Countess Cissy Zoltowska
Countess Cissy Zoltowska (CIS) (???? – ????) Though diminutive in physical stature, the Austrian Countess, Cissy Zoltowska proved a formidable presence in the world of costume jewelry during the 1950’s and 60’s. Standing at only four foot ten, the Countess – with jet black hair often adorned with a flower – began her jewelry career in 1951 creating hand-painted cufflinks and buttons. Today, she is known internationally-as an artist, creator, painter, and fascinating woman who spent most of her life designing jewelry, clothing, and unique home furnishings.
Her vivid imagination, striking use of color, and attention to fine detail come to full life in her numerous paintings of acrylic on acetate, canvas, Lucite, and silk that covers an unusually wide range of subject matter and styles.
Cissy was born in Austria and grew up in a castle. During World War II, she was forced to relocate and work for a living. She moved to Switzerland and married an elegant but impoverished Polish Count. Her first pieces of ceramic jewelry sold well.
In 1951 she moved to Paris where her jewelry designs caught the attention of many important designers including Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, James Galanos, and others. She designed jewelry and dresses for wealthy clients. She went on to work with Balenciaga for fourteen years.
Her client list is populated with European royalty, counts and couturiers. She was also very involved with designing costumes and jewelry for Paris theaters. Her yen for drama and fantasy is strongly felt in many of her paintings and home furnishings.
Her Paris apartments were centers of artistic, culinary, and musical pleasure. Her passions for collecting, decorating, and entertaining were natural extensions of her life as a creative artist. It is said that she was full of fun with original ideas for arranging food, dazzling guests, and creating a festive atmosphere for her friends. She also spoke six languages, loved culture and sports, trained horses as a teenager, and traveled widely.
During the fifteen years that Cissy lived and worked in Paris, she began visiting Thailand yearly. There she designed silk dresses for European women. This enabled her to spend four months out of each year in the Orient. These trips exerted a strong influence on her life and art. She collected silk and semi-precious stones in Thailand.
Cissy’s success in Paris is reflected by her frequent appearances on the covers of Vogue, Paris Match, and Harper‘s Bazaar to name a few. Her creations were exported from France to New York department stores, so that when she began to visit and eventually moved to the U.S. in 1967, her reputation as a creative artist and designer preceded her.
The Countess was particularly known for her elaborate bib style necklaces. Her dynamic and unusual pieces often incorporated surprising color combinations of rhinestones. These were all beautifully hand-made and also used her signature ‘crackled’ glass cabochons and stones marbled and sprayed with gold.
Very few of her designs are signed. When they were signed, the countess paid homage to her royal background and can be identified by the letters ‘CIS’ stamped under a crown hallmark.
Cissy’s exciting and enchanting pieces are feminine and floral but often elaborate and exuberant. Examples of her pieces include a set Japanned metal with her signature purple and green cabochons. This set has a necklace hook and chain often found in her pieces.
Another piece is an asymmetric crackle glass collar with colors of hyacinth AB, citrine, topaz, and one glass hematite-shaded stone. The collar changes color depending on other colors with which it is worn.
There is also an interesting necklace with a fine silver-tone chain adorned with pearls and aqua/clear crackle stones that can be worn in two directions: placing the pearl in front or having it dangling down the back if one wears a dress with a low neckline.
CIS created a number of variations of a dandelion. These include a fur clip and a pin in simulated turquoise cabochons and aqua crackle glass.
Cissy is also known for having created a custom bracelet she made in Paris for Helena Rubenstein in the late 50s. The bracelet is silver and studded with emerald, sapphire and ruby cabochons as well as moonstones and agates from Sri Lanka and Thailand. It is wide and measures over 3″ across and 1″ high.
Also of note is the famous “Dandelion” puffball brooch with its brilliant “points up” glass stones in fuchsia, purple and lavender each set into cuplike mountings at the end of curving sculptural metal tendrils that connect to the center metal stem and pin back.
Another beautiful example of Cissy’s work is a vintage bib necklace with a wearable length of 17″ that drapes down approximately 2-1/4″ in front. The necklace has a very unusual design with 9 drapes or swags panels. It has a gold tone metal finish and the piece is intricately encrusted with colorful rhinestones and watermelon borealis round stones.
In addition to Balenciaga, CIS pieces were also sold at Lord & Taylor as “Cis of Paris” and at Bonwit Teller as, “Countess Zoltowska.”
The jewelry author Ginger Moro (noted for her volume, European Designer Jewelry) wrote, “Cissy traveled to Paris from Vienna in the 50s, she was disappointed to see that French costume jewelry mostly imitated the real thing and quoted Cissy as saying, “I do not like imitations! I eat real sugar, real butter, and drink real Vodka, so I decided to make “real” fantasy jewelry!”