The French born jewellery designer, Jean Schlumberger had a long and fruitful career. He was first hired by Elsa Schiaparelli to design buttons when he moved to Paris from Berlin in the 1930s. Madam Schiaparelli was initially impressed by Schlumberger’s hand-made Meissen porcelain floral brooches. Shortly after his initial appointment, he shifted his attention from buttons, to designing costume jewellery for Madam Schiaparelli’s fashion house.
Jewellery Maker Profile: Jean Schlumberger
At Tiffany & Co.
After serving and surviving time in the French Army during the Second World, he moved to New York. In 1946, Schlumberger opened his own jewellery store with his old friend and business partner Nicolas Bongard (1908-2000).
The chairman of Tiffany & Co., Walter Hoving, soon became aware of the talented young designer, newly established in New York. In 1956, impressed by Schlumberger’s work, Hoving offered him a job at Tiffany. Schlumberger accepted but maintained his creative freedom. He was given his own workshop and salon on the mezzanine floor of Tiffany’s flagship store; he even had his own private elevator. Schlumberger is one of only four designers employed by Tiffany allowed to sign their own name.
The Jackie Bracelets
Schlumberger’s designs attracted a star-studded clientele to Tiffany’s. Women that loved and wore his pieces ranged from Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn to Wallis Simpson and Princess Marina of Greece and Demark. Jacqueline Kennedy, was a particular admirer of Schlumberger’s work, wearing so many of his paillonne enamelled gold bangles they became synonymous with her name and are now know as the ‘Jackie Bracelets’. President J. F. Kennedy, aware of his wife’s love of Schlumberger’s creations, bought her the now famous Two Fruit clip with rubies and diamonds. The clip is now part of the permanent collection in the Kennedy Library.
In his lifetime Schlumberger received the prestigious Fashion Critic’s Coty Award in 1958: he was the first jewellery designer to win this award. By 1977, the French government awarded him a Chevalier of the National Order of Merit.
Schlumberger’s best known designs were produced during his long partnership with New York’s iconic firm, Tiffany & Co.
His work has a distinct whimsical air, and are frequently based upon natural forms. Aquatic animals such as jellyfish, dolphins and seahorses, are common motifs. In such creations, golden tendrils radiate from a rippling array of gemstones to give the piece a tactile, almost diaphanous look. One of his most iconic pieces was a golden cigarette lighter formed as a fish with gems inlaid for eyes and a flexible tail.
Of his work Schlumberger remarked: “I try to make everything look as if it were growing, uneven, organic. I want to capture the irregularity of the universe”.
His ingenious arrangement of hard gemstones and metal has a distinct, somewhat surrealist quality. His animal brooches seem about to take flight or shapeshift. Movement and metamorphosis were important themes within the Surrealist Art movement which enjoyed a short-lived Renaissance during the late 1940s. These themes appear as prominent influences within Schlumberger’s bejewelled pieces.
With his background in costume jewellery, Schlumberger was unafraid to mix semi-precious and precious stones together. The formidable editor of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, noted Schlumberger “appreciates the miracle of jewels. For him they are the ways and means to the realization of his dreams”.
In 1986, a year before he died, Schlumberger celebrated his 30th anniversary working with Tiffany & Co. To mark the milestone, the company held an exhibition of his designs for the public to see the evolution of his imaginative creations.
Nearly a decade later, in 1995, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, hosted a retrospective entitled ‘Un Diamant dans la Ville’. Visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Art to see the largest permanent collection of Schlumberger designs, donated by Paul Mellon.