spectrum of incredible and intricately-made works of wearable art, Dior’s unique heritage of designing and crafting jewellery remains unrivalled, even today.
Ranging from delicate and ultra-feminine floral necklaces that simply ooze romance, to mythical, working musical box pins and punk style crystal embellished logo pieces, such as the iconic oversized safety pin, his jewellery transcends the ages.
Monsieur Dior’s heritage is like a golden thread, now delicately woven throughout each of the seven Dior decades, as successive artistic directors have referenced and reinterpreted his designs. In creating the DNA for the House of Dior’s jewel line, he established a rich heritage, while leaving space and freedom for future designers to cast their own inimitable mark on the Dior jewellery collections.
To achieve mastery in this glorious area of his work, Dior partnered with some of the world’s finest artisans and jewellery makers. These included Swarovski, London’s Mitchel Maer, Germany’s Henkel & Grosse and Kramer of NYC. Closer to home he worked alongside famous Parisian ateliers, Robert Goossens, The House of Gripoix, Francis Winter, Roger Jean Pierre and Roger Scemama.
Maer and Kramer were famously granted the prestigious honour of co-signing their pieces with Dior. Although production numbers were relatively small and the relationships lasted only several years, these stunning jewels have now become extremely rare and highly collectable vintage pieces.
It was Henkel & Grosse however, that became the largest and longest-standing creators and manufacturers of Dior jewellery. This was largely due to the company’s proven track record of producing high quality costume jewellery, on time and in the quantities demanded by Dior. This business model was vital for meeting the demands of his new and pioneering global licensing strategy, whereby a range of accessories, including jewellery, could be designed by Dior in Paris but produced locally at competitive prices by specialist factories or ateliers.
Dior’s achievements were staggering, even by today’s standards and he can lay claim to important innovations that not only set the Dior jewellery lines apart from others, but also widely influenced materials and styles used by designers and producers in the costume jewellery heyday of the 1950s and beyond.
His unique ability to continually innovate and collaborate at such an exceptional level is a key element of the enduring style, diversity and exquisite quality that is the very epitome of the Dior Jewel Line.
Looking at the jewels produced by Dior’s successors, it’s easy to identify both heritage pieces that were clearly inspired by his original designs and innovative pieces that bear the unique hallmarks of the individual designers. So timeless and strong is the design that it can often be difficult to distinguish the specific era.
The Dior decades
As with his couture, Dior was intimately involved in the design of his jewellery and was passionate about the result, always maintaining creative control. He would personally sketch the designs and rigorously inspect and select the final creations, ensuring they met the House standard.
Rather than creating copies of precious jewels, Dior wanted his designs to be beautiful jewels in their own right. Much of the jewellery produced in his lifetime was set in either silver tone, gun metal or rhodium plating, and where gold was used, it was typically a bronze shade or an antique gold to create a sense of bygone eras. It was only in his later years, through his partnership with Henkel & Grosse, that gold was more widely used.
He produced some of the most beautiful pieces ever seen, including a timeless collar which centred on his and his mother’s shared love of the garden. His whimsical musical box brooch, adorned with cherubs and Limoges-style hand painted flower plaques, was a nod to the flourishing art of La Belle Époque.
Dior’s successors have achieved great acclaim and global success through their interpretations and re-imaginations of his jewel heritage.
As a young designer, long before his succession in 1957, Yves Saint Laurent had a strong influence on the House of Dior and this can be seen in Christian Dior’s final collections. A relatively short-lived tenure, Yves expressed a preference for fresh, more modern designs and clean lines similar to those seen later in the House of YSL. At Dior, his jewellery tended to be larger in size, favouring huge, almost pool-like crystals. Statement collars and demure lapel brooches that became the go-to of the well-dressed woman in the 50s, grew to show-stopping sizes during his time at Dior.
Marc Bohan burst on to the scene in in 1960 and took the decades by storm, celebrating flower power alongside striking modernist designs such as his crystal starbursts in the 60s. He embraced the decade’s glam rock and gold and nailed 70’s boho chic with designer long line pendants and stacked gilded bracelets. His designs culminated in the 80s when a new era of fashion jewellery was well and truly born. At this point, as the scale of manufacturing and sheer number of stockists grew in response to worldwide jewel fever and the new trend for power dressing, Dior jewellery took a new leap in accessibility.
During the nineties, Gianfranco Ferré took a particular interest in fashion jewellery and like Dior, he was famed for sketching his own designs. Stripping back the excess of the 80s, more streamlined pieces emerged. Featuring a more contemporary style, his pieces incorporated the increasingly popular silver tone metal, which imitated the white gold and platinum in fine jewels and interestingly, were a nod back to the days of Dior’s heritage. There was a growing interest in delicate pendants, charm-like embellishments and the vintage obsession began in earnest. All in all, it was a more conscious era than the 80s and the jewels reflected this. Gianfranco’s pieces take the very best of the 80s, while cleverly adding beautiful, timeless refinement.
The noughties brought John Galliano to the House of Dior. His theatrical, exuberant and fancifully oversized pieces of jewellery were fully in keeping with the drama of his clothing collections. His shoulder duster, neon logo, fruit and candy earrings rocked the runway in the 2005 SS collection. Paying beautiful homage to the style of Christian Dior’s mother, Madelaine, his now iconic Masai inspired pearl laden neck collar, mixed with an air of the Belle Époque, will be forever enshrined in jewel history.
Top to toe
We can see that Christian Dior always understood the huge potential of jewellery to express femininity and the fashion mood of the moment and he believed that good taste was far more important than money. Widely quoted as ‘wanting women to be able to leave the boutique dressed from head to foot’, he was a world leader in making this a reality.
Dior’s earlier designs, particularly those created during his ten years as head of the House, are now rare and highly collectible pieces. Often delicate and produced in relatively small numbers, surviving jewels in original or good vintage condition from this era take considerably more skill and effort to find.
As with every other part of the eponymous House, Dior jewellery is flamboyant, distinctive, intricately detailed and marvellously innovative. And there appears to be no let up from the great man’s successors. Over the last seven decades, beautiful and inspired pieces have adorned every collection to hit the world’s catwalks, confirming that Dior’s jewellery legacy is alive and kicking.
Love From Jennifer X