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Get into the swing of things with a sautoir

Milena Lazazzera
April 15, 2024
8 min

With her hands tucked into a pair of loose, low-rise jeans, and wavy hair cascading over the shoulders of a pink puffer, Rihanna knew exactly how to dress for impact when it came to her first pregnancy announcement. But her look’s key component was what dangled over the belly itself. With an oversized cross pendant encrusted with gems, and a pearl sautoir gently grazing her thighs, the world was introduced to two new trends: the exposed pregnant belly as an event accessory – a style that the Barbadian pop singer has also embraced during her second pregnancy this year – but also, the moment where the #neckmess truly escalated in size and scale. Now, long swaying sautoirs are taking centre stage.

Chanel Mademoiselle Privé Lion Sautoir

For several seasons now, cascades of beaded sautoirs and lengthy chains swaying over the belly have been a defining characteristic of Dolce & Gabbana’s aesthetics, including in their men's collections. More recently, this style has emerged as a staple in the collections of Chanel, Celine and Gucci. At Dior, creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri introduced golden openwinged butterflies among oversized beaded necklaces, which served as a common thread throughout her Resort 2024 collection presented in Mexico City in May of this year.

Long necklaces have long been associated with opulence and power in various cultures. Consider the portrait of Henry VIII painted by Hans Holbein, in which the King proudly dons a medallion necklace over his burgeoning belly. In Mughal India, the privilege of wearing the longest strands of pearls grazing the waist was reserved for the emperors and their sons.

In Italy, long sautoirs gently grazing the belly are an integral part of an ancient tradition that connects a mother with the baby in her womb. Known as chiama angeli (‘call angels’), these necklaces typically consist of long chains terminating in spherical pendants filled with small metallic balls, creating a tinkling sound as the future mother moves to keep the baby awake during the day. When the mother removes the necklace at night, the ensuing silence lulls the baby to sleep, helping them to discern the difference between day and night and regulate their sleep patterns.

Elsa Peretti wearing the Tiffany & Co. sautoir she designed. Photo by Jill Krementz, 1974

Caterina Murino, the former James Bond actress who recently launched her eponymous jewellery collection, drew inspiration from this tradition to create one of the most sought-after styles in her range. Crafted by skilled goldsmiths in Murino’s native island of Sardinia, Caterina Murino Jewellery’s ‘Chiama Angeli’ Fili di Vento features 18-carat yellow gold chains adorned with traditional Sardinian filigree, an intricate metalwork technique involving the interweaving of fine wires or threads that are coiled or twisted to form exquisite patterns. Dangling from the chain, delicate filigree circles create the voluminous yet feather-light ball that contains those twinkling metal beads.

Not just a modern-day resurgence, the romanticism of these necklaces also threads its way throughout the 20th century. “I need a necklace. It needs to embrace the neck and go down through the chest till the belly” wrote Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio in a 1931 letter to his trusted jeweller Mario Buccellati, commissioning him to create yet another jewel for one of his many lovers. One of D’Annunzio’s requests from the era translated into a sautoir made of sculpted crystal beads which the poet offered to Eleonora Duse, one of the most celebrated and elegant theatre actresses of the early 1900s. The neck- lace now forms part of Buccellati’s heritage collection and is sometimes displayed in the house’s boutiques across the world (incidentally, Rihanna also counts Buccellati pieces among her collection).

The commission for Duse also serves as inspiration for the Ombelicali series, a collection of beaded necklaces redolent of the Renaissance era and designed to delicately skim the wearer’s belly button (referred to as ‘ombelico’ in Italian). The Maison introduced the line last year, featuring soft-hued, intricately carved gemstones such as cabochon-cut rose opals combined with oval onyx, olive-toned jade, coral and lapis lazuli, all set within Buccellati’s signature ornate motifs, crafted from yellow and white gold and embellished with diamonds.

Francois Hardy wearing a Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra sautoir

Long, swinging sautoirs were all the rage not only during the 1920s when Buccellati conceived its first Ombelicali, but also throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when a spirit of rebellion swept the world, disrupting preconceived notions of social conventions, the role of women in society and fashion. Influential and stylish women like Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, and Elsa Peretti led the way, with their fashion choices emulated by many. In 1970, photographer Franco Rubartelli captured the enigmatic Vera von Lehndorff, known as Veruschka, for an American Vogue story. Shot in profile, she wore a bold Bulgari necklace featuring a 127.35-carat heart-shaped emerald atop a pink headwrap.

That iconic image encapsulated the essence of an era and propelled Bulgari as the go-to jeweller during the heady days of La Dolce Vita in Rome. Shortly after the necklace returned from the Vogue photoshoot, it was purchased by a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary in Rome, resurfacing five years ago at Sotheby’s – there, the Italian fashion house repurchased it. This year, that iconic design serves as the inspiration for the Esedra necklace, featuring a 68.88-carat emerald surrounded by luminous turquoise, part of the Mediterranea collection the house presented in Venice.

Remaining true to its own maximalist aesthetic, Gucci showcased a new high jewellery collection in Florence, Allegoria, that included an abundance of long and chunky chains adorned with spectacular tourmalines, emeralds, and opals in ornate settings. Particularly remarkable was the colossal 100-carat cerulean aquamarine adorning a powerfully radiant collar, seemingly passed down to Gucci directly from Lorenzo the Magnificent, the former patron of Florence.

Extra-long necklaces also commanded attention in Dolce & Gabbana’s latest high jewellery collection, unveiled in Puglia. Striking Figaro-style chains in yellow gold showcased the brand’s distinctive ornate crosses, some adorned entirely with rubies and rubellites, oval-cut sapphires or emeralds and indicolite tourmalines rimmed with diamonds. There was also a remarkable chain of diamond beads holding a cross echoing the chain motif. And there were also some horological surprises in sautoir style. Cue the sumptuous manual mechanical watch, held by a lavishly ornate chain pendant named Marco Polo. The timepiece boasted a hand-engraved golden rectangular case, within which a nephrite disc supported by a miniature golden lion displayed the time with golden hands.

The spirit of the 1920s – hungry for life and fun in swinging fringes, dangling tassels, and long sautoirs – has captured watchmakers as well as jewellery designers, with 2023's Watches and Wonders seeing the return of pendant watches. According to Olivier Wagner, Senior Specialist of Jewellery at Sotheby’s, the historical significance of the pendant watch dates to the 1920s when women’s role in the workforce grew in prominence following the First World War. As women needed to manage their own time, they started attaching pocket watches to necklaces or brooches, adapting a popular item to suit their requirements and style.

Gucci whit gold necklace with blue enamel. yellow sapphire and diamonds; Piaget pink gold sautoir watch with diamonds; Jaeger-LeCoultre pink gold Reverso secret necklace with black onyx and diamonds

But the resurgence of pendant watches in our century may have been foreseen by Piaget back in 1969, when the brand unveiled its visionary 21st Century Collection, featuring a sautoir watch that now resides in the house’s private archives. In Geneva in March, Piaget unveiled a pendant watch directly inspired by the 1969 timepiece. Dubbed the Swinging Sautoir, the design boasts opulent two-stranded twisted braided gold links interspersed with emeralds, adorned with a central cabochon-cut emerald that houses a malachite dial encircled by diamonds and emerald beads. Completing the luxurious design is a lavish tassel crafted from golden chains and emerald beads. An alternative version showcases an azure turquoise dial, while a third variation, entirely fashioned in ornate gold, features Piaget’s signature Palace decorated dial for time reading.

Expanding on a series of three pendant watches introduced last year, Chanel paid homage to their founder’s zodiac sign – Coco was born, of course, under the sign of Leo – with their new Lion Sautoir. The watch showcases the iconic lion motif emerging from a black onyx medallion, as sculpted in gold and embellished with diamonds. Elsewhere, other prestigious brands that have infused their timeless classics with a swinging twist include Van Cleef & Arpels, which reimagined its icons – the four-leafed Alhambra, Perlée and Ludo – into secret pendant watches that feature deliciously coloured gemstones such as lapis lazuli, turquoise and carnelian. Much like the fob watches worn by nurses, the time is displayed upside down for the wearer’s comfort.

Inaugurating sautoir-style watches at Dior, Victoire de Castellane opted for a delicate link bar chain from which the signature asymmetrical, octagonal Gem Dior dial, adorned with diamonds, gracefully dangles. One side is adorned with vibrant malachite, while the other exudes a velvety-soft allure in aragonite. Even watch manufacturer Jaeger- LeCoultre, renowned for crafting minuscule movements for the most exquisite jewellery timepieces, introduced an elegant Art Deco-inspired creation this year. Showcasing the brand’s mastery of goldsmithing, the Reverso Secret Necklace’s delicate chain of onyx beads gracefully extends to support a diamond-studded rose gold rope that embraces the case. The case itself is adorned with an abstract geometric pattern of diamonds and onyx, which can swivel to reveal a dial echoing the same motif.

In 1920, Vogue proclaimed the pendant watch as an essential accessory for any elegant woman. The same may go for the 2020s, where every jewellery house seems to be putting their own stamp on a sautoir swing.