Aldo Cipullo's Designs for Cartier
Gregarious, tremendously talented, and blessed with movie-star looks, Aldo Cipullo burst onto the New York design scene in the 1960s and by the next decade had not only breathed new life into the Cartier maison, but cemented his place as one of the most important jewelry designers of the 20th century. Born in Naples in 1935 and raised in Rome, Cipullo’s father owned a costume jewelry business and enlisted Aldo’s help as a salesman. From the time he was a child, Cipullo learned the art of salesmanship and honed both his business and design acumen. He moved to the United States in 1959 and settled in New York City where he found his first job with famous jeweler David Webb. A few years later he was hired by Tiffany & Co. to work with Gene Moore and other young designers.
Cipullo was enamored with the modern world and sought to use many of its motifs in his designs. When his sleek, industrial-style Love bracelet concept was rejected by Tiffany, he left the company and offered it instead to Cartier. Serendipitously, at that time Cartier New York was under the dynamic and progressive leadership of director Michael Thomas, who saw the enormous potential of Cipullo’s design and how it would appeal to new generations that had just lived through the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Thomas’s gamble paid off in spades.
Cipullo’s Love bracelet, a new-age love token, became an instant best-seller. Two years later, genius struck again and—inspired by the idea of Christ-like sacrifice and laying down one’s life for a greater good—he designed the equally iconic Nail bracelet (later renamed Juste Un Clou, “just a nail”). Accompanying the Nail were other motifs including knots, bolts, screws, and wrenches. He would go on to design many collections for Cartier such as Backgammon board pendants and playing cards, riffing on the idea of love as a game of chance. Regardless of the creation, they were united, as jewelry scholar Vivienne Becker notes, by “Aldo’s instinctive talent for distilling his moment in time, the energy of New York in the late 1960s and 70s, the beating pulse and soul of the city he loved, into the purity and perfection of these minimalist masterpieces.”
In 1974, Cipullo parted ways with Cartier and dedicated himself to his own company, Aldo Cipullo Limited. The following years saw him triumph with not only jewelry designs, but diversifying into furniture and accessories as well. In 1978 he was honored by the American Gem Society, who invited him to create a collection set with gemstones native to the United States. The collection toured the country and was then acquired by the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. Cipullo had enormous dreams beyond designing jewelry and desired to create a modern movement akin to the Bauhaus. Tragically, his vision would never be realized; he died in 1984 of a double-heart attack at just 48 years old. Cipullo’s legacy, however, is alive and well. His designs for Cartier continue to be best-sellers and he is remembered fondly across the industry for his enormous influence on the development of jewelry design in the 20th century.
Jewelry…enters into the psychology of the person, it always represents love, affection—all this kind of symbolism. That is why jewelry will never die.
Cartier is one of the most recognizable names in luxury and their jewelry and timepieces are some of the most coveted in the entire world. Founded in 1847 by jewelry apprentice Louis-François Cartier, the company quickly became known for its high-quality workmanship and taste. Cartier became a supplier to the royal court of Napoleon III and by the end of the 19th century the company introduced branded watches. Louis-François’ grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques took over around the turn of the century and helped to establish the Cartier name worldwide.
The 20th century saw the rapid expansion and success of the firm. In 1904, they designed their Santos wristwatch for Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, a design so popular that it is still in production today. Several years later, Cartier signed a contract with the luxury watch and clock manufacturer Jaeger-LeCoultre. By this time, Cartier had offices in London, New York, and St. Petersburg and was becoming one of the most successful watch companies in the world. Their jewelry was also enormously successful, characterized by light and airy designs which stood in stark contrast to the more formal and highly decorative accessories of the period. They produced some of the best pieces the world had ever seen, including their famous tutti frutti necklaces and bracelets, made of multi-color gemstones, and a necklace for the Maharaja of Patiala consisting of nearly 3,000 diamonds. For a brief period in the early 20th century they were also owners of the infamous Hope Diamond, which was then sold to New York socialite Evelyn Walsh McLean.
Unlike many companies, Cartier managed to survive the Great Depression and continued to expand globally. Louis and Jacques died in 1942 and Pierre carried on leading the firm until his death in 1964. In 1972, the company was acquired by a consortium led by WW2 French Resistance hero, Robert Hocq, and they set about buying all of the branches of Cartier and forming a single entity, which it remains to this day. Cartier continues to be considered one of the premier jewelers and watchmakers, worn by celebrities, world leaders, and the wealthy elite, and operating 200 stores in 125 different countries.