Bright and charming, Aldo Cipullo created imaginative jewelry that captured the imagination of a generation of Hollywood celebrities and jewelry connoisseurs alike.
Born in Naples, Italy, in 1936, Aldo Cipullo moved with his family to Rome at a young age. His father, Giuseppe, ran a successful business manufacturing costume jewelry, with factories in Rome and Florence. Aldo apprenticed with his father, but his ambition reached far beyond Italy, to the City that Never Sleeps.
A New Life in Manhattan
He was just 23 when Cipullo arrived in Manhattan, where he studied at the School of Visual Arts. Upon graduating, he worked as a designer for David Webb before joining the artisans at Tiffany & Co. Ultimately, he wasn’t satisfied designing the traditional mainstay jewelry for the larger jewelers to sell. His desire to expand his creative ambitions led him to Cartier in 1969. It was a move that would bring Cipullo recognition from jewelry lovers around the world.
Welcome to Cartier
Only a few short months after his arrival at Cartier, Cipullo created a bangle that would create quite a stir in the fashion world. Sleek and straightforward, the gold bangle was inspired by classic jewelry design but with a totally modern twist. Named the “Love” bangle, it was designed in two halves that were wrapped around the wrist and locked together with the help of two screws that were tightened using a tiny screwdriver (which was provided with the bracelet).
In 1971, Cipullo followed up his sensational bangle with another bracelet whose iconic design would rock jewelry aficionados across the globe. Called “Juste en Clou” (just a nail), the bracelet was heralded for its striking masculine motif, which the designer made feminine and sexy.
Design has to be part of function, and that’s the secret of success. When you have function and design, married together, you always have a successful item. It’s not always easy to come up with, but when it comes, it’s wonderful. – Aldo Cipullo
His years with Cartier were a productive time for Cipullo. There he designed several collections and was honored to be the only designer permitted to sign Cartier pieces. Cipullo found his inspiration all around him and was able to take simple shapes and everyday items and turn them into timeless jewels. His talent to see the extraordinary in the ordinary led to him to employ many whimsical motifs, including fish, gaming symbols and anchors.
On the Silver Screen
His jewelry was so much a part of contemporary American culture; he was invited to create a Hamsa Hand necklace for the actress Ellen Burstyn for her role in The Exorcist in 1973.
Celebrities embraced the charm and style of Cipullo’s jewelry. Included in the list of avid followers were Elton John, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Rick James, Quincy Jones, and Edison Chen.
Moving in a New Direction
In 1974, Cipullo decided to part ways with Cartier and started an atelier where he would have complete artistic freedom. It was during this time he designed a men’s jewelry collection, then a costume jewelry collection for Trifari. Another famous piece featured a U.S. dollar sign, which Cipullo likened to “the electric eye that reflects the mood of this country.”
Cipullo’s handsome face and charismatic personality added to the mystique of his jewelry designs. A regular at New York’s famous Studio 54, he espoused the “work hard play hard” ethic, fully taking advantage of all the New York social scene had to offer in the 1970s.
A Colorful Commission
In 1978, the American Gem Society commissioned Cipullo to produce an assortment of jewelry that celebrated America’s gemstones. The 31 items included gems such as Montana sapphires, Arkansas diamonds, and Arizona turquoise. After touring the United States, the collection was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Such is the popularity of the collection, to this day, the Smithsonian continues to receive requests to loan out the collection to other museums.
Cipullo’s career was as brilliant as it was brief. In 1984, he suffered two heart attacks that took his life at the too-young age of 48.
Awards and Accolades
- Cipullo won the Coty American Fashion Critics Award for jewelry in 1974.
- In 1988, the Men’s Fashion Association posthumously paid Cipullo tribute by changing the name of its Lulu Award for excellence in fashion journalism to the Aldo Award.
- Like all the true classics, Cipullo’s designs continue to delight and beguile each new generation. His iconic pieces reflect the joy and style of the man who created them.