The vast majority of jewelry collections sold at auction are usually those belonging to royalty and extremely wealthy people.  The upcoming Sotheby's auction of Suzanne Belperron's  (1900- 1983) personal jewelry is an unusual exception for she was a noted French jewelry designer and one of the most influential ones of the 20th century.

French jewelry designer
Picture Source
Very few women in her day became top jewelry designers so she was a pioneer who paved the way for others.  Her clientele included many rich and famous people including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princess Aga Khan, Elsa Schiaparelli,Nina Ricci, the Rothchilds, Josephine Baker and Diana Vreeland.

The 60-piece lot consists of mainly her own designs. Suzanne Belperron was a beautiful but intensely private woman. So this rare collection currently owned by a private collector therefore speaks for the woman and designer.

Portrait of Suzanne Belperron
© Archives Olivier Baroin

The pieces reflects both her exquisite talent and taste. Many of her contemporary designs are distinctly fluid and even curvaceous, all inspired by nature and by exotic cultures around the world.

Platinum and Diamond Feather Brooch c.1930 (previous Sotheby's auction)
Her own 1923 Yin and Yang engagement ring below, a very personal item, shows her dramatic flair. An Old World diamond is set in the 22 carat gold ring. She particularly liked the hue of this softer gold which she called "vierge" or virgin gold. The tiny hammer marks was achieved by a time consuming technique called "martelage" (hammering). It gives the ring a vintage look. The organic design inspired many of her signature pieces which followed after she moved on from the rigid Art Deco style.

Born Suzanne Vuillerme in Saint-Claude, she studied art and design at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris as a teenager. When she was 19, she was hired by René Boivin, a renowned jewelry house run by the the widow of the founder.

During her time there, she came up with a new technique of setting precious gemstones (diamonds, rubies, sapphires) into semi-precious gemstones like agate, quartzes and chalcedony as shown by the cuff links below. These were probably created for her husband, Jean Belperron.

Chrysophase with diamonds and carnelian with emeralds
After several years at René Boivin, she craved the creative room to grow. So in 1932, she went to work for a pearl and diamond merchant called Bernard Herz who allowed her complete artistic freedom designing for Maison Herz.

She blossomed there and started to attract a noted clientele who came to her via word-of-mouth.   Like haute couture designers, her bespoke pieces were designed specifically for individuals who went to her for "fittings".

Back then, the names of jewelry designers were rarely used but eventually the Belperron name appeared in print in the 1930's and soon her designs became a favorite of fashion editors at magazines such as Vogue.

Suzanne also refused to sign her pieces insisting that, "My style is my signature".  This made absolute identification of her pieces challenging especially to the untrained eye!

She was very fond of pearls and renewed an interest in natural pearls. This natural pearl and diamond ring is set in platinum and white gold.

She also was skilled with contrast in design. Her two fleur (flower) brooches below play up on shapes and colors. She apparently liked laying the stones on the floor during the design process to access the overall "flash" value as that distance was the approximate one jewelry might be commonly seen.

Disaster struck during the Second World War when France was under Nazi occupation. The Nazis twice arrested Herz who was Jewish. Suzanne was able to get him released the first time but was unsuccessful on the second occasion. Herz perished in a concentration camp in 1943. Maison Herz was stripped bare by the Nazis and their collaborators, a fate shared by other Jewish businesses. Suzanne refused to leave Paris despite receiving an offer from Tiffany's in New York.

She revived the company by first using a new name, her own.  After the war, she partnered with Herz's son who survived a prisoner of war camp. The business became known as Herz-Belperron. The successful collaboration lasted for 3 decades until her retirement in 1974. She died at age 83.

Her name was not well known in the years following her retirement and death. That all changed when the Duchess of Windsor's spectacular jewelry collection was sold at auction in 1987.  Her true worth as an outstanding designer shone with her 16 designs which were part of that collection.  Belperron pieces are now highly sought after.

Suzanne Belperron was a rare jewel indeed. She displayed a life-long devotion to her craft and was both innovative and courageous. A true role model for all jewelry designers who follow her.

Her gorgeous pieces have been featured in a special 2011 book, Suzanne Belperron by Sylvie Raulet  and Oliver Baroin (Antiques Book Club).  Click here for a review of the book including more beautiful jewelry pictures.


Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips