Never understated, Tony Duquette was beloved for his lavish, extravagantly designed interiors, jewelry, furniture, costumes, film sets and gardens. He was a creative talent unlike any other. Born in Los Angeles in 1914, he was described by his sister as ''always just was what he was -- artistic, driven." Tony often said he was discovered by the decorator and socialite Elsie de Wolfe, who became his patron and helped establish him as a leading designer in Los Angeles.
In 1949, Tony married Elizabeth Johnstone, a talented and beautiful artist, whom he nicknamed Beegle. The wedding was at Pickfair, the home of Mary Pickford, who served as Matron of Honor, and Charles Buddy Rogers, Tony’s Best Man. The ‘who’s who’ of Hollywood attended the wedding, and Tony’s career was well on its way to success.
In 1951, Tony Duquette was the subject of a one-man exhibition at the Louvre, its first for an American. Following this landmark exhibition of Tony’s furniture, jewelry, art and maquettes for costumes and sets, the Duke of Windsor commissioned him to create a necklace for his wife, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor. Tony created a whimsical, free form design of articulated garlands of gold leaves and flowers set with citrines, peridots and mabe pearls.
Tony Duquette valued aesthetics over the standard definitions of luxury. He incorporated semiprecious jewels and eclectic materials in innovative ways into his designs. He felt nothing was too ordinary, too inexpensive or too sacred. He used Peking glass, tortoise shell, iridescent beetles, carved tree nuts, carnelian, African beads, seashells, rose quartz and other found objects, as well as his favorite stone, malachite. The generous use of these unusual choices transformed his jewelry into bold and distinctive statement pieces.
When asked about Duquette’s inspiration, Tony’s business partner and design collaborator of 30 years, Hutton Wilkinson, answered that Tony believed in something that he referred to as “Natural Baroque.” Tony would say, “If there were only one abalone shell in the world, wars would be fought over it for its beauty,” hence his nickname “Tony Abalone.”
Since Tony Duquette’s death in 1999, Hutton Wilkinson has continued Tony’s design legacy in his role as President and Artistic Director of Tony Duquette Inc., Los Angeles. Hutton describes what they do “at Tony Duquette, Inc. is the very essence, the definition of luxury…something one of a kind, something unique…something that only one person can have…we have so many choices today that if it’s not fabulous…it’s meaningless.”
A stunning example of Tony Duquette’s use of unusual and striking stones is exemplified by a pendant brooch composed of moss agate and iridescent labradorite accented by pearls from Doyle’s May 2016 auction in Beverly Hills. The Fine Jewelry auction on February 22 in New York offers a stylish ring set with a fancy-cut peridot and numerous small square peridots set into textured gold.