I knew little about Suzanne Belperron. My first introduction to her work was seeing the blue chalcedony jewelry she designed for Wallis Simpson. I then learned bits and pieces about her life and jewelry designs. These bits of information amounted to photos of past jewelry identified as a Belperron piece and dates such as birth, death, job history, etc. When I heard a new book on her life and jewelry was being published in February, I put my name on Amazon’s pre-order list. Madam Belperron remained a private person throughout her life but it is her work and those around her, clients, coworkers, etc, that really tell a story of the woman behind the designs. The book is fabulous! It has plenty of designs but tells her life in stages and through accounts of those that knew her. I want to share a few stories from her life along with techniques Belperron invented to create the style that makes her pieces recognizable and sought after to this day.
Virgin Gold– Madame Belperron had many of her creations made with ‘virgin gold’. It was gold with a high gold content of 22 karat with a matte finish. It was reminiscent of ancient gold used in Greek jewelry. The technique used is ‘doubled or lined gold’. Unfortunately, due to the softness of the gold it would not suit well to hold in all the gemstones and diamonds for her work. The technique needed a modification so her 22kt gold jewelry received a stronger layer of 18kt gold beneath it. Then to achieve the ancient look, the gold required hammering, chiseling and burnishing.
Honey Comb Setting– Another effect Belperron used in her jewelry was mixing stones of various sizes next to each other as though they fit perfectly like puzzle pieces. Setting stones of different sizes next to one another is actually a difficult technique to achieve. The workers of Belperron’s created an irregular honey comb setting, “in which each stone appeared to be contained within a single cell-like compartment, scored as if with the sharp blade of a knife.” The effect is stunning to see the stones of various sizes fit together harmoniously in her designs.
These are just a few of her amazing techniques used to create her timeless pieces.
I am going to pick a few short tales about Madame Belperron that I found particularly telling about her character and life in France around the 1940’s.
Protecting her Clients
- Suzanne Belperron was careful about reproducing a design already owned by a client. A story had Baroness Marie-Helene de Rothschild asking Belperron to copy a pair of gold and diamond earclips currently owned by Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. The Baroness explained that the Duchess had given her consent to the request. Belperron still refused. The duchess had to send a personal confirmation to Belperron for the earrings to be commissioned.
- World War II was occurring when Belperron was working in Paris, her owner Bernard Herz was under an added strain of trying to stay out of the concentration camps. His son Jean was fighting with the allies but Herz and his wife wanted to stay at their home and not flee. Belperron was introduced through some of her clients to a woman who was interested in buying a ring. The cost of the ring was out of the woman’s price range so Madame Belperron had to turn her away. Later both Belperron and Herz were arrested on grounds of concealing a Jewish business. Suzanne knew if the Gestapo found her list of clients and suppliers, they could all be at risk of being jailed or worse. So on the walk to Gestapo Headquarters Belperron swallowed pages from her address book to conceal the names. That is dedication. It is also a sad tale on really knowing who you do business with and the importance of strong relationships.
Business and Pleasure-
- Madame Belperron was released but Herz was sent to an internment camp. He did not survive but letters that they wrote to each other tells of the respectt and love they shared. There are phrases from their letters shared in this book one particularly tender letter to Belperron by Herz states,”Tres chere amie, this is the big departure, I leave in good health and with full confidence that I will see you again. Otherwise goodbye, all my love, I have no regrets.” They were more than friends they were lovers, while they were married to other people. Herz’s wife also died in a camp. Before leaving Herz signed all of his business to Suzanne with the hope, he would come back.
A New Beginning
- Herz’s son Jean survived and returned to find the world had changed he recalls, he “had returned home to a wife who wanted a divorce, an infant son who didn’t recognize him and a mistress who had taken another lover.” The business his father own was in someone else’s possession and he was left with very little funds after all was settled. Belperron had other plans for the business. Belperron found Jean and offered the business back to him with no conditions. Once the legal matters were straightened out, Jean was able to keep his father’s business. He was so touched by Suzanne’s gift that they became co-owners addressing the business as Jean Herz-Suzanne Belperron SARL.
These are only a few of the fascinating stories in this book. Again, I highly recommend reading it! I hope you enjoyed this post. Please sign up for my email list to keep up to date with Data in the Rough!