Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.
Written by Elyse Shapiro
Renowned 20th century artist and jewelry designer, Jean Michel Schlumberger, may forever be an icon of the jewelry world. He was one of only four designers allowed to sign his work at Tiffany & Co., accompanied by Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti and Frank Gehry. Schlumberger’s name will grace his creations through time. His iconic designs pull elements from the natural world with a variety of flora and fauna, including a number of aquatic motifs. These objects have graced the illustrious estates. A variety of Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. pieces will be available on July 31, 2021 at an auction of property from the estate of Mrs. Charles R. Wood.
Jean Schlumberger was born into a family of prominent textile makers in 1907 in Mulhouse, France, a city in Alsace that was then part of Germany. He never received any formal art training, but often sketched as a child. In his early twenties, his family instructed him to pursue a career in banking in Berlin. He rebelled from his parent’s wishes and moved to Paris.
While in Paris, Schlumberger began purchasing Meissen porcelain flowers from the Paris Flea Market. He would affixed the flowers to brooches for his friends. This was his first endeavor in jewelry making. His floral brooches caught the eye of prominent Italian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli. She asked him to commission pieces for her haute couture line. Schlumberger began producing ornate buttons and eventually costume jewelry for Schiaparelli. This soon led to commissioned work with more expensive materials, including precious and semi-precious gemstones.
After serving in the French Army during World War II, Schlumberger moved to New York. He initially began working for Chez Ninon, a high-end fashion boutique that merged European design and American manufacturing. Shortly after moving to New York, Schlumberger opened his own New York jewelry salon in 1946. He co-owned the salon with his business partner, Nicolas Bongard.
Schlumberger’s fascination with the nature and old-world jewelry making techniques always showed through his design. He is mainly responsible for the revival of enameling in modern jewelry. An articulated cigarette lighter made to resemble a fish was one of his first fine jewelry creations. Other motifs in his collections feature brightly colored pavé gem-set and enameled sea creatures, reefs, shells, birds, flowers, fruits, and foliage. Schlumberger once said about his design process, “I try to make everything look as if it were growing, uneven, at random, organic, in motion.”
Tiffany & Co.
In 1956, Walter Hoving president of Tiffany & Co. asked to commission Schlumberger’s designs. He was one of the first artist-jewelers hired by Tiffany & Co. to have his own studio within the company’s main floor. The Schlumberger showroom still exists in the New York store today. Schlumberger was then named vice president of Tiffany & Co. In 1958, he was the first jewelry designer to win the Fashion Critics’ Coty Award.
One of Schlumberger’s more notable achievements was his work with the famous cushion cut 128.54 carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond. It is one of the largest yellow diamonds ever discovered and has only been worn by four women in history. First in 1961, Schlumberger mounted the Tiffany Yellow Diamond in his iconic “Ribbon Rosette” necklace design worn by Audrey Hepburn to promote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In 1995, after Schlumberger’s death, Tiffany & Co. remounted the Tiffany Yellow Diamond into one of Schlumberger’s brooch designs, “Bird on a Rock”, that he had originally intended for the famous stone. Tiffany & Co. has replicated “Bird on a Rock” with a variety of other precious gems.
Amongst Schlumberger’s other famous creations is his “Two Fruit” clip in ruby and diamond. President John F. Kennedy originally purchased this strawberry shaped pin as a gift for his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, to celebrate the birth of their son. This piece is on permanent display at the Kennedy Library in Boston, MA.
In addition to The Kennedy Library, Schlumberger’s work can be found on display at other distinguished venues. At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts there are 150 original Schlumberger pieces available for public viewing. The estate of American horticulturist and philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon donated these objects. A collection of Schlumberger’s original works is also kept at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has held retrospectives of his work three times, most recently in 1995.
Schlumberger’s iconic jewels also graced the illustrious collection of starlet Elizabeth Taylor. Richard Burton purchased Schlumberger’s “Dolphin” brooch in gold, diamond, sapphire, and emerald as a gift to Taylor. The gift marked the end of filming Night of the Iguana. This “Dolphin” brooch sold at Christie’s Auction House in 2001 for $1,202,500. Less of ten of these Schlumberger “Dolphin” designs have been produced. In addition, Taylor has been photographed on numerous occasions in Schlumberger’s “Fleur de Mer” sapphire and diamond brooch, which was also gifted to her by Richard Burton in 1965.
Another notable Schlumberger item sold at Christie’s Auction House includes the “Hedges and Rows” multi-gem and diamond necklace from the estate of American socialite and philanthropist Carroll Petrie. This piece sold in 2015 for $905,000. There is an extensive list of famous clients and fans of Schlumberger’s works. Some of these include the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Mona von Bismarck, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Daisy Fellowes, Wallis Simpson, and Gloria Vanderbilt. His creativity and craftmanship adorned influential women around the world.
Personal Life and Death
Despite his notoriety Schlumberger remained a private person and enjoyed the company of a few close friends including Cristóbal Balenciaga, Emilio Terry, Diana Vreeland, and Hubert de Givenchy. He also spent his time with his lifelong partner, Lucien “Luc” Bouchage, who was said to be a talented photographer and kindred spirit. In 1977, the French government knighted Schlumberger, titling him Chevalier of Ordre national du Mérite. Tiffany & Co. also publish a specialty Schlumberger Blue Book in 1986 that stated, “Tiffany’s rarest treasure is a genius call Schlumberger.” One year later, in 1987, Jean Schlumberger died at age 80 in Paris. He is buried at Isola di San Michele. His legacy lives on through his craft and his works continue to hold the eye of jewelry lovers and collectors internationally.
The following examples of Jean Schumberger for Tiffany & Company will be available for purchase at a live auction of Property from the Estate of Mrs. Charles R. Wood on July 31st, 2021