Jewelry Designer Elsa Peretti Is a Breakfast Hit at Tiffany's

updated 10/28/1974 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/28/1974 AT 01:00 AM EST

With gold up to $155 an ounce, it was bound to happen. Tiffany, one of the last bastions of gold-only jewelry, has finally tumbled. To celebrate going off the gold standard, the famous Fifth Avenue store invited its friends to a "Breakfast at Tiffany's," whose star was Elsa Peretti, 34, a Florentine ex-model. Her fluid-form designs are the first silver jewelry carried by Tiffany in 25 years. (In the 1940s, Tiffany dropped silver as "unfashionable," and concentrated exclusively on higher-priced gold.)

While Elsa Peretti's jewelry won her a 1971 Coty award—the Oscar among fashion designers—and her contour bracelets, snake-head chains and belt buckles and teardrop pendants give Tiffany's president Henry Piatt "shivers" of pleasure, Elsa herself is a relative newcomer to design. Her interest in architecture (as a schoolgirl in Rome she was always sketching classical monuments and she later worked for an architect in Milan) could be combined, she discovered, with her sense of fashion, which was earning her $75 an hour as a mannequin.

In 1969, the 5'9" beauty was modeling for fashion designer Giorgio di Sant' Angelo in New York when the vision struck—"I realized it was jewelry I wanted to do." In wax, she created simple, abstract designs and then cast them in silver for designers Sant' Angelo, Oscar de la Renta and Halston. Before long, her jewelry was seen in all the right places—on the couture clothes of women like Ethel Scull and Liza Minnelli as well as in the ready-to-wear departments at Bloomingdale's.

Last spring Halston arranged a meeting between Elsa and Tiffany's. The timing was perfect. "We were looking for somebody to capture the mood of the young woman as well as the older woman," says Tiffany's Piatt, "someone who could make jewelry that women could wear with jeans and sweaters as well as their ball gowns." Last month Elsa began to sell her jewelry in the New York store and at five branches around the country.

"I design for the working girl," says Elsa, whose origins as the daughter of an Italian oil company president are hardly proletarian. "What I want is not to become a status symbol, but to give beauty at a price. A big diamond necklace is nouveau riche, really. People who have wealth a long time don't wear such things." Her Tiffany prices range from $1,000 for thin gold chains set with diamonds (called "Diamonds by the Yard") down to $33 for sterling teardrops. Piatt, grandson of Tiffany's founder, insists, "You don't need a rich sugar daddy to afford Elsa's jewelry."

Elsa herself can afford frequent trips to Hong Kong, where some of her jewelry is made, and a 17th-century former nunnery outside Barcelona, where she lives six months a year. But in New York she has had to give up all-night disco dancing. She's too busy. And though she dates frequently, Elsa has no plans for designing her own wedding ring. "I would like to get married," she admits, "but it must be a man who is part of my work, or me part of his." Why? Simple. "The only time we could communicate is in the daytime. At night, I would be too tired."

From Our Partners