Monday, February 13, 2012
The Finest French Jeweler You’ve Never Heard Of
A brilliant new book, Suzanne Belperron, by Sylvie Raulet and Olivier Baroin (Antique Collectors’ Club) is one of the most exciting and surprising fine jewelry books published recently.
It’s the superbly illustrated and informative first volume on Belperron’s elegant and strikingly beautiful designs, but it also reveals the brilliance of Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983).
Suzanne Belperron was a leading French jewelry designer who at the age of nineteen apprenticed with a top jewelry company, Rene Boivin (jewels still highly collectible). It was a fine beginning for the artist/model maker, who then continued to create her elegantly distinctive, classical, sculptural, and beautifully crafted designs until she died in 1983.
Belperron was known to insiders and clients like the Duchess of Windsor, the Aga Khan, Merle Oberon, Diana Vreeland (of course), and Nina Ricci, Christian Dior, Colette, Josephine Baker, Daisy Fellowes, Nina Ricci, Mona Bismarck, and Gary Cooper, the Rothschild family, and Jeanne Lanvin.
Suzanne Belperron was one of the most influential (and copied) jewelry designers of the twentieth-century. After 1932 she joined Bernard Herz, a well-known precious stone and natural pearl dealer, and rejected traditional design to forge her own design identity.
Suzanne Belperron experimented with stones like chalcedony, white and black onyx, and rock crystal, jade and coral, in addition to precious stones. Her highly innovative pieces, often in sinuous silhouettes and sculptural shapes, were set in gold and platinum.
Belperron did not sign her pieces –subsequently a nightmare for identification—because she insisted that ‘my style is my signature’.
Despite her following among fashion leaders like Vreeland, Belperron did not come to the attention of the world outside her ‘lucky few’ until 1987.
Sotheby’s sale of the Duchess of Windsor jewels, all so hotly contested and desired, brought the quality and dramatic designs of her work to the fore. Included in that sale were a chalcedony, sapphire and diamond necklace, ear clips and bangles. The necklace sold for $183,000, the ear clips for $88,000, and the bangles for $146,000. And chalcedony is not generally regarded as a precious stone.
The book is a treasure chest of imagery, sketches, and models wearing the designs, with superb photography of Belperron’s jewelry. Each piece was custom-made, and each is a one-of-a-kind expression of Belperron’s inspiration. Dazzling. While some necklaces were clearly inspired by the finest Indian jewelry, and others depict flowers and shapes from nature, most pieces are distinctively the genius of Belperron. Thrilling.
I highly recommend this book—for its beauty, for the rarity of her work, for the inspiration revealed. Its pages offer a vivid and vibrant depiction and revelation of a great creator of the twentieth-century, finally gaining her recognition.
Sylvia Raulet, a history graduate, graphic designer and journalist, has collaborated on features for publications including Beaux-Arts, L’objet d’Art, Vogue and Harpers Bazaar. She is the author of several books on fine jewelry including Bijoux Art Deco (1984) and Van Cleef & Arpels (1986 and 1997).
Olivier Baroin is a specialist in antique jewelry. The Suzanne Belperron book was possible thanks to Baroin’s passion for her work and his detective work and lifelong studies and focus on fine French jewelers and jewelry design. Fascinated for many years by the art and personality of Suzanne Belperron, a legendary and glamorous figure in the world of French jewelry for many decades, Baroin acquired her personal archive (believed to have been burned) in 2007. The archive (which is reproduced in the book) includes sketches, photographs, portraits, records, client information, and many personal details.
The book he has produced is now an essential reference, and it must be said, a dream book for jewelry lovers and designers.
Suzanne Belperron by Sylvie Raulet and Olivier Baroin (published by Antiques Collectors’ Club).
Photography presented her with expression permission of the publisher, Antique Collectors’ Club.