PARIS — Jean Dinh Van is perhaps best known as the jeweler who put handcuffs on the “in” crowd.
In the 1970s, the gold Menottes (in English, handcuffs) proved a game changer on the Place Vendôme, both for their radical simplicity and their broad appeal. Inspired by a door key, the design featured a chain with a cuff at either end, each with an angled notch so they could be interlocked, forming a clasp meant to be displayed.
It was still popular in 1998, when the designer sold the Dinh Van brand to two investors. (Mr. Dinh Van, who died July 3 at age 94, left the company after it sold.)
Today, as fine jewelry rides high on industrial items made precious — from screws and locks to earbuds and jacks — the ’70s-era designs by the Dinh Van brand are being primed for a renaissance. And as most were made to be genderless decades before inclusivity became an important topic in jewelry, the company hopes that its name will resonate with a new generation of consumers.
In September, Dinh Van reintroduced the Maillon chain (in English, link). Based on an archival design inspired by the chain link barriers around the Place de l’Opéra in Paris, it features rectangular links with rounded ends.
The collection ranges from a unisex bracelet with a single large link, in white gold on an adjustable cord (780 euros, or $810), to the Maillon Star, a chunky, square ring in white gold with two interlocked links in diamond pavé (€17,500). Like the Menottes line, notched links are used to fasten the pieces; two bracelet-length chains may be attached to form a choker, for example.
“Dinh Van was preoccupied by taking jewelry out of the safe and giving it a universal, almost talismanic feeling,” said the brand’s managing director, Corinne Le Foll. She joined the company in January after 21 years at Cartier.
The company does not reveal sales figures, but Ms. Le Foll said most of its jewelry is priced in the €1,000 to €5,000 range. Its most expensive piece is more than €80,000: the Seventies cuff in white gold, which is half-pavéd with diamonds.
Mr. Dinh Van was born in 1927 in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt to a French mother and a Vietnamese father who was a lacquer artist at Cartier. After studying drawing at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and metal work at a Paris jewelry school that later closed, he followed in his father’s footsteps, starting as an apprentice at Cartier in 1950.
Within a few years, he was producing high jewelry, such as a tiger-themed lorgnette commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor, under the direction of the house’s renowned artistic director of high jewelry, Jeanne Toussaint.
In the mid-Sixties, as Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne were pioneering ready-to-wear fashion, Mr. Dinh Van moved to democratize jewelry, too. He opened a workshop on Place Gaillon, near the Opéra Garnier, and introduced his brand in 1965.
Two years later, he showed a slim, square-shape ring mounted with two pearls, one white and one gray, to Mr. Cardin, and the couturier put it in his shop window. (The original design belongs to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.)
That year brought other firsts: a Dinh Van ring with a 2.5-carat diamond set in silver appeared on the cover of French Elle. The Drugstore Publicis, a popular hangout on the Champs-Élysées, became the brand’s first retail venue. And the designer signed an unusual deal with Cartier: For more than a decade, Mr. Dinh Van’s creations for the jeweler bore two signatures — his own and Cartier’s.
In the mid-1970s, toward the end of the Vietnam War, Mr. Dinh Van opened a shop on the Rue de la Paix and continued disrupting the business by introducing jewelry shaped like military ID tags and razor blades. He also used his boutique for exhibitions of modernist artists like Diem Phung Thi. His circle of friends included the sculptor César Baldaccini, whose sculpture Le Sein, shaped like a woman’s breast, Mr. Dinh Van replicated as a gold pendant. He also flouted convention by being the first store in France to sell the inexpensive plastic wristwatches made by the Swatch Group.
As collaborations are a prime element of luxury today, Ms. Le Foll said an important part of the company’s strategy would be establishing relationships with creative talents such as architects, designers and photographers. “We prefer influential people to influencers,” she said, “people whose job isn’t to create reach, but who bring with them their inspirations and their point of view.”
The field may be crowded, but Luca Solca, a luxury analyst with the research firm Sanford C. Bernstein, said he saw room for growth in the fine jewelry sector. “I think there is enough room for accessible jewelry brands to develop,” he wrote in an email, “provided they have distinct and exciting products that consumers can recognize.”
Of the Dinh Van brand, he said, “They squarely operate in the lower end of the ‘design jewelry’ space, which has proven to be the bread and butter for high jewelry brands.” He cited the recent revival of Pandora, the Danish brand known for silver charms that has added pieces in recycled gold and lab-grown diamonds, as proof that comebacks are possible, “on condition of restarting the creative and innovation efforts.”
Having reintroduced the brand to the United States in 2018, the company now plans to add sales points in several department stores in the spring, and then expand its presence in Asia with new sales points in Shanghai; Chengdu, China; and Seoul in the fall.
“We’ll be surrounding ourselves with people who like the house and gravitate around our universe,” Ms. Le Foll said.