In the pantheon of master jewelers, Suzanne Belperron stands apart as the only woman. Elegant and audacious, she pioneered a new aesthetic in jewelry, yet never sought recognition. Despite her discovery by the cognoscenti of style, her celebration by the fashion press, and her profound influence over the rest of the 20th Century’s jewelry design, her name is little known today. When the Duchess of Windsor’s jewelry was auctioned in 1987, only 5 of 16 Belperron pieces were tentatively identified. Asked once why she never signed her work, Madame Belperron replied: “My style is my signature.”
Born in Eastern France in 1900, she studied drawing and jewelry at the École des Beaux-Arts in Besançon, beginning her career in 1921 as a draftswoman at the celebrated maison Boivin in Paris. Though designing at the avant-garde of Art Deco, she quickly tired of the new vogue and began to experiment with the sensual style that is still so arrestingly modern today. Recognizing this burgeoning talent, Bernard Herz, a Parisian stone dealer, hired away the young Suzanne in 1932 to design exclusively under his company name, B. Herz. With her newfound artistic freedom, she left behind the rigid lines of Art Deco to carve stones into organic shapes, invoking the delicacy of wings, petals, and fruit, and adorned them with gemstones. She drew on motifs from a range of cultures—African, Cambodian, Celtic, Egyptian, Indian, Mayan—and created a daring new look hailed as both “brilliant” and “barbaric.” Photographed for Paris Vogue wearing Belperron’s creations in 1933, Elsa Schiaparelli declared them,
“the new theme in jewels.”
The 1930s were a period of creative and commercial success for Madame Belperron, gaining her a famously influential following—Collette, Diana Vreeland, Daisy Fellowes, and Fred Astaire—but World War II brought hardship and tragedy. In German-occupied Paris, she was arrested with her partner, Monsieur Herz, at their boutique at 59 Rue de Châteaudun for operating a company under a Jewish name. Securing their release with the help of their elite clientele, Belperron re-registered the company under her own name until after Bernard’s son Jean returned from the front to resume the partnership of “Herz-Belperron.” His father did not survive the war. Madame Belperron received at least thirteen offers to escape France during the war years, but chose instead to remain in occupied Paris, eventually earning a Legion of Honor for her efforts on behalf of the Resistance.
Herz-Belperron flourished until Madame Belperron’s retirement in 1974, though her influence as a designer has continued to grow even after her death in 1983. Having long admired her work, Ward Landrigan, former head of Sotheby’s Jewelry and owner of Verdura, purchased her archive of designs in 1999. Today, Nico Landrigan, Ward’s son and President of Verdura, is responsible for the revival of Madame Belperron’s work, beginning with the publication of an official illustrated biography – BELPERRON: My Style is My Signature, currently in development.