You’ve probably never heard of Suzanne Belperron, but she was a pioneer and one of the greatest jewellery designers of the 20th century!
Born in 1900, Suzanne Belperron studied at the School of Fine Arts in Besançon, where she received the first prize in the Decorative Arts competition with the design of a pendant-watch.
The French designer started her career in Paris during the "Golden Twenties“ at the jewellery house Boivin and became its co-director at the young age of 23. Belperron's curvaceous jewels stood out in a time of Art Déco’s geometric and structured pieces. Her choice of materials was also quite revolutionary as she set precious stones in non-precious gemstones that were not used in high jewellery, like rock crystal, smoky quartz and chalcedony.
In 1932, Suzanne Belperron joined Bernard Herz, a famous pearl and precious stone dealer who supplied Boivin. As the exclusive designer at the Maison Bernard Herz, the talented young woman had complete freedom to create the original jewels that brought her fame, not only in France but also internationally. In the 30’s, her creations used to appear in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and the fashion press described her work as "new and barbaric“! The iconic Diana Vreeland was one of her close friends and a fan of her bold creations.
Suzanne Belperron found inspiration for her jewellery in nature; flowers and leaves, insects, starfishes and the colours of the underwater world became unique jewels through Belperron's vision. The distant cultures of India, Egypt and the Far East also influenced her. She never signed her pieces because she believed her style was so original that one could easily identify her work. The designer famously stated that "My style is my signature.“
During World War II, Bernard Herz, who was Jewish, was sent to Auschwitz. In his last letter, he asked Belperron to look after the interests of his two children. At Herz’s request, the designer had already saved his company by taking full control and changing its name to "Suzanne Belperron SARL“. When in 1946, Jean Herz was released from captivity as a war prisoner and came back to Paris, Belperron gave him half of the company and changed its name again to "Jean Herz-Suzanne Belperron.“ The duo worked together for the next thirty years.
Belperron’s clients included European royalty, famous artists, writers, dancers and fellow designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Nina Ricci, Christian Dior and Jeanne-Marie Lanvin. Belperron never opened a boutique; she received by appointment her notorious clients in her salons. The Aga Khan, the Duke of Windsor, Josephine Baker, Colette, Jean Cocteau, Daisy Fellowes to name only a few of her famous clients, had several fittings at Belperron‘s salons. She took all measurements like an haute couture dressmaker, and studied her clients’ skin complexion, the shape of the face, hands, their lifestyle and so on, to make sure each unique piece would be perfect for each client. No wonder her fame grew and grew!
Ward and Niko Landrigan
At the end of 1975, the Herz-Belperron company was dissolved. After that, several jewellery houses, including Tiffany and Co, wanted to work with her and re-edit her designs but Belperron refused all proposals. The French designer died in 1983 at the age of eighty-two. Five years later, Sotheby’s auctioned the jewels belonging to the Duchess of Windsor, including sixteen Belperron jewels that were highly valued.
After almost two decades of Sotheby‘s sale, Belperron’s inheritor discovered a small apartment in Montmartre that had remained closed since the designer’s death, and its dusty interior, all her archives, drawings, casts, list of clients and so on. This discovery was fantastic and has helped ensure the authenticity and traceability of her creations.
By then, the name of the discrete designer had almost been forgotten. Now, thanks to the discovery of this treasure and to the hard work and dedication of a father and son, Ward and Nico Landrigan, who acquired the use of her name and archives, including around 5.000 sketches of jewellery that were never executed, the Suzanne Belperron brand has been re-launched with a luxurious flagship store in Manhattan, New York, and her stunning creations are available again to all jewellery lovers, proving that her design is still relevant today.
Visit Suzanne Belperron Salon: 745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1210, New York, NY 10151
Photos via Suzanne Belperron