If you are looking to add some vintage William De Lillo jewelry to your collection, you have come to the right place. Here you will learn about the history, jewelry marks, materials used, most collectible pieces, and tips on how to buy.
William De Lillo and his partner Robert E. Clark designed and manufactured some of the boldest and most sought-after jewelry of its time. It is known for the meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail and the highest-quality materials used, particularly the delightfully eccentric beads.
Brief History of William De Lillo Jewelry
William De Lillo was born in Belgian and immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, settling in New York City where he designed jewelry for the likes of Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Harry Winston. While designing for the Miriam Haskell Company, he met head designer Robert E. Clark, and in 1968, they formed William De Lillo Ltd.
It was a time of cultural revolution across American society, including with gender stereotypes. Unisex fashions were popular. Men wore long hair, layers of beads and flowing robes. William and Robert loved this trend and designed “gender bending” jewelry for men. Their first collection was made from heavy gold-tone rhodium-plated brass adorned with twisted ropes, fringes and tassels. They were part of a movement that sought “death to ties” and created pieces such as a gold dog collar and a dangling chain of gold circles to replace boring, uncomfortable ties. As we know, their efforts to do away with ties failed.
De Lillo jewelry tended toward one of a kind, limited editions, couture and runway pieces. Much of it was created exclusively for wealthy clients: the high society set, such as the Duchess of Windsor and the Baron and Baroness Rothschild, and Hollywood royalty, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Crawford. Collections were also bought by high-fashion, luxury retailers Neiman Marcus, I. Magnin, and Bonwit Teller.
William and Robert ceased production of their jewelry lines in 1976 and moved to the South of France. There, they did freelance jewelry design for fashion houses, such as Schiaparelli, Nina Ricci, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel. And, of course, their exclusive pieces for the grandes dames of European society.
In 1986, they returned to the U.S. and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where they spent the rest of their years sculpting works that grew out of their jewelry designs: big, Brutalist (an architectural style that was intentionally raw, haphazard, unadorned) wire and bronze.
William died in 2011; Robert a few years later.
William and Robert were the only designers for William De Lillo Ltd jewelry. Robert worked at Harry Winston and Tiffany's before rising through the ranks to become head designer at Miriam Haskell. His jewelry was admired for its distinctive style, complexity, quality and skillful execution.
William De Lillo Jewelry Marks
The marks appear on an oval cartouch (a drawing of a scroll with rolled-up ends) or are stamped into metal.
- "Wm de Lillo"
- "Wm DeLillo"
- "William De Lillo"
- "William de Lillo”
- “William Delillo”
Materials Used in Vintage William De Lillo Jewelry
- Colored glass cabochons
- Crystal rhinestones
- Swarovski crystals
- Faux pearls
- Faux turquoise
- Faux opals
- Angel skin coral
- Navettes (marquise-shaped stones)
- Carved wooden beads
- Sterling silver
- Gold plate
- Gold-tone mesh
Most Collectible William De Lillo Jewelry
De Lillo jewelry is known as the “Holy Grail” of collectible costume jewelry, not only because the designs were produced for such a brief period of time but also because much of the jewelry were one of a kind, made exclusively for wealthy clients and limited editions.
- Jeweled Statement Cuff Bracelet made with hammered 18K gold-electroplated brass and German faux opal cabochons.
- Gold-tone seashell hoop earrings with hinged bottoms for clips.
- Collar necklace made with art glass with authentic angel skin coral.
- A large (4” by 3”) brooch with black and clear navettes on gold plate, each navette accented with gold beading.
- A cream (faux) pearl lariat necklace with red and gold glass bead accents and gold-tone tassels.
- Sterling silver hammered Aztec Tribal Mayan Warrior Pendant.
- Chunky hinged bracelet fashioned from heavy gold plate decorated with jewel-toned glass cabochons and tiny clear rhinestones.
- Multi strand necklaces with carved wooden beads, glass stones and gold-toned metal.
Tips for Buying Vintage William De Lillo Jewelry
- Tread lightly. As we have noted, William De Lillo Ltd. was not in business for a long time. Compound that with many pieces were one of a kind or created for one person or produced in a limited edition, and you have a line where every piece is rare. So a vendor with multiple copies of an item would be suspect.
- While not every piece of De Lillo jewelry was signed, most were. It’s best to depend on the mark. Better safe than sorry.
- Look for jewelry that is big, bold, heavy—as a rule. Delicate and dainty was not the De Lillo brand.
- Obtain a guarantee of authenticity.
- Check the vendor’s reviews and feedback from customers.
- Read the vendor’s "Shipping and Return Policies."
- Use a safe method of payment (e.g., PayPal, Apple Pay, or Venmo) in case of any disputes.
You are not likely to gather a large collection of De Lillo jewelry in a brief amount of time, as you may with other lines. But when you find a De Lillo, it is a really important find. Maybe not quite like finding gold, but very similar to those us who enjoy the quest for De Lillo treasure.
Please see Etsy’s De Lillo page. The pieces are absolutely breathtaking and will educate you on the De Lillo style. Also, check out eBay for vintage De Lillo jewelry.
2 thoughts on “Buying Guide for Vintage William De Lillo Jewelry”
I’m sure I have a one of a kind WM de Lillo necklace its made out of bamboo rings with large heavy gold elephants . Its in great condition nothing cracked or broke .
Wow, that sounds like a beauty! Thanks for your comment, Erin 🙂