Certain things make us smile instantly. Maybe it’s a cute puppy, a lovely view, or remembering something from our carefree childhood. One designer, Donald Claflin, tapped into his inner child and designed whimsical pieces that entertain even the most petulant viewer.
American designer, Donald Claflin was born in 1935 in Massachusetts. He went to New York City to train at Parson’s School of Design. Gifted with an artisan’s eye, he first worked as an illustrator and textile designer, always staying behind the scenes to create beautiful pieces. Next, Claflin began designing jewelry at David Webb, followed by Van Cleef & Arpels until joining the illustrious Tiffany & Company in 1965.
Claflin quickly became known for his whimsical designs. They were colorful and artful with just the right amount of wittiness. He often incorporated bright, natural substances – such as turquoise, coral, lapis, and precious gems – and colorful enamel work into his pieces. By pairing these vivid hues with bright gold, a style was born.
He designed quite the lineup of non-serious pieces based on children’s books. Characters from Alice in Wonderland, Stuart Little, and Humpty Dumpty himself were the central focus of his jewelry. Other works incorporated living things, such as diamond-encrusted strawberries that had “movement” to them and a beautiful circa 1965 beetle ring designed with coral, lapis, turquoise, and diamonds. Claflin even crafted a series of friendly, wearable dragons.
Claflin was known to partner with the jewelry manufacturing company, Carven French, and he worked closely with them to bring his fun pieces to life, utilizing a wide range of materials. Even though his creations were very unconventional, they required extremely skilled techniques to construct them.
Although he is known for his quirky designs, he did craft other popular pieces in his eleven years at Tiffany & Company. In 1967 he designed a line of figurative brooches influenced by Peru. He was also one of the first American jewelers to work with tanzanite, an indigo-hued stone from Tanzania, and this Tiffany line debuted in 1968.
For those who enjoyed less-colorful pieces, Claflin designed a Crisscross ring, which featured a center diamond with two intersecting bands. This unique style became one of his signature styles while working with Tiffany & Company.
Unfortunately, Claflin’s relationship with the company ended in 1977, reportedly on bad terms after conflicts with a new designer. He then went on to work at Bulgari, designing abstract, everyday wear pieces in gold.
Claflin died in 1979 at the age of 44, while he was still working for Bulgari. He left a legacy of amusing and whimsical pieces that are still causing people to smile today.