By reuvenveksler
May 31, 2022
4 min read

Donald Claflin: childish innovator in jewelry

Donald Claflin: childish innovator in jewelry

Who is Donald Claflin? This American designer was one of the greatest innovators of the 20th century jewelry. He brought color, boldness and playfulness to the rather conservative world of high jewelry. Moreover, he was a real storyteller and dreamer. 

Donald Claflin was born in Massachusetts in 1935. Having graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York, he worked as an illustrator and textile designer demonstrating his youthful courage and innovative approach.

However, he was always drawn to the world of jewelry. His career started in the firm famous for bright enameled jewels that contrasted to the formal designs of 50th. Donald Claflin also worked as a designer for Van Cleef & Arpels.

The brightest and most productive period in Donald Claflin’s career was his collaboration with Tiffany&Co., lasting from 1965 until 1977.

Tiffany&Co.

During his time at Tiffany, Donald Claflin became a leading designer along with famous Jean Schlumberger. There Claflin could realize his wildest ideas and crazy designs. 

Unusual materials

He worked with materials that were unusual at that time: ivory, leather, coral, lapis lazuli. He combined these not so noble materials with the best gemstonesdiamonds, emeralds and sapphires, creating bracelets, rings and earrings that had no likeness. 

Donald Claflin became the first designer to use Tanzanite – an amazing deep blue-purple stone that was recently discovered. 

Although Claflin jewelry pieces were quite expensive to produce and required advanced technical skills, Tiffany could afford them, and so, the talent of  Donald Claflin was fully revealed.

Characters from fairytales 

The most memorable and prominent pieces that Donald Claflin designed are the jewels dedicated to the most famous characters from children’s fiction. Humpty Dumpty, Stewart Little, Sailor Mouse and many other dear heroes, covered with diamonds, were created during this period. They made adults smile and got a great appeal for the young and wealthy trendsetters. 

The series of so-called friendly dragons was also designed by Claflin. His dragons are dancing, jumping and sparkling with diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. 

The world-famous strawberry 

However, Claflin’s most notable design was coral strawberries! You’ve probably seen this jewelry piece before: each berry is surrounded with brilliantly green enameled leaves and diamond flowers. This jewel moved with the owner, creating the impression of a natural berry. What a subtle mastery! 

According to the legend, Donald Claflin originally designed this Strawberry Glade with very few diamonds. Once he showed the design to a client from Texas, she recommended him to add more diamonds – in case, he wanted to sell it in Texas, of course. Then Claflin created earrings and brooches of the same design, studded with diamonds. He also designed several similar pieces, but with ruby cherries and raspberries.

Classical designs

In addition to extravagant jewelry pieces, Claflin had to design classical ones for more conservative clients. 

Thus, Claflin developed a new design of the classic Tiffany diamond engagement ring. In his interpretation, the central stone was set in the cross of two metal bands. This ring was called the Criss-Cross. 

They say Donald Claflin ended up working with Tiffany&Co. on a bad note. According to the rumours, he failed to get along with Tiffany’s new designer, Angela Cummings.  What is more, there are no archives for Donald Claflin  designs – and it is  rumoured that Angela Cummings either took or destroyed them.

Bulgari

After his time in Tiffany, Claflin joined Bulgari in 1976. 

Spending three years in this Maison, he managed to highlight the trend for jewels that could be worn through the day into the evening. 

He is best remembered for the loop earrings formed by a line of baguette diamonds, and for the crossover rings – all these pieces gained extreme popularity. 

Claflin worked for Bulgari until his death in 1979. He was only 44 years old. That day the jewelry world lost one of its greatest talents.

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