Niki de Saint Phalle started making jewellery in the early 1970s with GianCarlo Montebello after the pair had been introduced by mutual friends in Paris. Montebello spent much of his time moving between Milan and Paris, where he would visit Saint Phalle in her studio. She would give him drawings for her jewels and they would discuss at length how they should be executed. The jewellery designs were fiendishly difficult to execute; the complex enamelling had to be fired at a different temperature for each colour, risking cracking or warping at any stage. Her jewellery required the most skilled craftsmen, and could take months to perfect. Montebello would travel back and forth with prototypes in various stages of completion to show to Saint Phalle who, he recalls, was an enthusiastic collaborator. Through her exploration of the human form within her jewellery, Saint Phalle was able to express her feminist views and became one of the few female artists in the twentieth century to battle through the male-dominated art world to find fame and recognition as one of the century’s ‘greats’.
The infamous Nana became synonymous with her work and allowed her to represent her feminist views. One necklace has the Nana standing on a man’s head. She felt men should not always be on top but she did allow them to show their status by making the man detachable.
The male part of the jewel can be worn as a brooch thus allowing the
wearer to position the man wherever they like, depending on how they feel about men at the time! Many of the pieces she made are designed to be worn as necklaces but are removable from the torque and can be
positioned around the body as a pin.
In 1978, GEM Montebello editions closed. When production stopped,
there were still numerous designs de Saint Phalle hoped to execute with Montebello for ever-bigger and more elaborate pieces. The pair also planned to work together again in 2001, but sadly she died before they were able to start a new project.
De Saint Phalle also published an edition of jewellery with Sven
Boltenstern in 1977; and also created designs with Galerie JGM and MuseeD’Art Decoratifs and also Diana Kueppers in the late 1980s and early 90s. On each occasion she called on Montebello’s help, trusting only him with attaining the highest level of production. She also made several large edition multiples and unlimited pieces in non-precious metal for sale in museum shops and other outlets. She would use the proceeds to finance larger-scale artworks.