Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Skinny: Suzanne Belperron

Suzanne Belperron
The premiere female jewelry designer in the 1930s and 1940s, Suzanne Belperron influenced the evolution of fine jewelry for decades afterward. She was trained as the frenzy of Art Deco hit, but bucked the trend by designing more streamlined, rounded, nature-inspired pieces.
Belperron ruby and sapphire brooch
Belperron ivory, coral, & gold brooch, 1932-1955
Simultaneously bold and restrained, Belperron refused to sign any of her pieces, instead insisting, "My style is my signature." This makes it very difficult to identify many of her pieces today, although it certainly helps that many of her clients were royalty or celebrities, and I'm sure that in many cases, traceable names ease the way for research on the provenance of certain items. Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Josephine Baker, Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin, and Collette counted themselves among her very exclusive circle of clients and friends.
Belperron Gold and Diamond swirl brooch



In 1932, she was hired to work for Bernard Herz at his Paris studio, where she developed a reputation for elegantly carved stones to be paired with precious or semiprecious stones in flora and fauna-based designs such as flowers, fruits, or aquatic creatures. Many of her designs drew inspiration from world cultures, and critics of her jewelry called the pieces "brilliant and barbaric."

Belperron African Mask brooch, 1940-1950
She famously started the trend of pairing precious stones with unconventional settings, such as rock crystal or smoky quartz, a technique that other artists had not yet explored. Other favorite materials included chalcedony, agate, onyx, enameled metal, and glass.
Belperron smoky quartz, platinum, and diamond cuff, 1933

Blue Chalcedony Belperron suite for the Duchess of Windsor
Belperron Blue Agate clip with rubies, sapphires, emeralds
Belperron Chalcedony and Sapphire clip, 1930
Belperron's personal collection: Enameled silver and carved green glass cuff/necklace, 1936
Belperron carved onyx and diamond ring, 1947
When the Nazis came to Paris, Herz was arrested for running a Jewish-named company. Making use of connections with wealthy, loyal clients, Suzanne was able to gain his freedom. She then renamed the company under her own name. However, in 1942, Suzanne and Herz were both arrested after a letter accused them of running the business as a front for a Jewish company. During the drive to the Gestapo offices, she ate Bernard's address book, one page at a time, so that the Germans had no names to use in their interrogation. After providing documentation of her family's heritage and religion, Suzanne was released. Herz ended up at Auschwitz, and did not survive the war.
Belperron diamond & sapphire bangle, sold for $171,575.00 at a Christie's auction in 2012

Belperron diamond and platinum cuff

Belperron ruby and diamond necklace, sold for $340,552.00 at a Christie's auction in 2010
Despite the difficulties in Nazi-dominated Paris, Belperron continued to work, refusing more than a dozen job offers from American jewelry houses in order to keep the Belperron company alive. She joined the French Resistance, and was later decorated as a Knight of the Legion of Honor. Herz's son, Jean, returned from time spent as a prisoner of war and signed on as Suzanne's partner, renaming the business after both of them, and remaining her partner until they parted ways (on very friendly terms) in the 1970s.

Belperron Sapphire set
Suzanne Belperron was elusive, and therefore, the best catch in Paris for those in need of fine jewelry. She did not advertise. There were no fliers on shop windows or ads in the newspaper. Instead, her address was only given out by word of mouth, from one exclusive client to another.

Belperron diamond brooch
When designing for a woman, Belperron not only took multiple, precise measurements, she made notes about the woman's skin tone, the shape of her face, and her lifestyle. There would be several fittings, just as with a seamstress, to ensure that each custom piece was a perfect fit, in every way, for the woman who would wear it.
Belperron diamond brooch

Long after Belperron's death, an apartment was discovered near Montmartre that contained her furniture and books, but most importantly, her archives--including photos, news articles, sketches, models, casts, letters, diaries, and appointments and orders from the late 1930s until the company dissolved in 1974.What a time capsule!
Belperron diamond and sapphire cocktail ring
And yes, the matching earrings; Sold at Christie's for $110,023.00 in 2013


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