How a French guerrilla revolutionized the world of jewelery: 20th century chief jeweler Suzanne Belperron
How a French guerrilla revolutionized the world of jewelery: 20th century chief jeweler Suzanne Belperron

Today her name is known mainly to researchers and collectors who call Suzanne Belperron the most important jewelry designer of the 20th century. Many of her creations remained anonymous, often she simply did not put a stamp on them with her name, claiming that her signature was her style. And it was she who made a revolution in the world of jewelry, giving him new images, new materials and the inimitable "Belperron style" …

Sketches by Suzanne Belperron

The city of Saint-Claude - 60 kilometers from Geneva - has always been famous for its crafts. The local peasants spent their long winters busy with their hands, and they achieved special success in the processing of stones. By the early 20th century, Saint-Claude had become the world's diamond cutting capital. Here, on a warm autumn day - or on a rainy autumn night, history is silent - a girl, Madeleine Suzanne, was born in the family of the merchant Jules Wuylerm, who was destined to change the history of jewelry.

Jewelry designed by Belperron

She started drawing early and could devote herself to this business for hours. While the other children were having fun and playing in the street, Susan concentratedly observed the world around her - and transferred everything she saw to paper. She especially liked flowers, plants and insects - a typical hobby, however, for many famous jewelers. The parents decided that it was useless to bury their talent in the ground, and sent their daughter to the school of fine arts in the city of Besançon. Next to the school was one of the oldest European museums of fine arts, famous for its huge collection of archaeological values. Many years later, Suzanne, who loved to wander there among the exhibits, will embody childhood impressions in her works, paying tribute to the images of Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia …

Rings created in different years

Suzanne was an exemplary student, and in 1918 she received the main award of the school's annual competition. A year later, she moved to Paris and soon got a job as a designer at the Boyvin jewelry house, with which she began to cooperate during her studies.

Zhanna Boyvin, who headed the house, became very attached to the girl and gave her complete creative freedom, and Suzanne, in turn, gave all her strength and time to work. Even then, she began to experiment with the shape of jewelry, challenging the rigid geometrism of Art Deco, and introduced the trend for the combination of precious and semi-precious stones - she especially loved rhinestone and smoky quartz. At twenty-four, she had already become co-director of the Boyvin house, at the same time she married the engineer Jean Belperron …

Belperron was one of the first to start combining precious and ornamental stones

But that did not change the situation, which worried Suzanne more and more. Her jewelry brought considerable income - and fame to the Boyvin Jewelry House. However, her name remained unknown to the general public - this was the requirement of the employer. Suzanne wanted fame - after all, why should she modestly remain in the shadows? And, after thirteen years of fruitful cooperation, Suzanne left her first job to go on a free voyage …

Belperron often used the shell motif

She soon accepted an invitation from Bernard Hertz, one of Boyven's regular suppliers and gemstone expert.He invited Suzanne to design jewelry for his company - no restrictions, no secrets and omissions! So the thirties were the take-off time for Suzanne Belperron. Of course, her colleagues knew about her work for the Boyven house - but now her name resounded throughout France … and beyond. Jewelry created by her appeared on the pages of leading fashion magazines, Diana Vreeland (editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue) was delighted with her work, while Suzanne, meanwhile, handed out … refusals. Many famous jewelers and jewelry brands offered her cooperation, but Belperron remained faithful to the creative alliance with Hertz.

Etruscan style pearl and turquoise rings

During the war, the Jew Bernard Hertz came to the attention of the Gestapo. For the first time, Suzanne managed to save him thanks to his wide contacts, but he wanted to transfer the management of the enterprise to her and register a trademark in her name. After his second arrest, he was sent to Auschwitz, while Suzanne joined the French Resistance.

Necklace from Belperron

After the war, Bernard's son Jean, who miraculously survived these difficult years, became a co-owner of the company. Their collaboration with Belperron lasted thirty years - until 1975. Among their loyal clients were members of the Aga Khan family, the Rothschilds, the Wildensteins, the Duchess of Windsor, movie and stage stars, and even … Elsa Schiaparelli, who herself left her mark on jewelry.

Brooches with natural motives

Suzanne Belperron widely used the motives of the ancient jewelry craft, drew inspiration from the culture of Egypt, Japan, India, Africa …

Necklace and earrings from Belperron

She was fascinated by the variety of forms of the underwater world - it was Belperron who introduced the fashion for jewelry in the form of starfish and shells. Natural motives in Belperron's works acquired a special rhythm and grace, were distinguished by sophisticated stylization and complex, unexpected colors. Daring and at the same time laconic forms, unusual images (earrings in the shape of pineapples - why not?), Unusual materials …

Decorations with marine motives

Her beloved chalcedony and quartz revealed bewitching softness and transparency, deceiving the viewer - something ephemeral, something unearthly suddenly acquired the hardness of a stone. Belperron was one of the first to draw attention to gold of a lower standard - she called it "virgin gold". She never signed her works, never sold them in boutiques or ordered advertising posters - the “Belperron style” was recognized at first sight.

Belperron has changed the attitude towards low-purity gold

Suzanne Belperron worked tirelessly to a ripe old age. She died, slipping in the bathroom, quickly and ridiculously - in the days when she was thinking about the next collection. She bequeathed all the property to a close friend. After his death in 2007, the new "custodian" of the Belperron heritage discovered a tiny apartment in Montmartre, where there was an extensive archive of the jeweler, which was once considered lost - sketches, photographs, notes, the names of the most august clients … This is how the work of the chief jeweler of the 20th century regained fame in the 21st century …

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