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Jewelry Inspiration: Tassels

Jana Gumovsky

Van Cleef & Arpels, France. “Cordes Ludo” bracelet with diamond capped tassels, in 18K. Circa 1951.

Lady Grey, USA. Hand Shaped Tassel Earrings.  14K Gold Plated.

Chanel, France.  “Perles de Nuit” necklace in white gold, set with diamonds, and cultured pearls. 

Lanvin, France. Tasseled Gold Tone Necklace. Gold-tone brass and Swarovski Crystals.

The tassel is one of the most whimsical adornments popularly present as much in fashion as in the realm of interior design, but despite its seemingly trivial nature the tassel has a rich history and rather fascinating provenance.

The presence of tassels can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt (c.3150 BC), found amongst burial items in Pharaohs’ tombs. In Ancient China, tassels were incorporated in the rich silks, and in Biblical times added rugs and garments.  Throughout history, tassels were popularly used in Ancient Greece, the Orient, Persia, Rome, England and Italy. During the Middle Ages, wealthy houses used them in clothing, tapestries, draperies and pillows, appropriating the styles of Arabic fashions.

However, the modern popularization of tassels as ornamentation could be accredited to the French. In the 16th century the Guild of Passementiers was established. The art of “passementiere” is the making of trims and to become a Master of the guild one had to complete a 7 year-long apprenticeship. The trims and tassels created by the passementiers were made of silk and metallic gold or silver thread, and thus became a symbol of wealth, power and prestige.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIV and the French Royal Court commissioned tassels to be used to adorn the costumes of royalty, thus influencing the fashion in all of Europe. Later on, following the years of the French Revolution (1789-1799), interior design became a favoured pastime among the upper classes and the popularity of the tassel was once again resurrected as it donned anything from doormen, carriages and curtains to cushions and keys. Fashion and design magazines created trends that put tassels on shoes, parasols and sashes. By the 20th century the excesses of the Victorian era became shunned and a minimalistic aesthetic took hold, soon to be replaced by the geometric designs of the Art Deco period. 

Art Deco sapphire and diamond sautoir by Lacloche Frères, circa 1925

The popularity of the tassel in fashion and jewelry never receded despite the volatility of fashion styles of the 20th century. The technological advances of the past century have also uniquely inspired jewelry design, thus bringing me to the introduction of my favourite tassel jewelry piece – the "Zip" necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels.

Van Cleef & Arpels, the renowned French jewelery house, has created one of the most memorable and ingenious pieces of jewelry of the 20th century. The idea for the “Zip” necklace is credited to the Duchess of Windsor who approached the jewelry house in 1938 and asked the house’s artistic director to create a jewel that incorporates one of the most popular technical innovations of the time, the common zipper.

After years of design and development, the “Zip” necklace was finally released in 1951 and immediately became an iconic design of Van Cleef & Arpels. The necklace features a removable element that enables it to be converted into a bracelet by literally zipping the two sides together into a thick band. A rich gold tassel embellishes the necklace and hangs at the side when worn as a bracelet. The original “Zip” remains an extremely coveted piece by jewelry collectors  and continues to be lauded for its originality and the technical ingenuity of Van Cleef & Arpels. 

The "Elyse" necklace in antique brass.

Finally, my favourite interpretation of the symbolism of the tassel stems from its use in mala necklaces - the prayer beads used by Hindus and Buddhists. The necklaces are comprised of a string of 108 beads completed with a hanging fabric tassel. Every element of a mala contains  inherent symbolism, including the tassel which is believed to hold importance in spiritual teachings and promote enlightenment. The individual strands of a tassel blend and flow together in constant change and represent change within changelessness, the illusion of separateness and the undivided unity of the Divine.

The very first ENARMOUR piece I envisioned was the “Elyse” tassel necklace. I still remember doodling the geometric design on a napkin after dinner at my grandmother’s house almost a year ago (pretty sure I still have that napkin somewhere). This necklace materialized when the idea for the jewelry brand was just that- an idea, and in a way it was this inaugural tassel necklace that set the tone of the first collection. I’m confident to say that tassels will surely make a repeat appearance in 2016.