Exceptional designs never go out of style, and some get even better with age. This is particularly true when it comes to jewelry designs, which are often heirlooms that get passed down from one generation to the next. This article is the first in a series that will highlight iconic jewelry pieces that are stylish, enduring, and investment-worthy.
The design: Verdura’s Maltese Cross Cuff
The history: In the 1930s, Duke Fulco di Verdura pioneered a new concept in precious jewelry with his bold and colorful, Byzantine-inspired Maltese cross brooches that he christened the “Theodora” and “Ravenna.” The aristocratic designer gave them to the famous fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who wore them with aplomb. However, it wasn’t until he took a pair of slightly mismatched Maltese cross brooches with multicolored gems and placed them on two large, white enamel cuffs that this design became famous. He gave these striking cuffs to his friend and muse Coco Chanel, who made them part of her signature style. Known for layering precious pieces and costume jewelry, the fashion icon often wore these cuffs with her statement-making trousers—thus, the power cuff was born.
Why it has endured: “The Maltese cross began its reemergence into fashion after WWI. Women thought men’s war-medal imagery worn as pins would make stylish contradictions,” says Ward Landrigan, Verdura’s CEO. “Verdura and his friend Coco Chanel took this concept into popular culture, reintroducing this yellow-gold color in the face of Art Deco, creating a minor revolution in the world of fine jewelry. Chanel’s original Maltese Cross Cuffs—created by Verdura in the early 1930s—became an icon of style which still influences design to this day.”
“Cuffs convey confidence,” Landrigan continues. “Worn separately or in pairs, they can create a bold, powerful look. You see this reflected in images going back to ancient civilizations.”
Who wears it today: The Maltese Cross Cuffs remain Verdura’s most enduring signature style and are frequently worn by celebrities and today’s style icons, including Sofia Coppola, Naomi Watts, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Since the original Maltese Cross Cuffs were created in the ’30s, Verdura made a number of variations—from everyday styles to diamond-encrusted models—that are recreated in limited numbers today.
“The Maltese cross has been expressed in differing degrees of boldness, and for our 75th anniversary 2 years ago, we went back to the original Byzantine inspiration—the 6th-century mosaic of Empress Theodora—for the motif,” says Landrigan. “This fall, we introduced a cuff originally made for Coco Chanel and not seen in 80 years: the Ravenna. It eschews traditional symbolism, splashing contrasting colors across the cuff in a seemingly unrestrained manner.”