I want to capture the irregularities of the universe. I observe nature and find verve.1
Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987) was born in Mulhouse, France into a wealthy textile family. Eschewing the wishes of his business oriented family, Schlumberger left for Paris in his early twenties to pursue artistic endeavours. Scouring the Paris flea markets for interesting and affordable materials, he developed an eye for creating unique and artistic jewelry designs.
The success of his endeavors soon spread beyond his circle of fashionable friends and he caught the eye of the famed courtier Elsa Schiaparelli who hired him to make buttons and costume jewelry. The collaboration proved to be a great success and women on both sides of the Atlantic were soon wearing his boldly original accessories.
At the end of World War II, Schlumberger moved to New York and opened his own fine jewelry salon in 1947 with a partner, jeweler Nicolas Bongard. (Bognard was a nephew of the famed fashion designer Paul Poirot whose sister Jeanne had married the well-known French jeweler, René Boivin.)
With Nicolas handling the business affairs, Schlumberger was free to design. His playful creations, particularly of jeweled animals and fantastical sea creatures were worn by leading ladies of fashion and society including Diana Vreeland, Babe Pauly and Countess Mona von Bismarck. By 1955, his success was such that Tiffany & Co. approached Schlumberger and Bongard to move their business to Tiffany. In a move that was greatly beneficial to each party, Tiffany installed Schlumberger and Bongard with their own separate department in Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue store with access to their formidable supply of precious gems and materials.
Schlumberger became Tiffany’s jeweler to the stars and one of only four designers allowed to personally sign their work. His whimsical interpretations of nature and bold use of colored stones and enamels, set off in windows designed as jewel boxes, forever changed Tiffany & Co. both in the design of their jewelry and the way it’s displayed. One of his most iconic design features, the use of brightly colored enamels, uses the 19th-century technique of paillonné enameling in which colored enamel is applied over thin layers of 18 karat gold leaf.
As the jewelery historian Vivian Becker writes:
Among Schlumberger’s major contributions to Tiffany and jewellery history, was his inspired use of materials and colour. He was largely responsible for reviving the taste for rich, sun-coloured, yellow gold, which he emboldened with enamels in clear, bright, strong colours, often pinned with his signature gold studs or nails.2
Maker’s Marks and Timeline:
- Phillips, Clare. Bejewelled by Tiffany: 1837-1987. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.
- Proddow, Penny & Healy, Debra. American Jewelry: Glamour and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.
- Loring, John. Tiffany’s 150 Years. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1987.