Transformable jewellery through the ages

Transformable jewellery is currently a popular trend in the jewellery industry. From flexible modular pieces that can be broken down into smaller adornments, to kinetic jewellery that reacts to the wearer’s movements, jewellers are getting creative with all kind of transformations. But did you know that transforming jewellery has been around, in one form or another, for more than three centuries? Join us for a journey through the fascinating history of transformable jewellery!

Court fashion and modular jewellery

We can trace the roots of contemporary transformable jewellery back to French parures, or ‘sets’. Popular in court circles, these jewellery sets could include necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches and tiaras. They were also modular, meaning that individual elements could be added or removed to each piece. These transforming jewellery sets therefore allowed their owners to keep up with changing fashions by adapting their pieces over time.

The first parures are thought to have been developed by jewellers during the reign of Louis XIV. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the trend really came into its own,  as royals around Europe commissioned pieces that they could adapt for different occasions. Napoleon gave a number of parures to his first wife, Empress Joséphine, including pieces that members of the royal families of Sweden and Norway wear to this day.

Transformable jewellery and the avant garde

In the 20th century, jewellers developed transforming jewellery beyond modular parures, showcasing their skills and creativity with exciting metamorphoses. Early high jewellery pioneers in the field of transformable pieces include Chaumet, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. These brands experimented with new techniques to make innovative pieces that could be worn in a variety of different ways. In 1958 Cartier even interpreted its emblematic panther as a brooch with articulated legs, which doubled as a necklace clasp.

Van Cleef & Arpels is responsible for one of the most iconic pieces of transforming jewellery: the brand’s instantly recognisable Zip necklace. Allegedly conceived following a suggestion from the Duchess of Windsor in the 1930s, the design took over a decade to develop. The ingenious piece of transformable jewellery turned out to be a true feat of engineering that can be worn open as a necklace or closed as a bracelet. It’s little wonder that the brand continues to reinterpret and reimagine the design!

Transformable jewellery today

Transformable jewellery by Alex Monroe

As consumers search for pieces that can respond to the diverse situations presented by their increasingly busy lives, transformable jewellery has been experiencing a revival over the last few years. From world-famous creators of high jewellery to smaller indie brands, jewellers are responding to the increased demand from women for versatile transformable jewellery. Chanel’s recent “1.5” collection, for example, can be combined or separated to create a range of necklaces, brooches and pins. Elsewhere, New York-based Gumuchian’s convertible Daisy Ring Cycle folds out into a bracelet.

Kinetic pieces are one of the latest trends in transforming jewellery. These imaginative creations feature parts that roll, slide or spin as the wearer moves, constantly revealing new facets. Yael Sonia’s intriguingly geometric kinetic designs, for example, have been attracting attention since her “Perpetual Motion” collection launched in 2017. And UK jewellers are also exploring the trend, including Hattie Rickards, whose “Rubix” rings feature revolving bands of colourful gemstones.

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