Off-beat and irreverent designs were Verdura's hallmark and enduring legacy. Verdura was an exceptional visual artist, and his drawings were remarkably accurate and detailed. At times, he seems to have been influenced by Faberge, but he also broke with American design standards to set entirely new trends. For example, he was one of the first designers to make it fashionable for diamonds to be worn both during the day and evening. He is also known as one of the first major designers of the 20th century to set colored stones in yellow gold, at a time when diamonds set in platinum was the safe choice. "You can never trust diamonds," he often said. The result was many exceptional designs, such as a series of brooches made of seashells, encrusted with precious stones. Other enduring influences were Greek mythology, Christian iconography, medieval themes and most notably Byzantine patterns, which resulted in his famous Maltese cross cuffs.
Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura was born in Palermo to a legendary and eccentric Sicilian noble family. He spent his early childhood being pampered by his very wealthy grandmother, whose death resulted in family fighting and the young Fulco losing most of his inheritance. He was enlisted at the age of 17 to serve in WWI, was subsequently wounded and sent back to Sicily until the end of the war. In 1923 he gained the title “Duke of Verdura” upon his father’s death and made the most of the indulgent lifestyle enjoyed by Sicilian nobility in the 1920’s. Verdura’s charm and wit made him the darling of the social scene and gained him many lasting friendships which would prove infinitely beneficial in the years to come.
In 1925 Verdura left Sicily and after a brief stint in Venice, fully embraced the decadent lifestyle that was Paris in the 1920’s. However his appetite for a good time soon left him with dwindling financial resources. Soon however, the charming Verdura was introduced to Coco Chanel by friends Linda and Cole Porter. He began designing textiles for the house, but Chanel recognized his innovative and rebellious nature and invited him to design jewelry
for her private and boutique jewelry lines, which he did for 8 years. Out of this partnership came some of Verdura’s most recognizable pieces, combining precious and semi-precious gemstones in asymmetrical patterns with different colors of gold.
Verdura’s wildly successful casual jewelry designs became the epitome of throwaway chic. In 1934 he set out for America with friend Nicky de Gunzberg, touring the country from Hollywood to Palm Beach. Verdura eventually settled in New York where Diana Vreeland, one of Chanel’s best clients, introduced him to society jeweler Paul Flato. His line “Verdura for Flato” was inspired by classical patterns and natural forms, mixing his trademark semi-precious and precious into bowknots, embellished seashells, and winged hearts. Soon the fashion world, and Hollywood elite were clamoring for his Mediterranean inspired designs. Clients included Joan Crawford, Jean Howard, Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.
Riding the wave of growing success and backed by life-long friend Cole Porter, Verdura opened his own showroom in New York at 712 Fifth Avenue in September of 1939. Verdura became a darling of New York café society and established himself as a jeweler of great importance, not only for his innovative design, but his understanding of the female form and his ability to craft flattering designs. The Astor and Vanderbilt ladies, the Duchess of Marlborough, Barbara Hutton, Marlene Dietrich, and Orson Welles became friends and regular clients. Later, the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco and the Duchess of Windsor often wore Verdura pieces. Verdura was also famous for creating intricate vanity cases, some of which were designed specifically for opening nights of films like The Man Who Came To Dinner (1939) and You’ll Never Get Rich (1940). Whimsical sculptural pieces were also a prominent part of his inventory.
Verdura continued to design pieces for society’s elite throughout the 50’s and 60’s. In 1973 Verdura sold his business and retired at the age of 75, dying 5 years later in New York. In 1985, Ward Landrigan, formerly the head of Sotheby’s USA jewelry division and a longtime admirer of Fulco di Verdura’s jewelry, purchased the company, including over 9,000 of Fulco’s original sketches. The New York salon opened at its current location overlooking Central Park, and today the glamour and vibrancy of Verdura remains as inspirational as the man himself.