In the '60s Courreges shocked and bemused the fashion world with helmets, plastic disc chain mail, and PVC tunics. This was the avantgarde side of the swinging generation, but their mothers were meanwhile carving out their own fashion agenda. These were ladies decked in colourful Pucci and covered in Ken Lane's latest creations. Much of this type of jewelry had strong influences from ethnic origins, from India, Africa, and South America, and one of the style imports was beads strand upon strand of them. The 1960s was in fact the first time that beads had been used on this scale since Edwardian times.
Almost every major manufacturer produced line after line of bead-inspired jewelry. But where the United States had taken the lead in jewelry design since the 1930s, this was once again the forte of European designers, especially the Italians, including firms such as Coppola e Toppo, OrneIla, and Canesi. In the creative hands of such designers, beads flourished: they adorned the front of the neck and also the back, becoming something more than just a neck adornment. The bead quickly became something far more than just a bauble: it began to have a life of its own, and in the plural they became sculpture.
The undoubted royalty of 1960s creators in beads was the firm of Coppola e Toppo, based in Milan. It was started by Lydia Coppola, who added her last name (from her marriage), Toppo, to the firm a couple of years after its beginning, when her brother Bruno Coppola joined. He had particularly strong contacts in the United States and the flourishing of the firm was in a great part due to this. The two illustrations here show an American bead necklace from Vendome and another from Coppola e Toppo; one can see at a glance the contrast between the traditional American approach and that of the Italians.
Vendome Necklace & Earrings, mid-1960s
Vendome was the trademark of the Coro Company and was their premium line of costume jewelry. Jewelry under the Vendome name, which was in use from the mid-1940s onward, was more expensive and generally higher quality than their other productions. Although the colours of this necklace might seem a bit gaudy, they were the height of fashion in the 1960s.
Coppola e Toppo Necklace, mid-1960s
The early pieces by this firm were characterized by the use of Murano glass beads and cut-crystal beads. These locally sourced materials were then arranged in very classical and tailored forms, giving their pieces an unmistakable look. This example is very restrained compared with their usual creations, but their rarity means that the piece illustrated is a little more likely to be found.
Coppola e Toppo enjoyed collaborations with many of the day's most important couturiers, such as Jacques Fath and Elsa Schiaparelli, and with Pucci in the '60s.
Vendome Pin, mid-1960s
Vendome made many design innovations and pitched their jewelry toward the upper end of the market. Among some of the more interesting designs was a series of six brooches designed by Helen Marion in the style of Georges Braque (1882-1963). Illustrated here is one of the six (valued at £200-350/ $340-595), on a marine theme. A textured gilded frame surrounds an enamelled background in deep sea blue. Surmounting this is an abstract motif evocative of encrusting coral and fishing paraphernalia. Other designs include a Picassoesque silhouette, twin swimming fish, and doves of peace. These brooches are exceedingly rare, and a complete set of all six would be highly desirable.