Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987): One of the most influential fine jewellery designers of the 20th century
A name synonymous with American jeweller Tiffany & Co., Jean Schlumberger was a French designer who began his career in the late 1920s creating costume and fashion jewellery for the jet set of Paris. His work caught the eye of couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, who commissioned him to design pieces for her company in the 1930s.
In spite of his low-key and reticent personality, Schlumberger found acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic for his evocative, sculptural, exuberant and often nature-inspired designs – a refreshing antithesis to the flat geometry of the Art Deco style of the ’20s, and the machine-inspired Cocktail aesthetics of the ’30s and ’40s, all of which he firmly rejected.
Post-WW2, he moved to New York to open a small fine jewellery salon to much success with tastemakers such as fashion editor-columnist Diana Vreeland. She was possibly his first customer in the early ’40s, for whom he made her dream jewel – a Trophée de Vaillance brooch adorned with rubies and amethysts – inspired by her visit to Nancy in France. So popular had he become that Tiffany & Co. hired him in 1956 to start his own department with every available resource, including an abundance of colourful gemstones, at his disposal.
In the three decades that followed, he created some of his best (and the jeweller's most iconic) works ever. Most definitive of his signature style are his whimsical bejewelled sea creatures, exotic and lush interpretations of flora and fauna, boldly-coloured enamelled yellow gold pieces, and his love for three-dimensionalism, dynamism and asymmetry in form.
Of the various love gifts Richard Burton commissioned for Elizabeth Taylor, two of the most legendary ones were a 1964 Schlumberger diamond, sapphire and emerald The Night of the Iguana dolphin brooch (sold at auction in 2011 for US$1,202,500) to mark the end of filming The Night of the Iguana; and a much-photographed 1965 Schlumberger Fleur de Mer sapphire and diamond brooch. Other famous clients he designed for included Babe Paley, Daisy Fellowes, Gloria Guinness, the Mellons, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
He was so instrumental to Tiffany & Co.’s success that, one year before he passed on, the company produced a special Schlumberger Blue Book for 1986, which stated that “Tiffany’s rarest treasure is a genius called Schlumberger”. Until today, Tiffany & Co. is still reproducing the man’s designs, which include eye-catching enamel bangles ribbed, studded and criss-crossed with gold, and Bird On A Rock brooches made with various types of gemstones.