Paloma Picasso’s Signature Pieces Take Pride of Place Among 170 Years of the Famed Jeweler’s Remarkable Creations
By John Loring
Tiffany & Co.’s foundations – from its humble, mid-19th-century debut in the world of jewels to its pre-eminent position in that world today – have always been quality of design, materials, and craftsmanship. The greatest of these is of, course, design, and Tiffany & Co. remains forever grateful to the dazzling talents of its leading designers, who shaped its history as they validated the firm’s governing principle, of which it is justly proud: “Good Design Is Good Business.”
In October 1980, to answer fashion’s rekindled passion for color and opulence, Tiffany’s introduced the generously scaled and brightly colored jewels of Paloma Picasso.
Paloma Picasso was neither a newcomer to jewelry design nor to the international fashion world nor to the concept of glamour. As a teenager in the late 1960s, she collected ethnic jewelry (principally of Hindu and Islamic origin) or glass jewelry from her much-loved and much-frequented Venice. A friend who co-owned the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche store in Venice added Saint Laurent clothes from the stockroom to her wardrobe. By the age of 19 she had met Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner Pierre Bergé, and the following year, 1970, she began designing her first fashion jewelry for them.
Ten years later, after formal schooling in jewelry design, she was invited to join Tiffany & Co. by the company’s new design director, John Loring, the same friend who 14 years earlier had run the Saint Laurent boutique in Venice.
Rigorously avoiding anything in design that hinted of fine-art references, which would inevitably risk unfair comparisons with her father, Paloma Picasso nonetheless encouraged the boldness associated with his Spanish background in her designs, which were aggressively chic and strikingly elegant.
Uncompromisingly stylized and high-fashion oriented, Picasso jewelry, while maintaining the Tiffany aesthetic of simple pared down, tailored forms and unornamented surfaces, went in a different direction from the sensual, organic, and subtly perfected simplicity of Elsa Perreti’s volumetric forms. Paloma Picasso’s signature was seen in basic human markings rather than symbols – in X’s, scribbles, zigzags, and graffiti, all boldly sculpted in gold with flat, mirror-polished surface planes. This played off her lifelong taste for bright assertive colors, ample forms, and highly polished reflective surfaces that was manifest in massive gold jewels punctuated by lavishly scaled colored gemstones: bright pink tourmalines, still brighter orange fire opals, chrome-green tourmalines, acid-blue zircons, or clear, sky-blue aquamarines. The success of such colorful brashness would have delighted Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Washington Post reporter Nina Hyde, wrote about Paloma Picasso under the heading “Defining a Fashion Boom” in 1988, eight years after her Tiffany debut, when she had become a world-famous jewelry designer: “Picasso believes that one’s Hispanic background often comes through in fashion design. With the great Balenciaga, for example, ‘there was a certain grandeur. A certain elegance. With Spain it is always a mix of something very extreme and also very retenue … Strict and opulent at the same time.’ For Picasso herself, ‘there is always an element of classicism in everything that I do, mixed with an element of fun.’ It shows in the whoppingly popular squiggles and crosses in the jewelry she has designed for Tiffany’s.”
With Paloma, the marriage of fashion and jewelry design was always exuberant, dramatic, and incontestably glamorous, and the Paloma Picasso look provided its own fashion leadership throughout the 1980s and 1990s. And even if, as Paloma once commented, “I resist fashion; I don’t like its relentless pace,” her jewels are as much in pace with high fashion as the haute couture she herself wears with them.
Excerpted from Tiffany Style, by John Loring, Tiffany & Co.’s design director since 1979.