Like her arch rival Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli pioneered the idea of fashion-oriented jewelry that owed nothing to the intrinsic value of its materials. Her earliest pieces, like her clothing designs, were influenced by the Surrealist movement of the 1930s. Celebrated artists such as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau were collaborators in designing, among other things, telephone-shaped earrings, peapod necklaces, and jewelry decorated with rhinestone renditions of the human eye.
Schiaparelli went for the zany, playful, and sometimes shocking. Surrealist pieces made in Paris in the 1930s are rare museum-quality objects, and their values are astronomical. Most were unsigned and can be attributed to Schiaparelli only by reference to contemporary advertisements or historical archives. Connoisseurs collect heavy enamel pins and clips depicting ostriches, clowns, bagpipes, or hands.
Most of the Schiaparelli jewelry that appears on today's market was manufactured for her in the United States in the late 1940s and '50s. Prices for these remain high and can climb to several thousand pounds for attractive large-scale sets with unusual pastes.
The 1950s taste for showy rhinestone-rich jewelry led to the development of new types of paste. Textured and iridescent stones appeared with emphatically fake colours such as orange, fuchsia, and other shades not found in natural gemstones. The surrealist in Schiaparelli was drawn to these new "fantasy" pastes, and they became the cornerstone of her 1940s American jewelry designs.
Look out for Schiaparelli jewelry with frosted glass leaves or jagged glass chunks that look like ice. Both are highly collectable. Watch out too for her strangely coloured pearls arranged as bunches of grapes. This 1950s line was one of the few that Schiaparelli based on her own legendary 1930s clothing collections.
Sadly, the market for Schiaparelli is complicated by the existence of fakes, both old and new. Period fakes are easier to spot, because the signature plate is rounder and Schiaparelli's name is subtly misspelled, while new fakes appear shinier and lighter in weight than authentic pieces.
Schiaparelli Bracelet, c.1950s
Iridescent "fantasy" pastes are a Schiaparelli trademark. Schiaparelli's love of "fantasy" pastes is evident in this "ice crystal" bracelet, which was originally sold as part of a full parure. Iridescent aurora borealis rhinestones and a pewter-tone setting are typical features. These ice-style pieces are also available in green, red, and amber colour themes.
Schiaparelli Set, c.1950s
Although this design came in the form of complete parure, the bracelets were the real show-stoppers of the sets. At 7.5cm (3in) in width, these beauties displayed more paste on one piece than a whole collection of austere wartime jewels. They were an instant hit and appeared in a range of colours. However, be careful when purchasing a set, because they were briefly copied in the 1990s. Newer pieces are usually gilt and feel very light in weight.
Early Schiaparelli, c.1930s
Influenced by the 1930s Hollywood trend for “antique”-looking jewels, this early Schiaparelli pi n (valued at £250-3505425-595) seems conservative in comparison to the designer’s more surrealistic early designs, and is therefore not as valuable. Collectors would nevertheless appreciate it for its age and rarity. Although most early Schiaparelli pieces were unsigned, a few, such as this pin, bear her name in block lettering. It appears on the reverse on a rectangular plaque. The script signature found on the pieces above and left is more common and is indicative of post-war American manufacture. Watch out for fakes: signature plates on early pieces should match the colour of the overall metalwork.