Interview with Diane Love: Trifari & Jewelry as Art and Artifact
The jewelry designs of Diane Love for Trifari are special for various reasons. Their collaboration led to innovations in costume jewelry and also brought a custom couture, yet historic feel to costume jewelry. Since Diane first began designing jewelry in the 1970s, her designs have become extremely collectible. Her one of a kind pieces, (about 135) created for Bergdorf Goodman in precious metals and stones, are now selling for many times their original price as are her Trifari designs.
Over the years many designs have been attributed to Love that are indeed not hers, due to the fact that almost all of her jewelry for Trifari was not signed. There were very very few signed examples. They originally only had an identifying hang tag with her name on it and box. I felt it especially important to interview Diane about her body of work for this reason, as well as to celebrate the jewelry as she intended it, as wearable works of art. During the interview process, I learned various details which illustrated the story of her Trifari collections as a whole, as well as how she approached the designing of the pieces. This examination of the specific differences and characteristics of the Diane Love /Trifari collection is discussed below. During her interview she clarified for me the specific characteristics to look for when trying to identify a Diane Love design. You may recognize some of her book pieces, but few have really been archived. The lack of reference material also adds to the misidentification of some Trifari designs as Love’s. After she stopped designing for Trifari, they continued to create jewelry with ethnic themes and these are often misattributed to Diane. These brightly colored, less detailed interpretations that Trifari produced were not based on actual artifacts, but were more loose interpretations of cultural art. A very different approach from Diane’s.
Example of a bracelet misidentified as Diane’s. It has the Trifari generic cultural theme and is NOT her design.
Diane, (pronounced Deanne) graduated with a B.A. degree in Art History from Barnard. Her intention was to be a painter, but studio art was not offered at Barnard, so she majored in Art History. As she said it is the “the best foundation any artist could have”. It was never her plan to design jewelry and perhaps having never studied jewelry design, it liberated her from taking a more traditional approach. In fact, she began as an antiques dealer. It wasn’t until she started making jewelry for herself that she was led to design jewelry for others. In Ms Love’s opinion jewelry being created in the 1960’s and 70’s was more about the perceived dollar value and status than artistic merits. This kind of jewelry didn’t appeal to her, she wanted to wear art, something that couldn’t be duplicated. It was through these designs for herself that her career as a jewelry designer began. Whenever she went out, people would stop her and and ask her about the jewelry she was wearing and say– “where did you get that, How could I get one?” It was that demand that gave her the idea of designing for others. Thus, she finally started selling her creations, because she found the process of finding the artifacts and creating the designs such an exciting process.
Image of Chrysantheum collar from Diane Love’s personal collection. Done for Trifari and part of the 2nd Collection. Image Diane Love, rights reserved.
What were the first two pieces of jewelry that you made for yourself created from? The first was from a 15th century Chinese jade belt hook and the other a Japanese netsuke.
You received your degree in Art History, what was your concentration or favorite area of study? My thesis was on the legend of Theseus on red figure vase painting. I was fascinated with Greek and Roman archeology and mythology.
Which culture or cultures influenced your early jewelry designs the most? I suppose in the beginning Asian cultures. I used a lot of antique Japanese and Chinese pieces. That’s what my husband collected and so that was what I had on hand. But as time passed, I found there were other possibilities that would be interesting. It was always a challenge to find beautiful artifacts with artistic merit, that could be adapted but gradually my exploration expanded and ultimately included: Luristan, Egyptian, Ancient Roman, Russian, Viking , Greek, Byzantine, Sassanian, Scottish and Anatolian artifacts. If it was beautiful, the right size and original I used it.
Luristan bronze pendant example.
You created jewelry for yourself first, then made around 100 or so one of a kind designs for Bergdorf Goodman, NYC. These were made using original antique objects that you had found is that right? They also had an emphasis on art history. I have seen a few such signed examples at auction, done in gold and precious stones. In what ways were these designs different and similar to those produced with Trifari?
I made about about 135 one of a kind pieces for Bergdorf Goodman. As I said, I searched for interesting objects small enough to incorporate into a piece of jewelry. These precious pieces used the actual artifact, whereas the Trifari pieces used replicas of the original artifact. The artisans I worked with to make the precious jewelry were enormously innovative and developed many ingenious ways to marry the art object to a precious setting, so the piece was comfortable to wear. As you can imagine there is not as much flexibility working with precious metals and stones as with costume materials because I had to be mindful of the cost and the weight of the piece.
Sotheby’s auction image of Diane Love, 18K gold, Bronze, and Diamond necklace. 1969. Bergdorf example.
Sotheby’s auction image of Diane Love, 18K gold, Bronze, and Diamond necklace. 1969. Bergdorf example.
St. Barbara necklace, new example by Diane Love 2013. Sold via Jensenstern.com.
The Trifari designs used a base metal and faux stones and permitted me much more creative latitude. I worked with a wonderful model maker/designer at Trifari, Andre Boeuf who was a tremendous help. We worked together to make the pieces ergonomic and becoming. The Trifari pieces included replicas of the original artifact right down to the color and texture of the original. And just as with the precious jewelry, every Trifari piece included a description of the original art object, its country of origin and the time period it was made. All my jewelry, both precious and costume, was sold in a grey satin box with a sliding lucite panel. This box was intended to display the jewelry as an art object when it wasn’t being worn.
Stephenson’s Auction House image, rights reserved.
What was a deciding factor in terms of doing a costume jewelry line?
The positive attention I was receiving from fashion editors was the stamp of approval I needed to interest the heads of Trifari to create the Diane Love for Trifari collection One of the reasons I wanted to do a costume collection was to make the designs accessible to a wider audience. Instead of the pieces priced in the thousands of dollars, the Trifari pieces sold for under a hundred dollars. Perhaps because I am an art historian I loved the idea of spreading my love and interest in art history to others. It was very rewarding when I saw how enthusiastic women were when they tried on the jewelry. They were amazed at how comfortable and flattering the pieces were. Today, the Trifari pieces are selling for many many times their original price.
How many collections did you produce for Trifari and which do you think was your favorite and why?
I did two collections each year, so a total of four. I didn’t really see them as separate collections it was more about expanding the existing body of work. I created about 50 designs for Trifari in that two year period. I didn’t have any particular theme except to incorporate an actual art facsimile into each piece. However, in the last collection I began to add designs that did not include art replicas- this seemed a natural development because as I worked on the pieces I found, there were a number interesting elements that could stand on their own. An example of this is the scroll chain I created for the Sassanian disc. I also had some other ideas that I wanted to explore.
Sassanian disc with scroll metal textile style chain. Diane Love image, rights reserved.
This idea that there were no themes leads us to the question, What is the biggest misconception about your Trifari collection?
It is not so much a misconception as confusion because as a young jewelry designer I did not think to have my name inscribed on each piece along with the Trifari stamp. I wasn’t thinking ahead and imagining that years later the identifying hang tags would be detached and people would not know if the piece was mine or an in house Trifari design. That is why so many things are attributed to me that are not my design. See image of mask below not a Love design….
Often misidentified as a Love design, it is NOT. Trifari mask pin
Were there any processes created for your venture with Trifari which had not been done in the costume jewelry design world before?
There were a lot of things I did that were not being done in costume jewelry at the time- bezel settings, cabochon stones,18K green gold plating, hammered finishes, matte enamels, custom clasps and a black plating, which I developed with the Trifari production people in Providence. These characteristics were in stark contrast to the bright faceted stones, 14K brown gold plating, shiny finishes and glossy enamels popular at the time. For Trifari to use 18K gold color plating on my pieces took a big commitment on their part because all the vats with gold plating had to be changed. But I think this and the other details I have just mentioned gave my work a distinctive look. It is important to understand that none of my designs were copies of jewelry pieces from earlier times. They were a combination of a replica of an art object incorporated into a contemporary setting, that I created to harmonize with an antique object made, in some cases thousands of years earlier. I wanted the overall look of each piece to feel as if it might have existed for centuries. It is very much in keeping with my aesthetic to work with subtle color combinations and burnished finishes.
Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry you produced for yourself or Bergdorf? Not really. Each piece is very distinctive and one cannot take the place of the other so for that reason I enjoy wearing them all and I enjoyed creating each one. Each presented a challenge which forced me to be inventive. I like artistic challenges because they force you to go beyond what has been done before.
What was your favorite piece that you created for Trifari? Probably the Egyptian collar with the god Shekmet which I am wearing in the first Trifari ad. It reflects everything that I strove to achieve in the collection: the exact replica of the original Egyptian artifact with it’s blackened finish, boldness, a collar that conforms comfortably to the body, cabochon stones set in bezels, 18K green gold plating and a hammered finish. I am pleased too with the way the plates of the collar are linked together with simple hook like rings, and the clasp is also a simple hook, in keeping, I think, with the feel of something that might have been worn 2,000 years ago.
That is actually my favorite as well, which I told her….
There is another from the second Trifari collection I particularly like. It is a French Directoire ornament from a horse bridal in the shape of a crescent moon. I designed two versions. One a combination of silver and gold without stones, the other black with small pave stones that are shaded from light to dark ochre to reinforce the crescent shape. There are matching earrings, pin, a ring and a bracelet. I love wearing the collar in the evening if I have a special event– it feels festive. The crescent on the collar, pin and bracelet are the same scale as the original, but the earrings and ring have been reduced in size. * See the archive images above for the crescent jewelry.
Some online articles have mentioned Diane Love prototypes/designs for Trifari that could not be produced due to cost. How many designs do you think there were, roughly that were never produced. Do you have one favorite design that you wish you could have produced? One of the most popular and biggest sellers I did was based on an Elizabethan wedding band of two clasped hands. The hands separate when you put the bracelet on- a solution I insisted on although it took some good carving on the part of the model maker to make it work. I did the bracelet and rings to match in both gold and silver with a burnished finish. It retailed for $15. Another concept I became interested in was trompe l’oeil. I had the model makers translate a black gros grain ribbon with tatting into metal with a black plating. It looks exactly like cloth until you touch it and it is very flattering to the wrist. I also got into watch design, because Trifari had acquired a watch company and the asked me to create some watches. I did about 6 designs and used replicas of Samurai sword elements in their design. They were quite a challenge because they also had to work well as watches.
That is not in fact accurate. Everything I wanted to do we figured out how to make and we made it. My design method was to assembled the pieces three dimensionally in wax. Usually the only things I drew were the shapes of links and clasps, and the overall shape of a collar or necklace. I worked this way in both the precious and costume jewelry. After all the pieces are three dimensional and I felt it was important to get a feeling of how the artifact and stones combined in a setting would look three dimensionally. Of course, some pieces I envisioned where more difficult to execute than others but with the help of Andre Boeuf at Trifari, we resolved whatever design problems arose. Nothing was compromised.
If you had the opportunity wear or own a famous piece of jewelry from the past, owned by an important person, or from a specific period and culture what would that be?
That is a good question, I admire the early work of Cartier- their art deco designs… I also find ancient Roman and Etruscan jewelry very beautiful. I once owned a 24K gold Etruscan diadem with paper thin gold leaves. It was very beautiful and extremely fragile.
Did you keep any pieces from either your Bergdorf or Trifari collections for your own archive?
Only the first piece, which was made for me and which got me started. It is a Ming dynasty, carved yellow jade belt hook in shape of a dragon. It was set with very small diamonds in green, brown, and yellow mounted in 18K gold. The piece was so often admired when I wore it that it got me thinking that perhaps I should create a collection of one of a kind jewelry using antique artifacts. When I showed several pieces to Andrew Goodman of Bergdorf Goodman he said we want them so I created entire collection for the opening of the 57th street wing of the store. In terms of the Trifari I still have about 30/40 examples. So I would say I have 75-80% of what I created for Trifari in my archive.
Do you collect any antique or vintage designer jewelry?
I have a few things, I’ve picked up at antique shows. Not so much for ideas, but because I like them in and of themselves. I don’t really collect jewelry. I do love and live with a lot of Japanese art. I have a wonderful collection of Japanese Ikebana baskets. My source of inspiration goes back to my study of art history.
On your website it seems you are still a working artist, explain your current artistic focus and endeavors?
I am a representational painter and photographer. But recently I have been making abstract collages. In a way assembling these collages is a similar process to what I use when I create jewelry- both the collages and the jewelry are assemblages.
I enjoyed discussing the intimate details of her work and jewelry for Trifari. I think one important aspect of this article is the process of identifying the Trifari designs that are truly by Diane Love. There are several misidentified pieces that continue to be cited as hers in various sources. With her help I was able to clarify these and am including the misidentified examples below. I also wanted to detail characteristics to look for in her work. The most telling thing about the ethnic designs Trifari made after Diane left is that the designs are more generic than Diane’s, such as a stylized mask or “aztec” warrior.
DIANE LOVE FOR TRAIT LIST:
*The 18K green toned finish was unique.
*The black finish was something used and a process created by Trifari and Diane.
*Does it have an artifact look as if it was cast from a specific piece not generic theme?
*Majority of the larger stones were cabochons. There were faceted stones on occasion, particularly in smaller sizes. *The pieces were usually completely detailed in the back.
*All clasps were integrated into the piece not standard or stuck on. Clasps look authentic to the time
period and piece. There are no pieces that have a lobster clasp. Clasps for my jewelry was custom.
*All colors are subtle and hammered or matte finishes.
NOT a Diane Love piece, very often misidentified. Looking at our list you can see it’s generic not a real casting, the color is too vibrant and the gold finish is wrong. There is also a green set found in this Trifari example.
Diane continues to produce limited quantities of precious jewelry created from antique elements. You can see pieces carried at Jensenstern.com. Keep up to date on Diane’s art and jewelry via her own website –Diane Love: www.dianelove.com
Exhibitions and books covering her jewelry designs– Jewels of Fantasy, by Swarovski exhibited at the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, Musee d’art Decoratif in Paris, Fit NYC, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Jewels of Fantasy: Costume Jewelry of the 20th Century. by Deanna Farneti Cera.
See Morning Glory for a very extensive collection of vintage Trifari ads.
Article Copyright © SararaCouture. Rights Reserved. Online Patent archive for Trifari with images, dates, sketches: http://www.jewelrypatents.com/trifari1.html