Generations of boys and girls have grown up with Transformers, a line of toy vehicles that convert into robots with a few deft twists and turns by tiny hands. Women are well-familiar with the concept, but in a more graceful, eye-pleasing and altogether grown-up form: convertible jewelry.
Just like Transformers toys, convertible jewelry pieces are designed to serve multiple purposes, changing from bracelets to necklaces, pendants to brooches, pins to pendants, rings to brooches, daywear earrings to fancier earrings for evening wear, and so forth. As with Transformers toys, jewelry conversions are accomplished by swiveling or accessing hidden elements, but the jewelry can require the attaching and detaching of other elements, as well. These cleverly designed treasures enable owners to extend their jewelry wardrobes and expand their artistic self-expression without exhausting their budgets. They represent both supreme ingenuity and an unbeatable deal.
The earliest form of convertible jewelry may well have been Georgian-era watch fob spinners – decorative chained weights designed to ease timepieces from tiny pockets. Fob spinners feature gold frames with dual- or multi-faceted gemstone adornments. In addition to smoothly swiveling from face to face within brackets, each fob spinner could convert to a detached bracelet charm, chain, or ribbon-strung pendant. Victorian spinners that showcased ornate gems such as onyx, bloodstone, citrine, carnelian or rock crystal also swiveled, and some could be locked in place with stabilizing mechanisms.
Victorian fashionistas also adored day-and-night earrings, creations that offered two pairs of earrings in one. Their simple, lobe-mount stud or hoop elements were suitable for daywear, and when enhanced with matching drop pendants, they morphed into glamorous evening wear. Such designs were ideal for brides who wanted one look for the ceremony and another for the celebration.
Victorian brooches converted into luxurious pendants, while double-clip models separated into dress clips. Necklaces featuring detachable pendants and articulated motifs transformed into individual brooches and glittery hair ornaments, and rivieres – single-strand necklaces with gems graduating in size as they approached large central stones – became stylish bracelets.
Victorian socialites often wore elegant jeweled tiaras at formal events but cherished pieces that converted to forms modest enough for lesser occasions. Beautiful bandeau-style tiaras could be transformed into simpler headpieces and necklace sets. Detaching and switching components of other tiaras yielded matching brooches, pendants and earrings.
By the early 20th century, free-swinging sautoirs – long gold rope chains set with gemstones, tassels or pendants – complemented fashionable straight shift dresses. They could be looped low around a lady’s neck, wrist-wrapped into chunky bracelets, or simply shortened. Through artful engineering, more sophisticated versions could be changed into multiple pieces – a brooch, two bracelets and two dress clips. The inimitable Coco Chanel was fond of sautoirs, which remain a popular part of Chanel’s costume jewelry range to this day.
During the Great Depression, master jewelers designed hugely appealing convertible jewelry that budget-conscious wearers could style in different ways on different days. The pieces boasted an array of clever mechanisms such as removable frames, multipurpose hidden catches, clip mechanisms and pin stems.
Tiffany & Co., created convertible 18K gold cufflinks with exchangeable turquoise, citrine, hematite and cultured pearl finials. Boucheron produced brooches that turned into dress clips and necklaces that converted to bracelets or diadems. Cartier designed a three-piece platinum and 18K gold Burmese ruby and diamond necklace-set with leaf-motif accents that became brooches.
Van Cleef & Arpels has been creating convertible jewelry since the early 1900s, but to many, its 1950 Zip necklace, the first working zipper made of precious metal, remains the firm’s highest achievement. This technical triumph, supposedly proposed by Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, took craftsmen nearly a decade to perfect. When it was opened and closed, it converted from a necklace to a bracelet and back again. Also worthy of mention is Van Cleef’s Walska briolette diamond brooch, introduced in 1971, which featured a bejeweled bird of paradise carrying a sizable yellow diamond in its beak. Its outspread wings becomes a pair of earrings and its diamond doubled as a pendant.
Retro convertible pieces are no less charming. Flexible snake-chains feature removeable dual-purpose motifs, while matched bracelets can slink into sinuous necklaces. Flashy rings are fitted with detachable jeweled jackets or removeable bands, transforming emerald-flower motifs into brooches. Other pieces feature moveable channels which, when opened, reveal rows of dainty gemstones.
These versatile convertible pieces of jewelry combine exceptional craftsmanship with pure beauty to offer more than meets the eye.