Elsa Peretti, Legendary Jewelry Designer, Dies at 80

Elsa Peretti
Photo by Jack Mitchell via Getty Images

On Thursday night, six months after announcing a sabbatical “for health reasons,” the iconic jewelry designer Elsa Peretti died at her home in Catalonia, Spain. The 80-year-old was so influential in her 50-plus year career that some have gone so far as to say that just one of her signature designs, the Tiffany & Co. bone cuff, changed jewelry forever.

Born in Florence, Peretti worked as a ski instructor in Gstaad before studying interior design in Milan. A year after moving back to Italy, she left it behind for Barcelona to pursue her burgeoning modeling career. (Her father, the wealthy, conservative founder of an oil company, promptly cut her off.) Before long, she had become a muse to the designers Halston, with whom she’d spend hard-partying nights at Studio 54, and Ralph Rucci. Helmut Newton came to adore Peretti, too; his Elsa Peretti in Bunny Costume photo is now considered emblematic of the ‘70s era.

Photo by Ron Galella via Getty Images

Through her modeling and social circles, Peretti eventually found a path to design. She was just 27 when she developed a relationship with Tiffany & Co. that ended up defining her career.

It was at Tiffany that Peretti established her aesthetic: clean, fluid, and abstract shapes inspired by nature, and so sculptural that André Leon Talley once described her as the “Brancusi of silver,” her go-to material. And while the bone cuff was Peretti’s most prominent hallmark, she had others, too: bean shapes, horseshoe belts, open heart necklaces, and the Scorpion collection. The collections she churned out over the course of more than half a century generated eight percent of Tiffany & Co.’s net sales (roughly $328 million) worldwide.

Meanwhile, Peretti developed a wide range of fans, from women attracted to her relatively affordable five-diamond necklaces to Liza Minnelli. The singer-actor devoted her wedding registry to Peretti designs, which include functional objects like dish wear, and happens to be wearing some in all three of her most recent Instagrams.

“People are forgotten so fast,” Peretti told Town & Country in 2019. “I want to survive.” Her legacy will no doubt continue to thrive: According to Tiffany, the brand sold a single Peretti jewel or object per minute in 2019. Read some of the tributes to Peretti, both as a brand name and a woman, here.