Monday, January 12, 2009

Swarovski Fever

I was pleasantly surprised recently to find two articles on the Swarovski family and company - one was in the New York Times Magazine and one in the Wall Street Journal magazine. Ever since we began offering our line of vintage Swarovski jewelry, I have been looking for information on the company's history and in particular on Swarovski's link to jewelry designed during the 1950s. These were very timely articles that I can only attribute to divine intervention for my regular attendance at Sunday mass (I'll take whatever I can get).

Many people, myself included, probably have a conflicting opinion of the Swarovski brand. The brand is well-known enough for us to think that they've done something big at some point, but what they've done is quite a bit harder to define. The Wall Street Journal article tastefully calls this their "long-simmering identity crisis."

The little-known fact is that Swarovski rose to fame by supplying many of the most well-known jewelry and fashion designers in the world with electrifying crystals for much of the 20th century. But the objects that many people equate with Swarovski are their collectible figurines, mostly of animals, a concept brought to life in the 1970s when hippie came in and jewelry bling went out. Swarovski never sold retail before the 1970s - they were strictly a B2B supplier of brilliant crystals. The figurines remain a consistent source of revenue for the company to the tune of about $300 million per year (North America), but lack the respect that Swarovski hopes to regain in the realm of high-end luxury goods.

Swarovski began supplying designers as far back as the late 19th century, but the glory days ran from the 1930s through the 1960s when Swarovski plugged in to the name brands of the day: Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior to name a few. The tiara worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's? Swarovski crystal. The crystal-studded gown worn by Marilyn Monroe to sing to JFK? Swarovski crystal. (Shameless plug in my own blog, I have two Swarovski crystal tiaras here and here.

Nadja Swarovski, the great-great-granddaughter of founder Daniel Swarovski, now hopes to return to Swarovski's illustrious past by making aggressive inroads into current jewelry and fashion design. As head of Swarovski's Crystallized Swarovski Elements division, Nadja oversees the supply and branding of loose crystals for jewelers as well as a Swarovski-designed line of couture jewelry for runway models.

Which brings us full circle back to the pieces that we now have, which is a vintage collection of Swarovski crystal necklaces designed by jewelry designer R. Woloch during the 1950s for fashion houses and runway models. It is interesting to me that neither Woloch nor Swarovski took any credit for the creations that were donned on the runways of Paris and Milan under the names Chanel, Dior and others. Perhaps it is (or was) a sign of the times.

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