THE JEWELRY COLLECTION of Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, was a bit of a zoo. Almost literally. She owned little pearl brooches by Seaman Schepps that depicted pecking chicks. She also wore a Cartier diamond clip in the form of a preening flamingo and a great many of the house’s fiercely decadent signature panther pieces.
Animal motifs have long stalked the world of fine jewelry. Along with Cartier’s cats, which last year celebrated their 100th anniversary, there are Bulgari’s Serpenti watches and bracelets, launched in the 1940s. And over the course of its 157-year history, French jeweler Boucheron has assembled an ark-worthy menagerie, ranging from hedgehogs to peacocks.
Until recently, pieces like this were generally set aside in favor of more abstract stuff. These days, however, a group of designers including Daniela Villegas from Mexico and French jeweler Lydia Courteille are revisiting the expressive charm of fauna-based finery.
Perhaps the freshest take comes from New York-based designer Marc Alary. His flat, graphic animal silhouettes are crafted in white and yellow gold, left plain or studded with gems. “I’ve been drawn to animals as far back as I can remember,” said Mr. Alary. “At a young age, we’re given stuffed animals and animal trinkets as gifts, so there must be something soothing about them.”
Parisian designer Aurélie Bidermann also cited youthful memories as the spark for her animal and insect designs—as well as French artist Paul Jouve, known for his paintings of African mammals. Ms. Bidermann said she’s particularly pleased when she manages to merge whimsy and savoir faire: her ladybug pendant has well-engineered gold wings that lift up to reveal a bed of rubies. “It’s important that my jewelry has the highest quality while [staying] playful.” she said. That’s also the case with Mr. Alary’s monkey pendants and earrings with lanky, movable limbs. Made of 11 different parts, they’re as much toy as they are a feat of craftsmanship.
The newfound appreciation for these pieces is also reinvigorating older brands, like American label David Webb, which launched its brightly enameled animalia in 1962. Its frog bangle was recently reissued and is now available on Net-a-Porter. In the works, said co-owner Mark Emanuel, is “a magnificent monkey bracelet.”