Suzanne Belperron

Suzanne Belperron (1900–1983) may be the most influential jewelry designer of the 20th century you’ve never heard of.

From Suzanne Belperron’s Personal Collection – Carved Rock Crystal and Diamond Ring

Born in Saint-Claude, France, she came to prominence after the First World War in Paris. Madame Belperron worked at haute joaillerie house Boivin between 1919 and 1932 initally joining as a sales assistant. Her talents as a designer was immediately recognized and she eventually helmed the creative direction of the firm.

Left: From Suzanne Belperron’s Personal Collection – Five Diamond Baguette Gold Ring. Right: Citrine and Gold Cuff

After more than a decade at Boivin, Belperron grew restless. As was the norm at the time, Madame Belperron was never publicly recognized as the creative force behind Boivin. She then left Boivin and partnered with Bernard Herz, a renown precious stone and pearl dealer at the time.

Left: Boivin Citrine and Gold Ring Designed by Belperron. Right: From Suzanne Belperron’s Personal Collection – Belperron’s Own Engagement Ring.

In April 1932, Madame Belperron accepted a position at Bernard Herz’s company as “exclusive, unique and recognized designer creator.” Here, her creative freedom was unleashed working with famed stone cutter Adrien Louart (1890–1989) and Groëné et Darde as her exclusive manufacturer.

From Suzanne Belperron’s Personal Collection – Carved Rock Crystal and Diamond Brooches and Earrings

Belperron’s fame grew with her avant-garde designs. Her curvaceous lines stood out against the Art Deco aesthetic of the period. She was a pioneer in combining precious and semi-precious gemstones often setting diamonds and sapphires into blue chalcedony, rock crystal and smoky quartz. She also used 22k gold, an unusual move at the time, preferring its warmer tone. She never signed her work stating that her “style was her signature.”

Pavé Diamond and Geometric Shaped Brooch and Cuff

Not only was Belperron strong in her personal aesthetic, she was equally resolved in character. During occupied France, she was arrested by the Gestapo and questioned about her partnership with Bernard Herz who was sent to an internment camp in 1941 and eventually died at Auschwitz in 1943. On the day she was arrested, the same day Herz was sent away, Belperron is said to have swallowed his address book page by page in the car en route to be questioned.

From Suzanne Belperron’s Personal Collection – Gemstone Nugget Bead Bracelet and Emerald Brooch

Although she received many invitations to leave France and design in America for large firms like Tiffany & Co., she instead joined the Resistance and never left Paris and continued to design and make jewelry throughout War World II often dealing with material shortages.

Carved Blue Chalcedony Brooch and Ring with Inset Gemstones

After the war ended, Herz’s son Jean, returned to Paris and resumed his father’s partnership with Belperron. This partnership lasted until 1974 when Madame Belperron retired and the company was amicably dissolved.

Her clientele at the height of prominence included most of Europe’s royalty including the Duchess of Windsor; famous actresses of the day; influential figures in fashion Elsa Schiaparelli and Diana Vreeland; Hollywood stars Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Frank Sinatra and the most celebrated society ladies.

Wallis Simpson, The Duchess of Windsor, Wearing Her Carved Blue Chalcedony Parure With Matching Bracelets, Earrings and Necklace.

Suzanne Belperron died in 1983 at the age of 82 but her legacy lives on. Her archive of designs was purchased by Ward Landrigan, former head of Sotheby’s jewelry, and owner of Verdura in 1999.

See Amy Burton from Hancocks, London and Joanna Hardy discuss Boivin and Suzanne Belperron here:

Update: On May 14th, 2012, Sotheby’s Geneva held a sale for 60 pieces of Suzanne Belperron’s personal collection which fetched over 3.5 million USD tripling estimates. All pieces were sold and all sold high above estimates making it a “white glove” sale. Click here to see the collection details.
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