In 1959, a handsome young Italian man in his early twenties migrated to New York City and, within a decade, would make an indelible mark on the world of high jewelry…
“Jewelry has to be part of a person. It enters into the psychology of the person, it always represents love, affection — all this kind of symbolism. That is why jewelry will never die.”
– Aldo Cipullo (1936-1984) in the Calgary Herald, August 30, 1983
In 1959, a handsome young Italian man in his early twenties migrated to New York City and, within a decade, would make an indelible mark on the world of high jewelry and high fashion through his creation of one of the most iconic and recognizable of all jewelry designs. That man was Aldo Cipullo and that creation, the Love bracelet of Cartier, is one of the bestselling jewelry items of all time. Though his life was relatively short, it was marked by great accomplishments and moments of staggering genius that have given him a well-deserved place as one of the most important jewelry designers of the 20th Century.
Having left Italy and an apprenticeship at his father’s silver and costume jewelry factory in Florence to pursue larger ambitions in the jewelry world, Aldo Cipullo was quickly recognized for his talent and employed by both Tiffany & Co. and David Webb. However, creating grandiose jewels in traditional style under the umbrella of these strongly branded companies was ultimately unsatisfying for the young artist and in 1969 he joined the design team at Cartier New York. It was in his first year as a designer that Cipullo created his most iconic piece — the sleekly modern and unisex Love bracelet. In a 1972 article by Marian Christy for the Reading Eagle, Cipullo remarks, “Love has become too commercial, yet life without love is nothing — a fat zero. What modern people want are love symbols that look semi-permanent — or, at least, require a trick to remove. After all, love symbols should suggest an everlasting quality.”
If any item of jewelry has retained an everlasting quality, it is certainly the Love bracelet. Yet, Cipullo was not content to rest his laurels on this one important design. Immediately after the creation of the Love bracelet, he produced the famous “Juste un Clou” — the Nail collection. In keeping with the designer’s thoroughly modern aesthetic, the Nail collection sought its inspiration through the iconography of the manmade world by pulling design focus away from the dainty and feminine to the strongly masculine. The famous piece of this collection is, again, a bracelet which is formed as a single bent nail that wraps around the wrist. In 2012, Cartier produced an exhibition of Cipullo’s work and re-released the Nail bracelet in three colors of gold and a special version pave set entirely with diamonds.
Throughout his tenure at Cartier, Cipullo produced multiple collections characterized by a sense of whimsy paired with a savvy awareness of the world around him. Fish and anchors for the Palm Beach set, gaming symbols such as spades, hearts and clubs about which he remarked in the Reading Eagle, “Of course it’s symbolic. When you’re in love you can win or lose. It’s a game.” Cipullo was so singularly keyed into the pulse of popular cultured that he even designed the “Hamsa Hand” or, the “Hand of the Heart” pendant for Ellen Burstyn to wear in the blockbuster film “The Exorcist.” His work was simultaneously avant-garde and elegant as in the Circles collection which paired gold with carved semi-precious materials such as lapis, jade, carnelian and onyx for a style that was distinctly different than the platinum, pearls and diamonds that marked the previous Mid-Century period.
From the Beladora Archives: Cartier Aldo Cipullo Black Onyx Circles Pendant
Aldo Cipullo left Cartier to establish his own atelier in 1974. As a freelance artist, Cipullo continued to produce high end, popular jewelry such as a renowned men’s collection (which won him the prestigious Coty award), a costume collection for Trifari and cheeky dollar sign jewelry – about which Cipullo remarked that the dollar sign “[was] the electric eye that reflects the mood of this country.” (Telegraph-Herald. Nov. 28, 1975). In 1978, the American Gem Society commissioned a limited collection to feature American gemstones such as Montana sapphires, diamonds from Arkansas and Arizona turquoise. The 31-piece grouping utilizing important precious and semi-precious stones toured the United States before being donated to the Smithsonian Museum’s impressive mineralogical collection. Yet, financial success and international acclaim were not enough for this ambitious designer. He planned to publish a book showcasing the development of this collection that would be used as a sort of guidebook for the future jewelry students he hoped would come to study at Aldo Cipullo, ltd. Unfortunately, this dream never came to fruition.
From the Beladora Archives: Cartier Aldo Cipullo Carnelian Bracelet
Aldo Cipullo died of a double heart attack in 1984 at the age of 48. His death was mourned by the hip, the Hollywood set and the high-end fashion world alike and in 1988 the Men’s Fashion Association paid Cipullo tribute when it renamed its Lulu Award for excellence in fashion journalism to the Aldo Award. Today, the legacy of this larger-than-life designer lives on in his perennially popular designs — jewelry that has gained permanence in a mercurial global culture.