NEW YORK – Once upon a time, not that long ago, men were the purchasers of most women’s jewelry, which they gave as gifts to the women they loved. As social mores and fashions have evolved, that has changed. By the 1960s, propelled by the feminist revolution, women began buying their own jewelry as well as making it. Independent-minded women with sophisticated tastes actively sought out women-designed jewelry, and Paloma Picasso, Marina Bulgari, Suzanne Belperron, and Elsa Peretti were among the women who made jewelry for them. Paloma Picasso (b. 1949-) remains a standout among her peers. To reach the upper echelon of the industry, as she did, took aplomb and talent. “Women might have been thought of as fashion jewelers, but when you got into the highest level of jewelry manufacturing and designing, she really broke into that, and that’s really important,” said Dianne Batista, director of jewelry and watches and senior specialist at Rago Arts and Auction Center in Lambertville, New Jersey.
The daughter of artists Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, Picasso graduated from the University of Paris and began her career scouring flea markets in the late 1960s to collect the rhinestones she used in her earliest costume jewelry pieces. Her work quickly found receptive audiences, and she designed an accessories collection for Yves St. Laurent before working with the Greek jewelry house Zolotas. When her father died in 1973, she took a break from designing to deal with his estate and assist the French government in opening a museum in his honor. For a time, she also pursued acting and did theatrical design work before returning to jewelry in 1980 when Tiffany & Co. debuted her first collection for the firm. In the ensuing years, she forged a distinctive path in the jewelry world and helped shift gender roles in the realm of jewelry, both in terms of who was buying it and who was wearing it.
“Paloma Picasso’s jewelry appeals to collectors due to its unique blend of bold and geometric designs and high-quality craftsmanship,” said Joshua Kodner, chief executive officer of Joshua Kodner Galleries in Dania Beach, Florida. “Starting with flea market finds, she transitioned out of her father’s shadow, evolving into a renowned designer. Her jewelry stands out for its bold and geometric style, distinguishing her from contemporaries. Her innovative designs set trends and continue to attract those seeking statement pieces.”
Boasting a desirable large size in keeping with her affection for big and bold jewelry is a pair of 18K gold dome earrings set with jadeite for Tiffany & Co., which earned $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021 at Joshua Kodner. “Her most collectible pieces often include those created for Tiffany & Co., and are known for their iconic designs and enduring popularity,” Kodner said. “Collectors often seek pieces from various eras, but her bold and distinctive aesthetic remains a consistent draw.”
Best known for the fluidity of her designs with classic styling and fine metals, Picasso is not shy about sparingly using semiprecious stones to give a piece a pop of color. She does this elegantly in a gold and diamond bangle bracelet set with a large triangular-shape aquamarine flanked on one side by nine diamonds. The Tiffany & Co. bracelet attained $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023 at Hindman.
Many of Picasso’s jewelry pieces are done in gold, and in her unyielding drive to put out the best designs, she considers not only the look of a piece but also its heft and how it weighs on the wearer. A fine example is her circa-1989 hammered gold link necklace for Tiffany & Co. that outperformed its estimate at $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2020 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. Of this piece, Batista said, “People just love the weight of the gold, and I think that is something that is really attractive with her jewelry. The manufacturing, of course, is superb, but it’s really the weight — she paid a lot of attention to the volume and weight of pieces.”
A trio of hammered gold jewelry pieces Picasso created for Tiffany & Co. — a necklace, bracelet, and ear clips — brought $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021 at Hindman. The hammered finish is not only pleasing to behold but has heft without feeling heavy.
Her work can be delicately styled, however, as in her Olive Leaf collection, which she created after observing the olive branches in the groves surrounding her home in Morocco. Interestingly, an olive branch is a symbol of peace, and Paloma’s name translates from Spanish to ‘dove,’ a bird that is also an emblem of peace. A diamond and gold jewelry Paloma Picasso Olive Leaf suite for Tiffany & Co. realized $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Heritage Auctions.
Also inspired by her travels in the Middle East was her Calife collection, which featured interlocking pieces that reportedly mimic the layered look of turban headwear. A Calife gold bangle bracelet for Tiffany & Co. went out at $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Heritage Auctions.
Picasso has designed multiple collections during her tenure at Tiffany & Co., a relationship that has continued well into the 21st century, but some of the most popular pieces right now are those dating to the 1980s. Fashionwise, the 1980s were all about being big and bold – think oversized shoulder pads in women’s clothing and the fashions on TV’s Dynasty. Picasso’s striking designs were perfectly attuned to that era’s aesthetic. Fashion is often cyclical, and that look is again in vogue. “I think interest in Paloma Picasso jewelry as a collector is growing … and a lot of that has to do with interest in 1980s fashion,” Batista said, noting a resurgence of the 1980s is one of the jewelry trends she has seen of late. “The 80s are really growing in interest, and people are looking at designers from this period as well as liking the bold fashion look of the period,” she said. “I think of her jewelry as big and bold and very vivacious, so there is an attraction in that.”
Many of Picasso’s jewelry pieces are monochromatic, either in platinum or gold, and sometimes accented by diamonds. With her highest-level jewelry, however, she incorporated interesting choices of vibrant stones, such as tourmaline or kunzite, as well as fine gems. “She worked differently than some of the other designers of her period,” Batista said. “She loved color, and moved into semi-precious and new gems that weren’t as frequently thought of as high jewelry. They are big and bold, so I think that’s what attracted and continues to attract collectors.” One of her most colorful and whimsical Tiffany & Co. brooches is an emerald, diamond, and carved coral bi-colored gold example in the form of a bug, which sold for €7,000 ($7,585) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Il Ponte Casa d’Aste Srl.
Collectors who appreciate the bold and striking look of Paloma Picasso jewelry will find suitable items at every price point. Her graffiti jewelry is fairly affordable and readily found, but buyers who covet higher-end pieces that have semi-precious stones will find the pickings a bit slimmer. Those fortunate enough to own one of the latter only grudgingly give them up, so they come to the market less often.