Handbags & Accessories

Karl Lagerfeld's Most Chanel Iconic Accessories

By Erica Kagan
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Timeless Chanel Bijouterie

It was the early 1920s, and Coco Chanel had already captivated the fashion world with radical, sporty silhouettes that freed women’s physical form. And, of course, with the little black dress, or petit robe noir. Eager to astound her loyal followers once again, Mademoiselle Chanel made opulent costume jewels her next endeavor. By combining faux and precious materials in an unprecedented way, Chanel costume jewelry, or bijouterie, would forever alter the course of fashion history. The inheritor of Coco Chanel’s legacy seemed an impossible role to fill, that is, until Karl Lagerfeld stepped in.

When Karl Lagerfeld took the reins of Maison Chanel in 1983, Coco had been gone for 12 years, and the brand was struggling. The death of its founder had left a vast void, and Chanel was in desperate need of a new iconic persona. Lagerfeld, like Coco, understood what it took to transform fashion for the modern woman. Instead of abandoning her legacy for his own, Karl Lagerfeld considered himself the “channeler” of Coco. Embracing the iconic motifs of Chanel jewelry – from dripping pearls ropes to the Maltese cross – Karl Lagerfeld modernized the house’s designs, while ensuring that they remained recognizably Chanel. Imbued with a modern spirit, Lagerfeld’s earliest jewelry designs would remain his most iconic. Providing a window into the “golden era” of Karl Lagerfeld, Sotheby’s is dedicating a landmark auction to one-of-a-kind Chanel accessories from the maximalist, extravagant 1980s and 90s.

Chanel Dragonfly Brooch, 1971-1980

Chanel Brooch: The Living Legacy of Gripoix Glass

When Coco Chanel first approached Gripoix, the French design house, she was looking for reproductions of Byzantine jewelry. “Let everyone think that this jewelry is not new, but found somewhere on an excavation site nearby Rue Camborne,” Chanel requested. A loyal customer for decades, Chanel formed a special relationship with Suzanne Gripoix. As a result, Gripoix developed a novel, irregular glass pearl just for Chanel, dubbing it Gripoix Glass. This unique creation would quickly be cemented as a brand signature, and the eye catching Dragonfly Brooch – constructed from multicolor Gripoix glass – is clear example of why. Strikingly unique, Lagerfeld playfully modernized this glass design with the iconic Chanel chain functioning as the brooch’s body. Whether pinned to the lapel of a tweed jacket or on your 2.55 Flap Bag, the Chanel brooch is an accessory essential, tastefully elevating any fashionable ensemble.

Chanel CC Cuff Bracelet, 1997

Chanel Cuff: Lagerfeld's Reinvented Staple

From 1933 onwards, Chanel had a close yet largely undocumented friendship with Duke Fulco di Verdura. A Sicilian aristocrat and jet-setting playboy, Verdura was an unlikely partner for self-made businesswoman, Coco Chanel. Evidently, out of the unexpected came revolution, as Verdura would help shape the future of Chanel jewelry. With a shared passion for Baroque and organic, unbridled shapes, Verdura and Chanel disregarded the classic criteria of sophisticated taste. As such, it was Verdura who designed the first silver cuff bracelet for Chanel, decorating it with a Maltese cross made of multi-colored, semi-precious stones, and mounted on white enamel. A thoughtful reimagination of classic garments, this Chanel bracelet was designed to replace a traditional shirt cuff. Coco Chanel personally adored these bracelets and would wear them constantly, notably stacking multiple mismatched cuffs on her wrists. Of all the Chanel bracelets ever crafted, the cuff is an undeniable icon that Lagerfeld made a reinvented staple of his earliest collections.

Chanel Pearl Necklace, 1983

Chanel Necklace: Coco's Most Prized Possession

There is no piece of jewelry more directly tied to the image of Coco Chanel than the opulent layering of pearl ropes. The perfect accent to her minimalist style, Coco always sported pearls, even for the most casual of occasions. As the “channeler” of Coco, Karl Lagerfeld looked to past designs for inspiration, and embracing Chanel’s most iconic motifs – from pearls to interlocking CCs – was how he did it. In his decadent necklace designs from the 1980s, Lagerfeld not only reintroduced the layering of pearls, but used accents of Gripoix glass to make them truly stand out.

Chanel Butterfly Earrings, 1971-1980

Chanel Earrings: Coveted For Contrast And Excess

Chanel costume earrings are best recognized for the visual interest created by their contrast and excess, which fit right in with the opulent designs of the 1980s and 90s. Often accompanied by a matching ring or cuff bracelet, Chanel earrings are the ideal finishing touch to any outfit. Or, as with the Multicolor Mosaic Butterfly Earrings, the ultimate showstopper. Though earrings started to become more of a focus of Chanel costume jewelry collections in the 1990s, interestingly, it wasn’t until the 2000s that the brand introduced pierced earring designs. Today, Lagerfeld’s Baroque-inspired clip-ons are coveted by the most dedicated vintage hunters.

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