Recognized for meticulously crafted statement jewelry showcasing bold and beautiful beadwork, colorful gripoix-inspired glass stones, and lushly textured metalwork, the house of DeLillo- and the duo behind it- remains an enigma for many today.
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | William de Lillo, wearing one of his creations
William deLillo was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1925 and later moved to the United States in the 1950s, settling in New York. He worked as a fine-jewelry buyer for established, iconic companies like Tiffany & Co and consultant at Cartier Incorporated, Harry Winston, and Miriam Haskell. It was while with Miriam Haskell where he met Robert F. Clark, the lead designer for the company and his future life partner. Clark had also spent time at Harry Winston and Tiffany's.
PHOTO: THE RECORD | Robert Clark wearing a gold tie ornament, March 16, 1968
Eventually, the two went on to forge their own path, creating William deLillo Ltd in New York City in 1967. It was during this electric time of cultural and sexual revolution that the two were inspired to create gender-fluid jewelry styles intended to be worn by both men and women for their first collection. Men and women alike were sporting long hair, protesting war, and wearing beads, and the New York Times coined the term "unisex." They crafted avant-garde pieces utilizing the high quality construction standards for which they were both accustomed, featuring chokers and neckpieces in plated brass, twisted mesh rope, fringe, and tassels.
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | WILLIAM DE LILLO SHOWING MENS NECKLACES
NEW YORK POST | Necktie On Way Out by Eugenia Sheppard, 1968
"We began doing neck ornaments because we felt the turtleneck didn't look right without some sort of trim," he said last week." Gladiators and emperors wore jewelry and they were very masculine." -William De Lillo
THE RECORD | Baubles, Bangles, And Beads For Men by Judy Jeannin, March 16, 1968
William joined the ranks of designers who publicly declared that the necktie was on the way out, replaced by men's jewelry while paired with a black turtleneck. The most notable example of this being his infamous dog collar necklace as seen on Jordan Christopher.
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | Actor & Singer Jordan Christopher in William de Lillo Dog Collar Choker Necklace
One of William's favorite styles of tie replacement was a gold lariat chain, a definite Recess favorite that we always try to keep stocked! Collections of extremely limited editions were sold to high end luxury retailers including Neiman Marcus, I.Magnin, and Bonwit Teller. The duo also collaborated with American fashion houses, creating pieces for Adolfo, Bill Blass, and Norman Norell, in addition to American royalty Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford.
"We have also been asked to lend the jewelry for women's shows, but this I will not do. I want these things to be firmly established as masculine items. In the fall we will do far more elaborate and beautiful things of a similar nature for women, but by that time there will be no confusion." -William de Lillo
In 1976 William and Robert stopped production of their line and moved to the south of France. This pause created the peak of their career, where the duo then designed freelance collaborations with major houses such as Yves Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and Nina Ricci as well as wealthy private clients, including the Duchess of Windsor and the Baron and Baroness Rothschild- who sponsored a solo fine jewelry exhibition in Paris in 1978.
William and Robert returned to the US in 1986, settling in Phoenix, Arizona. There, the two created sculptures and other pieces of art that grew from their jewelry designs: raw and wild wire sculptures and big bronze Brutalist works were born in their atelier until William's death in 2011, followed by Robert a few years later.
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | WILLIAM DE LILLO Wire cage Table Sculpture
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | WILLIAM DE LILLO Brutalist Faces Wall Sculpture
PHOTO: 1st DIBS | WILLIAM DE LILLO Brutalist Bust Sculpture
With only a few years of production, extremely limited quantities, and mostly custom one-of-a-kind orders, little more is known about the company, and jewelry pieces are coveted, scarce, and sought after by private collectors and museums alike. Searches for William deLillo yield spellings of de Lillo, deLillo, DeLillo, while markings include deLillo, de Lillo, deLILLO, W de Lillo, and Wm deLillo. Though the spellings may not be consistent, you can be sure that the pieces bearing the marks will be a consistent winner, the ultimate statement piece. We're so appreciative to have come across a collection this large, and are so excited to share it with you.