Jill Krementz Photo Journal — Remembering Elsa Peretti

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Elsa Peretti models her most dazzling design — a diamond-studded gold chain — at $1,000 a yard.

Elsa Peretti died at home last week at the age of 80. Born in Florence, the daughter of a well-to-do Roman family, she had been living for the last few years in Sant Marti Vell, a village outside of Barcelona.

Ms. Peretti began her career as a model for Halston in the ‘60s and ‘70s until 1974 when the clothing designer introduced her to Walter Hoving, the Chairman of Tiffany’s. 

“The timing was perfect,” said Hoving. “We were looking for someone who could make jewelry that women could wear with jeans and sweaters as well as with ball gowns.”

Elsa Peretti became one of world’s most famous jewelry designers creating timeless collections for the company. She was honored with a Coty Award in 1974 and an exhibition at London’s British Museum in 1979.

Although her work included tableware and accessories, Peretti was best known for her contour bracelets, snake-head chains, belt buckles and Diamonds by the Yard. Among her most popular items were pendants — the Open Heart and The Bean. Another pendant, a leather cord, held  a tiny vase that could hold both water and a single flower.

“The sensation of how a piece feels, when held, is as important to me as the fluidity of how it looks” were the words that guided her career.


Peretti with her friends, artist Joe Eula and designer, Halston. Photographed by Jill Krementz in Halston’s apartment on January 30th, 1974.
Lunch with Joe Eula and Halston. Those are Baby Jane Holzer’s blond tresses in lower left foreground.
Shirley Ferro, Carole Mallory, Betsy Theodoracopulos, Halston, Berry Berenson Perkins, and Elsa Peretti. New York City, November 11, 1974.
A passerby encounters Betsy Theodoracopulos and Elsa Peretti.

Peretti at Tiffany & Co.

In 1974, Peretti’s silver jewelry was an important addition to Tiffany’s.


Tiffany’s president Henry Platt (1974) with Ms. Peretti.
Peretti visiting Tiffany’s design department.


Elsa Peretti at home in New York City

“What I want is not to become a status symbol, but to give beauty at a price. A big diamond necklace is nouveau riche, really. People who have wealth a long time don’t wear such things.”
At home, clad in a Haston caftan and one of her best-selling designs. The snake’s head acts as a clasp, which opens up and and allows the necklace to be worn at different lengths.
“I can hold a cup of sake on a full moon in Japan, and the reflection of the moon on that little cup can make me feel so enthusiastic about beauty. That one good, magical moment can give me enough to create other things like the teardrop earring or a necklace.”
Not everyone would want a desk this low to the ground.
Elsa with her King Charles spaniels, Hiro (on the floor) and Nicola (in the air).
Her longtime boyfriend Alexander Reino is on the bed.
Elsa posing with her snake belt, her boyfriend and her cactus.

“I hate that impeccable, perfectly perfect look, all matched and pre-arranged. Style is to be simple.”

This Photo Journal is dedicated to my daughter Lily Vonnegut who has dubbed wearing Elsa Peretti’s Bean and Open Heart “a rite of passage” for young women.

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