The Royal Jewellers S01 ep5 : Verdura Jewellery [New York]
Interview with Ward Landragin
I first heard about Verdura in a sort of embarrassing way. It was 1969 and I was doing an appraisal in Dallas Texas for Lilly Ponds - she was a big movie star in her day. She was French and she was also an Opera Singer before she became a Movie Star and she had a lot of Verdura jewellery. I had never ever seen the name before and this jewellery was quite amazing, it was sort of stars and comets. I asked "Can you tell me more about it?" I was 24 and I was head of the jewellery department at Sotherby's. She said "Young man, you don't know who Fuoco Verdura is?" I said "No I don't" She said "When you get back to New York you should find out!"
Verdura was born in 1898 in Palermo and his family were titled Italians and he
was a Duke. Like many of those families, they lived in splendour but without
much money and they were selling off the contents of their houses as they
went along. Coincidentally one of those serendipitous things that happened
along the way, occurred in 1919 when Cole and Linda Porter were on their
honeymoon in Palermo and Fuoco was living there and met them, and they
became friends, fast friends. Porter at that time was renting a Palazzo up in
Venice and they invited him to come up to Venice and he went and there he
met Coco Chanel and that was really the beginning of his career.
Within 6 months, I think from the time he went there he ended up involved with
her jewellery designs. If you look at Georgian in say 1905 and say Edwardian
on through the teens and into the 20's and Art Deco, it was almost all in white
metal. Verdura felt that women were reluctant to wear the white jewellery in the
day time and he convinced Chanel that they should make the jewellery in
Yellow gold so they could actually wear it with her clothes, and he liked colour
so, pretty much from 1926 he worked for her for 8 years.
He came to America in 1934. He and his friend ??De Gusberg, went to
Hollywood. De Gusberg actually ended up being editor of Town and Country,
Harpers Bazaar and Vogue. Fuoco actually went to work in New York for a
man called Paul Flato and Verdura had actually gone out I think it was 37 or 38
and they opened a Plato store on Sunset Blvd and he was posted out there
and he got to know a lot of the Hollywood crowd and they were actually, as
you probably know they were making jewellery for the films.
The war started and Verdura decided to open his business literally in the same
building that Plato had been in and that was September 1st 1939 which was
the day war was declared in Europe. And he opened his business here just
down the street at 7/12 at 5th which is now I think Henry Bendel.
His clients were the people who had the most money and the reason I brought
that up was that they were not trying to impress their friends with their wealth,
they had already - that was established.
KM: they were past all the power, the power symbol stuff.
Yes, I think that the monarch we'll hang on it is Retro because it was
everything revisited in a way. It was post modern it was all those things.
KM: Why wasn't he as big as some of the other well known brands like Cartier
He didn't care
KM: No seriously?
He didn't care.
KM: When you first heard of this chap what was your first reaction honestly?
I first heard about it in a sort of an embarrassing way. It was 1965 and I was
doing an appraisal in Dallas Texas for Lilly Ponds - she was a big movie star in
her day. She was French and she was also an Opera Singer before she
became a Movie Star and she had a lot of Verdura jewellery. I had never ever
seen the name before so I ... and this jewellery was quite amazing, it was sort
of stars and comets... you know it was really quite remarkable and I said you
know can you tell me more about this. I was 24 years old and I was head of
the jewellery department at Sotheby’s. She said "Young man, you don't know
who Fuoco Verdura is?" I said "No I don't" She said "When you get back to
New York you should find out".
KM Why are you doing this?
I studied Fine Art History and I wanted to teach. I went to the Cortault Institute
in London for graduate studies and while I was over there I had gone to see
Sotheby’s the auction house and I was intrigued because in America the
auction had a very negative connotation. I came back from school and I got a
job at Sotheby’s and I ended up in the jewellery department because they
needed someone who understood a Ruby from an Emerald from a Sapphire
and because I had put down on my resume that I had worked for a jeweller for
7 years I was the candidate.
And that was it.
I left in 1973 and I started a company with my own name on it but just
E.J.Landragin but I bought and sold estate jewellery and I kept in touch with
the people at Verdura. The man himself had retired to London and there was a
fellow there called Joseph A Al Farno who had been Verdura since 1935 and
his days at Plato.
KM: So he really really knew.,....
He was part of the fabric of the place and then I basically waited it out.
KM: SO when did it fall in your lap?
In 19... I started talking to Joseph seriously in the early 80's and in 84 we had
mutual friend a Japanese fellow called Karo Yamaoka and one day Karo
showed up in my office which was in this building and said, Ward would you be
interested in buying the company Verdura and I said, "Karo I have been
waiting 11 years, am I interested, Yes I am interested" and that was it, it was
When I took over the company what I tried to do was see how others saw us.
because I think that if you can do that at least you have got a leg up because it
is easy to deceive yourself. The good thing about the business is that it did
have a sort of not a family connotation but it was sort of like a club.
So many people... when you say jewellery the first thing that comes to mind is
a big diamond, not the mounting, it is the idea of having something precious.
And you think of how the jewellery is given, almost always it is either a token of
love, as a gesture of friendship, as a payoff of having done something. I mean
jewellery is called the currency of love.
KM: Clear - and then there is fireworks, whereas otherwise there is the base
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Verdura Jewellery