Ruling the Roost – Rooster-inspired jewellery for the Chinese year of the rooster.

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the year of the rooster, so I decided to go on a hunt for jewellery that makes the most of Mr Cluck’s natural beauty (or lack thereof).

Let’s be honest, looks wise, the rooster certainly got the (literal) short end of the stick. Its stocky and plump form simply doesn’t lend itself well to jewellery, unlike the elegant proportions of the peacock and swan. This is probably why Mr Cluck hardly ever makes an appearance in jewellery while the latter two enjoy regular appearances on jewellers’ benches.

However, even Ugly Duckling got his moment in the spotlight (The irony that he only got it by turning into a swan is not lost on me.) and with 2017 being his year, I think it’s Mr Cluck’s turn to shine.

Opening image: Boucheron 18-carat yellow gold cockerel brooch with a cabochon ruby eye and single cut diamonds on the beak, circa 1960, from the 8 December 2010 auction of Phillips New York. Photo credit: Phillips; Above: Buccellati 18-carat yellow gold rooster brooch with a sapphire eye, single-cut diamonds on the brow, and rubies set on the crown and wattle, undated, from the 29 September 2010 Important Estate Jewellery auction of Doyle New York. Photo credit: Doyle

It’s such a cliche to say that they don’t make them like this anymore, but in the case of rooster jewellery, I really do think the phrase rings true. In any other year represented by any other animal of the Chinese zodiac, jewellers would ply collectors with spectacular creations inspired by said animal. No such attention for poor neglected Mr Cluck; the few good pieces I have managed to find featuring him are mostly vintage or secondhand. In the bulk of more current creations, he makes his appearances as simple charms or pendants that display almost no imagination in portraying his form – a pity, as I tend to prefer pieces that take a little more creative license. It certainly seems like Mr Cluck’s heydays ended after the 1960s.

Van Cleef & Arpels 18-carat yellow gold rooster brooch with a cabochon turquoise body, rubies on the wattle and eye, and diamonds on the head and tail, undated, from the 22 June 2014 auction of Dupuis. Photo credit: Dupuis

To the jewellery-obsessed, it will come as no surprise that some of the most charming examples of these vintage pieces are by Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and Boucheron. These brands are, after all, well-established as masters of animal- and nature-inspired wearable art. I particularly like the Boucheron piece shown here, with the artful arrangement of the cockerel’s feathers so that they appear almost like the petals of a flower. Cartier’s example gives such a sense of movement, it almost seems alive.

Cartier 18-carat yellow gold Coq brooch with diamonds on the head and tail, and rubies on the crown and goblet, circa 1948. From the 16 May 2007 Magnificent Jewels auction of Christie’s, Geneva. Photo credit: Christie’s

Unfortunately, covetable and beautiful as the high jewellery versions of Mr Cluck are, they remain purely aspirational for most. For a touch of Van Cleef & Arpels’ flair without the heart-stopping price tag, Trifari is the name to look out for.

The brand was founded in New York City in the 1910s by Gustavo Trifari and really came into its own in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The slowdown in business for many luxury jewellery houses meant redundancy for their employees. One of those employees was Alfred Philippe, a former designer of Van Cleef & Arpels, who sought a job with Trifari after getting retrenched. Philippe brought to Trifari Van Cleef & Arpels’ renowned invisible setting technique, as well as the luxury maison’s flair for animal-inspired designs. The precious gems may have been swapped for rhinestone counterparts and solid gold for gold plating, but the quality of craftsmanship and creativity shown in the creations would give any high-end jeweller a run for its money. I’ve always admired Trifari’s bold use of colour, and the rooster pin from its Firebirds collection shown here is no exception.

Trifari Firebirds rooster pin with invisibly-set “rubies” on the crown and wattle, circa 1964. Similar items from the same collection can be found on Ebay and Rubylane sold by trusted sellers such as N and N Vintage Costume Jewellery.

I’ll close my search for Mr Cluck in the present. Finding a handsome portrayal of him in contemporary jewellery was a real challenge, but the internet will provide if one seeks hard enough. I was rewarded for my perseverance with Queensbee, an up-and-coming line by Russian designer Julia Kharitonova. In her Rooster Year ring, the bird is cleverly carved into the ring’s shoulder and band – a subtle tribute to the animal, even if the rest of the ring is all statement.

Rooster Year ring in silver and gold, and set with quartz from the Stars and Signs collection by Queensbee.

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