Friday, June 18, 2021

Dolly Peretti: Remembering Elsa's Jewelry

Photos: Tiffany & Co


When I think of fashion of the 1970's, I think of funky fashion: platform shoes, crazy color clashes based on orange and brown, elephant bells, granny dresses, boho chic and other hippie dippy trends that make me cringe. I must admit  that until the Netflix docu-drama on Halston, I had completely forgotten there was an elegant side of that decade. Along with Halston's relaxed brand of minimalist chic, came the gorgeous sculptural jewelry of his model turned collaborator, Elsa Peretti. Her  jewelry was a huge success particularly among fashionistas in New York City. 

Photo: Tiffany & Co

Born in Italy in 1940, and trained in Interior Design, Elsa Paretti’s career began working as a fashion model in Spain before moving to New York City in 1964. She rose quickly to the top of her field but by 1969, she turned her interest to jewelry design and creating pieces for a handful of her designer friends. Her first was a 2-inch bud vase made of sterling silver suspended on a leather thong necklace, inspired by something she found at a flea market. It soon became a hit and thus it wasn’t long before she was approached by Halston to do the jewelry for his catwalk collections. Vogue magazine described her work as “carved, pure—irresistibly touchable—it has been called jewelry as sculpture, sculpture as jewelry, and the most sensuous jewelry in the work. In 1971 she won the prestigious “Coty Award of Excellence” and a year later, Bloomingdales, one of New York’s iconic department stores, opened a dedicated Peretti corner. In 1974, Peretti signed a contract with Tiffany & Co to design silver jewelry, a material they had not featured in 25 years prior. Within five years, she became the firm’s leading designer whose jewelry attracted a young clientele who saw it as modern, fun and somewhat affordable. Elsa Peretti passed away last March, but her timeless creations live on and continue to be sold at Tiffany’s today. 

For the previous tutorial, if you look closely, you will notice the jewelry my divas are wearing was inspired by Ms. Peretti’s work. I had so much fun creating the cuffs, the snake head belts and the bottles, I decided I would do a separate post just on her jewelry. As you can imagine, I had too much fun and consequently, many (too many) of my girls began placing their orders for cuffs! 

You will need clay for this project. I did try both types: oven baked and the air dried epoxy clay. I had more luck with the latter because I was able to get it relatively thin yet strong. With the oven baked, I had problems with my cuff breaking. But for those of you who either don't have access to the epoxy clay or really don't care to work with it, I encourage you to experiment with the oven baked clay. Maybe you will have more success. One last thing I would like to point out before we get started... the bracelets featured in this post are only for dolls with removable hands. 

FDS dolly version of Elsa Peretti for Tiffany's
Let's start this tutorial with my favorite piece of Elsa Peretti's collection, her "bone cuff." According to "The Cut," there is a funny little story about the inspiration for this piece of jewelry. "As a child, Peretti visited the the cemetery of a 17th-century Capuchin church with her nanny, and the rooms were decorated with human bones, which she would apparently steal for herself as souvenirs. “My mother had to send me back, time and again, with a stolen bone in my little purse,” she said. “Things that are forbidden remain with you forever.”
The original cuff, designed  50 years ago was considered quite sensational for its sensual, sculptural qualities. It's a thick piece of metal sculpted in the anatomical shape of a wrist. There are three varieties: short, medium and full cuff, but the medium and full size bracelets are the most popular. Though sterling silver was THE metal of the 1970's, the cuffs were also featured in gold. 
(Please note: This bracelet only works for dolls with removable hands)
1. Start out with a small round of clay. For a 12" doll, the amount needed is shown here next to a US penny.
2. Roll it out into a length that will go around the wrist of the doll.
3. But first, cover the doll's wrist and lower arm with plastic.
4. Press the roll of clay around the wrist.
5. Using a toothpick or some other small round rod, begin to move the clay upwards and downwards to form a ridge and to draw the shape closer to the arm.
6. Use the toothpick as a rolling pin and continue to shape the mid section until smooth
7. Take a tiny bit of clay and form into a tiny ball. Add it to the cuff at where the wrist bone should be.
8. Use the toothpick to blend the edges of the ball into the rest of the cuff.
9. Continue until everything is fairly smooth.
10. Now take a blunt object and push up the bottom of the cuff.
11. Smooth out the area around the bottom ridge.
12. After the clay has hardened, use a bit of sand paper to smooth out the surface of the cuff.
13. Paint. You can use acrylic. You can use metallic nail laquer. Here I started out with paint, then added a layer of nail lacquer and while it is still tacky, I brushed in some metallic powder. Let dry. Take a soft cloth and buff. 

The Snake Pit

Peretti's silver snake head leather belt was wildly popular in the 1970's as well. It was purely ornamental rather than functional, but what a statement it made! It consisted of a sterling stylized head sold separately from the variety of leather belts on hand. It wasn't until researching material for this post was I aware that there was an entire snake belt! It was such a lovely piece of "jewelry," it was often featured worn around the neck! But let's start of with the accessory I knew...

Snake Head Belt
1. This is essentially a belt buckle which starts out with a small round of clay. Pinch one end of it to form the head of the snake. Flatten the other end.
2. Use a pencil or a sharpened dowel to mark the dent in the head.
3. Shape the back end of the head and be sure to note the overall size. Remember to keep in mind the scale of the doll. 
4. Use the pointed tip to press in eyes on either side of the head.
5. Cut a sliver of leather for the belt. Form a loop on one end and glue down, leaving space enough to thread the other end through this loop. Glue the snake head to the top of the loop. The head should extend over the edge a tiny bit.
When everything is in place and dry, thread the opposite end of the belt through the look. It should look as though the snake is biting his own tail. You can get creative with the choice of materials. On the lower image, I started out with a bit of lizard skin which I foiled in gold to match the gold metallic head I created.

The Snake Belt/Necklace
1. This starts out exactly the same as our snake head leather belt. But instead of the leather belt, I used a length of chain. Repeat all of the steps for making the snake head as shown above. Make a small hook out of 18 gauge wire which you will press into the clay.
2. Then with the pointed edge of a toothpick, carefully press in a tiny bit of class over the embedded hook and smooth.
4. Make sure the hook is under the head. When you are finished, it should look like this.
5. Place a good wad of very strong gel glue, under the snake head and carefully lay the chain on top. Allow to dry. If you would like, you can add a "tail to the opposite end of the chain, then paint the head and the tail in metallic paint.
6. For sure, this can be worn around the waist, OR...wrapped twice around the neck. Place the hook into a link in the chain to hold in place. 
And, of course, dolly can always wear it as a belt...it's intended purpose!!!


The Belts

After the snake-head belt, there were others that gained in popularity. The "Equestrian" was a belt buckle in the shape of a stirrup. 
For this belt, I made two versions, one in craft wire (left) and another out of gold painted clay (right) Both have their advantages and disadvantage. Personally, I like the look of the bent wire, but when it is this thick, the wire is difficult to bend. Whereas with the clay, it is easy to manipulate though not always easy to get the buckle fine enough. Still, at the end of the day, I was happy with both!
1. I think this is about 14 gauge wire. You can shape it around a thick pencil, then bring the ends together. The ends are then bent downwards. As you can see, the ends are at an angle from the rounded portion.
2. With a hammer, flatten the ends (but make sure they remain at an angle).
3. Take a small strip of leather, long enough to wrap around the doll and down, halfway to her knees and cut it into on one end. You will need to cut a sliver out of the middle so there is a space in between. And then, it is up to you to decide, whether you want to glue the buckle on top of the leather strips or glue the belt ends on top of the buckle ends. Either one looks good! 
4. For this one, I've glued the buckle on top of the leather belt. 

Now let's try this using clay for the buckle.

1. Wrap a round pencil or dowel with plastic wrap. Shape of small round of clay into a skinny log and wrap it around the pencil.
2.The ends of the clay log should not meet.
3. Remove from the pencil and use a thinner dowel (or pencil) to shape the clay. The top of the loop has a slightly rounder shape than the base, like a horseshoe. Place the ends close together.
4. Put the horseshoe back on the pencil. Rest the ends on your fingertip and flattened with a toothpick. 
5. Again, position the ends close together. 
6. Paint using acrylic or nail lacquer or a combination of the two. 
(Note: I brushed on a little metallic powder while the nail lacquer was still tacky. Allow to dry then rub in well. You can also apply a clear varnish to set. I've used both the gold and the silver (Fimo) powders!). The gold works so much better than the silver.)
Glue on or under the leather belt you have prepared according to the instructions above.

Open Heart
This is another classic Peretti, though most often sold as a pendant. Five years ago, we did a post "Gifts From the Heart" where we made hearts out of wire which were then made into a necklace or belt.

This time around, we took this one step further by adding  a bit of clay to the wire frame heart then shaping it into the curvier nature of the original. But note, this results in a chunkier heart, so for that reason, I chose to use this as belt buckle instead of a pendant. 


1. For this heart, I've used 18 gauge silver wire. Bend the wire inward as shown then bend again at the bottom of the heart. 
2. Bend the other end inward to meet up with the first curve and cut. Adjust so that the two ends meet. 
3. Don't worry if your heart is not perfect. We will be covering most of it with clay.
4. Add a tiny bit of clay to the wire frame. 
5. Using a toothpick, press the clay into the wire and begin to shape. Take your time, removing the excess. You want to give this a bit of shape but without too much extra bulk.
6. Take note that there is a tiny squiggle at the base of the heart and that the top part of the heart is thinner than the bottom.
7. Paint. Attach a thin leather strap. Fold one end under one side of the heart and glue in place. When dry, wrap the belt around the doll's waist and through the heart.

While researching the material for this post, I came across a necklace I had never seen before. I think this is more modern, but still decided to include it. Essentially, it is a piece of chain with a heart on one side and a pearl on the other. The pearl is threaded through the open middle of the heart.

Rounding Things Out...
These are simply pure shapes. When they are not being worn, they look like nothing. But once on...they are timeless miniature modern works of art, just like the originals.

The Bottle
This is a version of Elsa Peretti's inaugural bottle...the piece of jewelry she designed that set her whole career in motion. The first one was a silver bottle with loops on both sides attached with fine silver chain. The other one, named "the jug." was more teardrop shaped and had a neck wrapped with wire. Given the scale we are faced with, my dolly version has the rounder shape of the original bottle, but is suspended from chain, much in the way of the jug.
1.Begin with a round of clay applied directly to the tip of a toothpick. Be sure the toothpick is piercing the round all the way through but does not puncture the bottom. Shape the bottle. Flatten slightly the body of the bottle, but pinch it in to form the neck.
2. Using a toothpick to create a groove around the base of the neck. From here, you have two options. You can use a pin or needle to poke a hole on one side of the bottle so that you can attach an eye ring and later thread a length of chain through. Or, you can continue on to the next step.
3. Let the bottle harden. Then using a finer wire, wrap around the neck and form a loop on the top. As you are doing this, the wire will come away from the bottle. That's ok. When you are ready, you simply slip the wire back onto the neck.
4. Add a wad of strong, transparent glue to hold the wire in place at the back of the bottle.
1. To wear with a flower (as it was originally made to be worn), find a tiny silk flower. Here, I cut the smallest bud from a bunch of lilies of the valley along with its stem. The span of the flower was still a bit wide so I took a needle and thread and made a couple stitches to make it narrower. 
2. Simply stick the flower into the bottle. And add a fine chain or silk cord.
Here, I have made two bottles. The first has the hole incorporated with an eye ring added. The second was made without the hole but has wire wrapped around the neck. The difference between the two is minimal.

What's lovely about this piece of jewelry is that it can be worn as is, or with a flower depending on the look (modern versus romantic). 

The Teardrop
This is a small yet lovely addition to dolly's jewelry box. You can buy teardrop shaped beads. But you'd have to buy the whole lot of them. Or, you could make your own. The Peretti teardrop is slightly curvier at the tip. But making one is super easy. Again, start out with a tiny round of clay. Pinch the tip into a point. Poke a thick needle through the tip and let dry (or bake if you're using oven baked clay). 


The Donut (Bangles)

This is a super easy, simply versatile piece of jewelry. Peretti's donut was like no other bangle. It was bigger, bolder and widely copied in a plethora of materials from wood to plastic. Dolly can wear one or a whole stack!
(Please note: these bracelets only work for dolls with removable hands.)
1. This begins with a small round of clay. Shape it into a tiny log.
2. Cover the doll's arm with plastic wrap. Carefully wrap the log around the doll's wrist. Smooth the area where the two ends meet.
3. Paint. The original donut was in silver, however more recent versions are also in colors. You can also flatten the donut to make the bangles worn by Grace, the doll pictured above in the white Halston gown.

The Bean
The bean is exactly what the word implies. Peretti was inspired by the....lima bean. For my dolly's clutch bag, it was simple.... I took a lima bean and painted it with silver nail lacquer. Voila! But for the bean pendant, you will need a tiny dot of clay, a bit of silver wire and a small length of silver chain.
1. Begin with a tiny round of clay. Shape into an oval
2. Cut a small length of wire and poke it through the center of the clay. Using round nose pliers, bend each end into a loop.
3. Flatten the oval then make a dent in the center.
4. When you are finished, the bean should look like this. Paint.
5. Measure the length of chain needed and cut in half. Attach each half to the loops on the side of the bean. Attach the closures to the other ends of the chain.

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12 comments:

  1. Waw April, thank you very much for this great article on Elsa Peretti jewelry. I did not know her. On the other hand, I know that the belts and necklaces with snake heads were very popular. But I don't remember what year.
    I really like your advice. it seems so easy to do. I never thought of using clay to make jewelry. it really is a great idea. I would have to try. But my results won't be as fabulous as your jewerlies. 馃榾

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    1. Shasarignis, Thank you so much for your kind words. At the time Elsa Peretti jewelry was popular, I was living in New York. I know it was wildly popular there, but I'm not sure how well it was known outside of that city. I do remember wanting so badly to own a piece. Eventually I bought the lima bean pendant and the open heart pendant for my mother. For myself, I found less expensive copies of the bottle and the cuff. Tiffany's still carries this jewelry after all these years, and it is still quite expensive. But it looks as modern as ever. I am very happy with how the 1/6 scale renditions for the dolls came out!!! Big hugs

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  2. What a great article. You made some really beautiful jewelry for your girls. I'm delighted.

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    1. Thank you Dlubaniny. I have always loved this jewelry. But I must admit, I was quite surprised by the results of my dolly versions. They came out MUCH better than I imagined. And yes, the girls are delighted!!!

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  3. Hi April! I believe Peretti is very well loved in Spain, she did some charitable work here. I'm not very into jewelry, but I recognize some of those pieces. I've seen even some knock-offs of those pieces, like the heart belt, in stores.

    I love the recreations, they look so realistic. It must be quite hard to work in such a small scale, but you nailed it. My favourite is the snake belt, it looks so good!

    Wish you a lovely week ahead.

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    1. Thank you MC. What I did not know until I research the designer for this post, was that Elsa Peretti began her modeling career in Spain, before she moved to New York! So that probably explains why she returned to Spain. I could never afford this jewelry, so I had to be content with the knock-offs, though I did give my mom the heart and the bean pendants. Once I figured out how to make the jewelry, it was easier than I thought (each piece is quite simple) and I am very happy with the results. I love the snake belt as well and so do my dolls. Even though this post is finished...I am still making cuffs and snake head belts for them!!! LOL!!!

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  4. Wow, I love what you made, especially the snake belt/necklace! I never heard of Peretti before, but the designs do look familiar. Thanks for sharing your mini versions tutorials, now I know that I can try something similar for my BJD Holly, who's hands are removable!

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    1. Thank you Linda. At the time when this jewelry was popular, I tended to be the way all New Yorkers are.... they forget the rest of the world. So when I look back, I realized that if you weren't in NY in the 70's, you might not have heard of Elsa Peretti. But her jewelry continues to be a big seller at Tiffany's even today!!! And yes, there were lots and lots of knockoffs, especially the open heart pendant! As you will discover, making all of this is quite easy and the results quite satisfying. But oh....the demands from the dolls..... They are lined up outside of my room requesting cuff bracelets and snake belts!!!!

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  5. Ale偶 cudowna bi偶uteria! Jest fascynuj膮ca, niezwykle pomys艂owa! Jednak to, co zrobi艂a艣 dla lalek liczy si臋 podw贸jnie! Te micro-cuda s膮 wspania艂e i idealnie wzbogacaj膮 str贸j lalek! Masz niesamowite pomys艂y z wykorzystaniem wszelkich materia艂贸w, drucik贸w, gliny, sk贸ry... efekt jest zaskakuj膮cy i naprawd臋 fantastyczny! Wielkie brawa!
    Pozdrawiam Ci臋 serdecznie ♥

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    1. Olla wrote: What wonderful jewelry! She is fascinating, extremely inventive! However, what you did for the dolls counts double! These micro wonders are wonderful and enrich the doll outfit perfectly! You have amazing ideas using all kinds of materials, wires, clay, leather ... the effect is surprising and really fantastic! Great applause!
      Yours sincerely ♥

      Thank you so so very much for your kind words Olla. I am so happy with the results and how close they resemble the original jewelry. It is hard to believe the design for this jewelry is already 50 years old!!! It looks as modern today as it did when it was launched. And, I had a fun time making all of it. Big hugs.

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  6. A lot of long and hard work, but the effects are amazing <3 Thank you for tutorials <3

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    1. Thank you so much Aya for your very kind comment. Happy you enjoyed this post.

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