I realize some jewelry snobs are cynical about the red carpet. I happen to love it for a lot of reasons, but mainly because there are times when you get to see masterpieces the way they were designed to be viewed. Jewelry is not made to be peered behind glass in a museum or even examined in person at a press preview. It is intended to be worn out on the town with fab formalwear.
One of my favorite red-carpet moments ever involves a Zip necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels. Margot Robbie was zipped up in one of the extraordinary jewels by Cristina Ehrlich, her stylist for the 2015 Oscars. The morning of the event, several hours before the star stepped on the red carpet and infused the masterwork with massive sex appeal, Cristina texted me and asked for the backstory on the design. Stars need a script when they are wearing something that eye-catching, so I did my best.
I texted Cristina the highlights version of the story off the top of my head, sort of telegraph style. It went something like the following.
The Duchess of Windsor told Van Cleef & Arpels creative director Renée Puissant, she should make a zipper necklace. One of the Duchess’s favorite couturiers Elsa Schiaparelli had just added zippers into her clothing and she thought the functional device could be transformed into an amazing jewel.
Van Cleef & Arpels agreed. But it did take them a long time to figure out the manufacturing of a functioning gold and bejeweled zipper necklace. In fact, it took about 12 years to figure out the mechanism. Around 1951, the first Zipper necklace was introduced.
Very few examples of the jewel have been made over time because they are so difficult to create. All the jewels can be taken apart, zipped up and worn as a bracelet.
In retrospect, my recap was probably a bit long for what Margot needed. The star did dutifully mention the Duchess of Windsor when she spoke to the press. In the excitement of the Oscars red carpet, some people may have thought she was wearing a jewel that belonged to the American royal. And really, can you blame them?
The Duchess had one of the greatest jewelry collections in the history of world. It would be easy to imagine the necklace Margot wore was among her treasures. The Duchess is so closely associated with the Zip necklace, the actress portraying her in the 2010 Oscar nominated film The King’s Speech wore a Van Cleef & Arpels Zip necklace draped down her back.
There is just one detail about the history of Duchess of Windsor and Zip necklace that’s always sort of skated over. She never owned one of the jewels. She is only believed to have inspired the concept. I kind of feel like it’s true. If you consider all the one-of-a-kind jewels that were made for the Duchess, pieces she had her hand in art directing—elevating everyone’s design game—I can’t help but think the Zip was her idea.
In the end, the fact that the Duchess of Windsor didn’t own a Zip necklace doesn’t diminish the history at all. Zip necklaces are one of the greatest designs of High Jewelry ever conceived. The style shows the rarefied talents of the designers and craftsmen at Van Cleef & Arpels to this day. Margot’s Zip necklace, set with 150-diamonds and 300-sapphires in 18K gold, took more than 600 hours to create. Truly, it was worth every second. And I think we were all lucky to see the artistry on the red carpet.