Claflin, Donald

1935 - 1979

The American designer Donald Claflin was born in Massachusetts in 1935 and studied at the Parsons School of design in New York.  He began his career working as a textile designer and illustrator before entering the world of fine jewellery with brief stints designing for David Webb followed by Van Cleef & Arpels.  

In 1965 he joined Tiffany & Co. and for the next twelve years worked with them creating both whimsical and traditional jewellery.  He was encouraged to explore his ideas and no constraints were placed on his creativity. The result was inspired, charming and playful jewels that for all their quirkiness never lost their sense of refinement due to the quality of both the materials and craftsmanship.  Some of his most well know designs are his characters from children’s stories such as Humpty Dumpty, Chicken Licken and Stuart Little, all delightfully rendered in gold, diamonds and brightly coloured gems and enamel.  A striking collection of Peruvian-inspired figurative brooches was launched in 1967 created in coral, turquoise, pink tourmalines and gold, two of which sold recently at auction for a combined total of almost £300,000 proving just how collectible his work remains today.  For the more traditional Tiffany client Claflin designed diamond and coloured gem set rings, brooches and earrings.  He created a magnificent collection of Tanzanite jewellery in 1968 with which Tiffany introduced the newly discovered gemstone to the world and in 1970 designed the Crisscross ring which was to become one of his signature styles.

Much of his jewellery was technically difficult to produce and required the skills of a host of master craftsmen. The jewellery manufacturers Carvin French were selected to execute his designs as they had all the necessary expertise including that of enamelling.  Claflin developed a close working relationship with one of the Carvin founders, Andre Chervin, which facilitated the seamless realisation of his designs, no matter how complex or demanding. 

Claflin’s imaginative force ranged from strawberries to Dragons via bold gemset rings and wooden bangles inlaid with pavé diamonds. He celebrated a wide range of different gem materials and utilised many different jewellery techniques in his designs.  In 1977 he transferred his considerable talents to Bulgari for whom he designed much more abstract jewellery with a focus on yellow gold styles that women could wear all day every day.  He remained with the firm until his untimely death in 1979 aged just 44.