Christian Dior

Couture-style Costume Jewels

The extravagant full skirts and nipped-in waists of Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look” revolutionised women’s fashions after World War II. It could be said that his opulent accessories did the same for costume jewellery.

Dior (1905-57) took historical jewellery styles – most notably 19th century – and translated them into something modern, using unusual pastes and contemporary settings. He used the same materials to create floral and animal forms including seals, fish and unicorns. Later, in the 1960s, Henkel & Grosse, designed chunky, geometric gilt pieces decorated with abstract enamels alongside the traditional, opulent diamante jewellery.

Dior insisted that his costume jewellery should be of the same quality as his couture clothes. The jewellery became part of each season’s collection in 1948 (a year after his first, ground-breaking show) and is renowned for the quality of the stones, many of which feature unusual cuts and are set at angles which make the most of their colour and brilliance. In 1955 Dior worked with Manfred Swarovski to create the iridescent aurora borealis stone, which was used in many pieces in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Dior’s early jewellery was made by companies such as Maison Gripoix, which created a collection based on the lily of the valley – the floral signature of the fashion house – and inspired by the garden at Dior’s childhood home in Normandy, in 1954.

The jewellery was a great success and was worn by celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Bette Davis. As demand grew Dior began to license other companies to design and produce jewellery for him. These included Henry Schreiner and Kramer in the US; Mitchell Maer in the UK (from 1952-56); and Henkel & Grosse in Germany from 1955.

When Dior died in 1957, Yves Saint Laurent was chief designer until 1960 when Marc Bohan took the helm. Gianfranco Ferré designed for the company from 1989 and John Galliano took over in 1996.

Between 1955 and the late 1960s pieces were marked Christian Dior with the year of manufacture. Later pieces are marked Christian Dior. Pieces designed by Mitchell Maer are marked Mitchell Maer for Christian Dior.