Majors

Elsa Peretti, a One-of-a-Kind in Jewelry Design, Dies at 80

MajorsMar 22, 2021

Elsa Peretti, a One-of-a-Kind in Jewelry Design, Dies at 80

Peretti started off modeling and designing for Halston before joining Tiffany in 1974, where she created modern, timeless jewelry.

20210322_Elsa Peretti hero.jpg
Elsa Peretti was a model, jewelry designer and humanitarian best known for the sleek, timeless designs she created over decades at Tiffany & Co. She died last week at age 80. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co.)
Sant Martí Vell, Spain—Elsa Peretti, the famed jewelry designer whose seamless creations will never go out of style, died Thursday of natural causes in the village near Barcelona, Spain where she lived.

She was 80. 

Born May 1, 1940 in Florence, Italy, Peretti was the daughter of Italian oil magnate Ferdinando Peretti and Maria Luisa Pighini.

She was educated in Rome and Switzerland but left home at 21, something that wasn’t often done in Italy at that time.

In a video from 1990 created to coincide with an FIT exhibition honoring the designer, Peretti reads from a letter she wrote to her father when she left home, telling him she was a “major adult” now and “free.”

She moved to Barcelona and started modeling.

In 1968, she relocated to New York City to further her career and made friends with a Studio 54-going crowd that included designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, Andy Warhol and Halston.

Her first collection was shown in 1969 alongside the collection of her friend di Sant’ Angelo but it was Halston who became one of the most important influences in her life, according to the video.

She modeled for the fashion designer and designed the sleek vessels that held Halston’s perfume and cosmetics.

In 1974, Halston introduced her to executives at Tiffany & Co., the start of an exclusive collaboration that spanned her entire career and produced countless best-selling designs that are still popular today.

As Peretti put it in the video: “I did something for fun and became a success.”

In late 2012, following tense negotiations, the jeweler and the designer struck a new deal that extended their partnership until 2033 and netted Peretti a one-time payment of more than $47 million, plus annual royalty payments of at least $450,000.

Tiffany also vowed to continue to promote Peretti’s jewelry, and to give it a set amount of showcase space and display it online.

In the video for the FIT exhibition, the designer talked about the inspirations behind some of her most well-known designs.

A friend from Texas gifted Peretti a rattlesnake tail for good luck, which led to her snake design; a trip to India and a love for tiny antique handbags inspired her range of mesh jewelry; and the 17th century Capuchin church cemetery she visited in childhood with her nanny was the inspiration for her bone cuff.

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A medium version of Elsa Peretti’s Bone Cuff in 18-karat yellow gold ($16,000). This particular cuff was designed to be worn on the left wrist. (Photo courtesy of Tiffany & Co.)

The Bone Cuff marked its 50th anniversary last year, and Tiffany celebrated by creating a collection of limited-edition and one-of-a-kind versions of some of Peretti’s most recognizable pieces, her mesh bibs and snake lariats among them. 

The iconic, sculptural design also recently got some modern screen time, donned by actress Gal Gadot in last year’s Wonder Woman sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984.” 

Peretti curated the reissue collection herself. Some of the designs included hadn’t been sold in two decades.

“I’m happy to see designs that are so important to me reinvigorated in this way, made even more modern and relevant,” she said in a statement released for the launch of the collection. 

“This is part of the secret of my things—they are still valid.”


Tiffany released the reissue collection in October 2020.

That same month, Peretti announced via her Instagram that she would take a sabbatical for health reasons.

She directed her followers to the Instagram account for The Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation.

Launched in 2000 in honor of Peretti’s father, who died in 1977, the foundation contributes to a wide range of projects, with a special focus on education, children’s rights, and women’s rights. 

Peretti won numerous awards over the course of her career, including the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award for Jewelry (1971), the President’s Fellow Award from the Rhode Island School of Design (1981), and the Spirit of Achievement Award from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1982).  

In 1990, she had her first major U.S. exhibition, the FIT show celebrating her 15 years with Tiffany.  

She also received an honorary doctorate from FIT in 2001 and Tiffany established the first endowed professorship at the school in her honor, the Elsa Peretti Professorship in Jewelry Design. 

In the video, Peretti revealed the secret behind creating so many well-received, timeless designs—she took her time, and she focused.

“Think about when you design. It’s as simple as that—think, not the phone ringing, you think about what you do. It’s so simple.” 

Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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