Elsa Peretti

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Elsa Peretti
Born (1940-05-01) 1 May 1940 (age 75)
Education Volpicelli School, Rome
Occupation Jewelry designer, fashion model
Website www.nandoperettifound.org

Elsa Peretti is a jewelry designer, philanthropist and former fashion model.

Early life[edit]

Peretti was born in Florence, Italy on May 1, 1940, as the youngest daughter of Ferdinando Peretti and Maria Luisa Pighini. Her father Ferdinando Peretti (1896-1977) was a businessman who built Anonima Petroli Italiana (API) into one of Italy’s leading oil companies.

Educated in Rome and Switzerland, Peretti initially made her living teaching Italian and working as a ski instructor in the Swiss mountain village of Gstaad, before moving to Milan in 1963 to pursue a degree in interior design and to work for the architect Dado Torrigiani.

One year later she decided to embark on a new career path as a fashion model. After having spent her first couple of years in Barcelona, she followed Wilhemina model agency’s suggestion to move to New York in 1968. While modelling in Manhattan, she began creating new jewelry styles for a handful of top fashion designers, i.e. Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Giorgio di Sant’Angelo and, since 1974, exclusively for Tiffany & Co. In 1999 Peretti explained how it all started to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "In 1969, I found a tiny flower vase in a junk shop and was inspired to design a bottle on a chain for the designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo", before she went on to design belts for Halston – whose minimalism was a touch stone for Peretti.

By the time Peretti joined Tiffany & Co. as an independent designer, she had already received the 1971 Coty Award for her "extension of jewelry into the realm of fashion sculpture" and had her first appearance in Vogue. In 1972 Bloomingdale’s, one of New York’s landmark shopping stores, opened a dedicated Peretti boutique.

Tiffany & Co.[edit]

In 1974 Elsa joins Tiffany & Co. In 2012 Tiffany and Elsa Peretti extended their partnership for 20 Years.

Permanent Collections[edit]

British Museum[edit]

In 2009 the British Museum acquired 30 of Peretti’s creations for its 20th century collection.

The British Museum describes Peretti’s capacity to produce objects, which come from different parts of the world as unique, noting that they combine "superb craftsmanship and symbolic meaning in a modern age".[1]

The display is called "Continuity and Change", highlighting the museum’s wish to show cross-cultural influences and techniques. It clearly demonstrates that the collaboration between Peretti, her artisans and Tiffany is an example of excellence in contemporary design based on an international cooperation.

In addition to the British Museum, Elsa Peretti’s designs are also in the permanent collections of the following museums:


Some of the collections by Peretti include (all quotes by Elsa Peretti):

Diamonds by the yard

"In 1974, when I began to work with Tiffany, I was tempted but shy about working with precious stones. I’d never done it before. The personality of an even 0.3 carat is strong. The initial idea came from my Aunt Nina’s wedding ring. It was 1 carat, set in silver with a gold band. My objective is to design according to one’s financial possibilities. Then, the rest was easy. Tiffany sold in 1976, a single diamond on a gold chain for $89. Adding different sizes – 1 carat being the biggest – my creation became Diamonds by the yard."[5]

Bone cuff

"My love for bones has nothing macabre about it. As a child, I kept on visiting the cemetery of a seventeenth century Capuchin church with my nanny. All the rooms were decorated with human bones. My mother had to send me back, time and again, with a stolen bone in my little purse. Things that are forbidden remain with you forever. Later on, I was free to collect bones, so at my leisure I designed a world of beautiful shapes which have remained with me ever since."[5]

Open Heart

"I really think that the idea for the best-selling item of my collection sprang from a large void in a Moore sculpture. No one else saw a heart there. Just me. The shape was there, in metal. What I couldn’t work out was how to hang it from the chain. Mr. Kalich, then Head of Tiffany jewelry, suggested with his strong German accent: "Why don’t we put it through?". I was so overjoyed that I gave my first model to his fiancée."[5]


"To me the appeal of this natural shape has remained unchanged through the years. And for a long time now, I have kept its smoothness at the forefront of my mind while I design. Variations are easy: on a lighter, its curve becomes steeper, taking on a natural meaning. On a woman’s purse, the dent for the hand doesn’t detract from the primary shape of a bean, a seed, the origin of life."[5]


"Portofino in the Sixties was magic. All the women had stunning figures in shockingly beautiful Pucci silk, each one of them with a gardenia in her hand. While the others sat sipping their drinks, I lingered for hours in the company of my own gardenia, nursing its dying soul. I yearned to keep it alive. Together with the flower vase I found in a junk shop, this inspired me to design, for Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, something in which one could carry and preserve the flower. Of all the bottles I crafted, the first was the most magical."[5]


"Inspired by the beautiful atmosphere in Jaipur, I thought about a gold bra; the object was then painstakingly executed there. Back in New York, the idea progressed with the great help and generosity of Sam Beizer, teacher at F.I.T. The object was shown in a Halston collection; Tiffany was swamped with calls from people dying to get a gold bra. I was shocking at the time, but Walter Hoving (Head of Tiffany & Co. from 1955 to 1980) just smiled. The essential end product of those old, splendid times in Jaipur is a small gold scarf. Sometimes it’s great to feel "una piccola garibaldina". A tremendous amount of work and research went into this little scarf."[5]

Snakes and Scorpions

"It’s not that I love snakes, but I’ve seen so many of them that I really think they’re beautiful. The approach to the idea dates from a long time back. In Lausanne, a Texan guy gave me the endpiece of a rattlesnake tail as a good luck charm. I thought Americans had to be brave, having these kind of snakes in their backyards. When William Chaney (at the time CEO of Tiffany & Co.) asked me how I got the idea, I told him about the gift from Lausanne, to which he replied that he too chased a lot of snakes. I kept the object with me for many years. The expertise of excellent craftsmen, and my will, brought the snake to life in silver and gold. While working in Sant Martì Vell, Spain I came across a lot of scorpions. The animals are incredibly attractive, with fascinating mechanics. Strangely, they are never around when I need to review something in my design. I have to confess that I had to sacrifice a few. I feel sorry."[5]

Lacquer, Silk, Bamboo and Leather

"The impact I felt on my first trip to Japan in 1969 was the speed and technology of a train from Tokyo to Kyoto and the exquisite craftsmanship of the things I saw. After joining Tiffany in 1974, I became free to convert that feeling into reality. With Yasuyoshi Morimoto’s help and patience, like a capricious child I managed to persuade the best craftsmen to manufacture some of my forms. Behind them lie centuries of culture and a long process of loving production. Delicately perfect bamboo baskets are the product of dexterous hands, linked with the tea ceremony from ancient times. Ribbons and fine nets of silk are woven on the same looms that have supplied the NO theatre for centuries. Sometimes a group of craftsmen, who worked in different and distant towns, all contributed to the same piece of work. The object traveled throughout the wonderful geography of Japan, over a road of perfection, led by the wisdom of my friends, among them David Kidd, a writer. I have a deep feeling for all of these artisans, and it delights me to sit in Kyoto drinking tea, watching a vague idea come beautifully through, while the children play in the back."[5]


"Designing jewelry and other objects in the form of a fruit is a mean of being close to nature when it is far away, above all in New York, "The Big Apple". The apple. Ever since the days of Eve, this smooth, round object has embodied the eternal temptation of women. Like a magnet, its appeal has drawn us to it. Just as my own Apple lured me. My duty as a designer is to crystallize both the temptation and also the image of New York. New York. I came to this city long before the phrase became topical. I love the city, because it destroys me. I also love it because I know it loves me. Here, then, is my small tribute to it: apples in black jade and rock crystal, pure and clear, like the heart of New York open to those who arrive from outside."[5]

From the sea

"My relationship with the sea is total. As a little girl, I searched for beautiful shells on the beach. At that time, beaches were more generous, no plastic, just polished glasses and small shells. I was also very lonely. What instilled my profound respect for the ocean was to dive deep into it, to feel myself inside it and at the same time under it. Like an intruder, conscious of every movement of my breathing as the oxygen from the tanks filled my lungs, I watched my friends fishing, fascinated by the things I saw. The fleeting, short-lived miracle never ceased to amaze me. And now I pay homage to those hours beneath the waves by recording some of them in my small portraits."[5]

From the sea - Aegean


"I love nature, but I try to change it a little bit, not to copy it"[5]


In her Wave collection, Peretti recreates this experience with objects for the home sculpted in fluid lines that evoke the majesty of the undulating sea.


"Coming back from Mexico, I felt very excited about a leather horse girth I’d seen. The year was 1969, and my idea of making a belt this shape, in silver, was welcomed enthusiastically by my friends. Brought to life at last, that belt became a success. Through Halston, many important women came to wear it and twenty years on, Liza still does, on a Vogue cover. That’s a great compliment. I designed many great buckles with the same soft leather approach, a silver stud allowing for colors to be changed. I love all of them, but the horse, that handsome, strong, noble animal, inspired my first one."[5]

Objects for the home - Thumbprint

"The very form of my objects is dictated by common sense, which subtly insinuates how to grasp the single object. Time and use give them a certain shape, one that I learn from looking at them. What most delights me are the smooth contours the objects gradually acquire as they are worn through everyday use. My only message is to anticipate these forms, in which I firmly believe. In the handle of the jug there is a hollow, clearly for the thumb. The glasses are marked with fingerprints. The bowls have a groove around the edge to fit the hand, which also serves to hold the bowl more securely. The challenge is each material I deal with, as well as having to cope with differing dimensions. It’s relaxing to work on a scale which contrasts with the jewelry."[5]

Flatware Padova

"The shape of my objects has to be clear. I want them to be simple and natural."[5]

Sign and Symbols

"Maybe it was a feeling of being protected that gave rise to my need to design a Madonna. As a child, I had a little gold chain, given to me by my grandmother the day I was born. But then I lost it, and wore no more symbols of my religion around my neck. When I decided to design a Madonna, I visualized the little medal I had lost such a long time ago. Bit by bit, as I carved the wood and ivory, a line began to emerge, giving me a feeling of protection, which symbolized my Catholic belief. I approached the cross in many different ways. The true meaning is the soul of the small object you wear, whatever your religion."[5]

Alphabet, Zodiacs and Eternal Circle

Other collections by Peretti include:

  • Colors by the Yard and Pearls by the yard
  • Other cuffs and cufflinks
  • Jade
  • Rock-Crystal
  • From the Sea - Cat Island

Catalonia, Spain[edit]

In 2013, Peretti was the first non-Catalan person to be awarded the National Culture Award by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CoNCA). She has had links with Catalonia since the 1960s and has had established relations with artists of her generation. She has provided a great deal of support to cultural, scientific, humanitarian and educational initiatives and for human rights through the Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation and through the Spanish Elsa Peretti Foundation, always combining past and present, tradition and innovation. Through the Elsa Peretti Foundation she has promoted the visual arts and fostered the consolidation, protection and dissemination of the historical, artistic, cultural, architectural and craft heritage of Catalonia. In the last year she has worked on projects such as the renovation of the interior of the church of Sant Martì Vell, the management of the sixteenth-century historical documents of the town, the conservation of the photographic archive of Oriol Maspons and the conservation of the Roman city of Empúries.[6]


The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation (NaEPF)[edit]

Elsa Peretti developed over time an active concern over the future of our planet. In this process, two major challenges stand out as the core of her struggle to give concrete help to our future: the defense of environment and the empowerment of children through the protection of their right to education and health. At the beginning of the new millennium, she established what she considers the most ambitious achievement of her life, which is putting together a staff of motivated people to form a charitable foundation able to take up these challenges: The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation.

A major pillar of the NaEPF philanthropic strategy consists in projects aiming at the promotion of human and civil rights, with a special emphasis on the right to education, children's rights, and women's rights and dignity. Over time, The NaEPF has also supported the requests of unrepresented people, and oppressed minorities for the defense of their right to exist and the preservation of their culture.

Furthermore, every year an important part of the Foundation’s endowments are destined to the promotion of physical and mental health. A large number of medical and scientific research projects have been financed through dozens of grants in partnerships with some of the most important Italian and International Universities and Research Institutes. For the same purposes, the Foundation also supports more specific types of intervention, such as the building of entire hospitals or sanitary facilities, and the purchase of technological and medical equipment in advanced, as well as poor countries.

The Foundation’s commitment for issues concerning the environment and wildlife conservation has remained unaltered over time, funding several public awareness campaigns, and projects for the conservation of endemic species.

Over the past few years, the Foundation has also become increasingly engaged in the promotion of culture and the arts. From individual scholarships granted to talented artists, to the funding of public exhibitions and concerts, and to the recovery and restoration of ancient artistic works; today, the number and typology of activities in favor of the arts is on the increase.[7]


Among the most prominent recognitions to her career, there are the:

  • American Fashion Critics Coty award, 1971;
  • President's Fellow award, Rhode Island School of Design, 1981;
  • The Spirit of Achievement Award from the Albert Einstein College, 1982;
  • Fashion Group "Night of the Stars" award, 1986;
  • Cultured Pearl Industry award, 1987;
  • Council of Fashion Designers of America's Accessories Designer of the Year, 1996.
  • Elsa Peretti Professorship In Jewelry Design: In 2001, Tiffany & Co. established the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its successful and rewarding collaboration with Elsa Peretti, Tiffany & Co. created a perpetual fund for faculty salary support in the Jewelry Design Department. At Ms. Peretti’s request, the endowment is established in honor of her long friendship and professional association with Samuel Beizer, founding chairman of FIT’s Jewelry Design Department.[8]
  • 2013 The National Prize of Culture by the Catalan Government, which is awarded annually to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves for their outstanding contribution in their respective cultural areas.[9]
  • 2015: Guardó JORGC (Col·legi Oficial de Joiers, d'Orfebres, de Rellotgers i de Gemmòlegs de Catalunya) en reconeixement a la trajectòria global[10]


  • Grande Ufficiale, Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (Order of Merit of the Italian Republic)[11]
  • Grand Cross pro Merito Melitensi (Order of Malta)[12]
  • Honorary member of the Circolo di San Pietro[13]


Notable exhibitions include:

  • Fifteen of My Fifty with Tiffany, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1990;
  • Retrospective, Tiffany's stores worldwide, 2001
  • British Museum: display in Room 2 of Peretti-designed jewellery, accessories and tableware from Tiffany & Co., 2009

External links[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "British Museum - Peretti". www.britishmuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  2. ^ "Collections Search". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 2016-01-12. 
  3. ^ "Elsa Peretti, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston". 
  4. ^ "Indianapolis Museum of Art Collection Search". collection.imamuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-01-12. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Peretti, Elsa (1990). Fifteen of my Fifty - Catalogue. New York: Fashion Institute of Technology. 
  6. ^ "CoNCA Consell Nacional de la Cultura i les Arts". www.conca.cat. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  7. ^ "Nando Peretti Foundation | About the Foundation". www.nandoperettifound.org. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  8. ^ "Endowed Funds | Fashion Institute of Technology". www.fitnyc.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  9. ^ "CoNCA Consell Nacional de la Cultura i les Arts". www.conca.cat. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  10. ^ "GUARDONS JORGC 2015 - JORGC". www.jorgc.org. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  11. ^ "le Onorificenze - Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana". www.quirinale.it. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  12. ^ "Order of Malta". www.orderofmalta.int. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  13. ^ "circolosanpietro.org - Home". www.circolosanpietro.org. Retrieved 2016-01-08.