From the French Army to a Fashion House
Jean Schlumberger was born in Mulhouse, France, a small commune nestled between the German and Swiss borders, in 1907. Though he would eventually create some of the most elaborate and iconic designs for Tiffany & Co., his parents initially discouraged his artistic interests. Schlumbergers’s path from the son of a textile manufacturer to jewelry designer included two tours of service in the French army, first in the Battle of Dunkirk and later under General Charles de Gaulle in the Middle East. It was famed Italian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli who, in the 1930s, gave Schlumberger his first job as a designer, creating buttons for her clothing designs, and later commissioned him to design costume jewelry.
After WWII, Schlumberger moved to New York to design full-time, first as a clothing designer with Chez Ninon, and later for his own store. In 1956, he was invited by the president of Tiffany & Co., Walter Hoving, to design jewelry for the company. Schlumberger’s whimsical and nature-inspired designs quickly found favor with Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Vreeland said of Schlumberger:
“[He] appreciates the miracle of jewels. For him, they are the ways and means to the realization of his dreams.”
Soon, his creations were being worn by the chicest women of the time, which included everyone from movie stars Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn, socialite Babe Paley, and even the Duchess of Windsor.
A Bracelet Fit for a First Lady
But perhaps his biggest fan came in the form of American royalty: Jacqueline Kennedy was so frequently seen and photographed in Schlumberger’s enamel bangles, they quickly became known as “Jackie Bracelets.” The bracelets were and are, simply, works of art; each is created using a 19th century enameling technique referred to as paillonné. Precise and delicate shapes of gold foil are placed on the bracelet, and then the entire bracelet is dipped into translucent enamel up to 60 times for each bracelet, with firing and curing of the enamel between each round. The results, as their continued popularity attests to, are striking.
Schlumberger worked at Tiffany & Co. until the late 1970s. He holds the distinction of being one of only four artisans Tiffany allowed to sign their creations, along with Elsa Peretti, Paloma Picasso, and Frank Gehry. His designs have proven timeless; his enamel bracelets are still in production today, and are always in demand at auction. A collection of his jewelry designs is currently on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, through June 18th, 2017.
Works by Schlumberger for Tiffany have met with great success at auction with Freeman's. Recently, two enamel and eighteen karat gold bangle bracelets (the kind favored by Jackie) brought a combined $45,250, a pair of enamel and eighteen karat gold 'Paillonne' earrings exceeded pre-sale estimates to sell for $4,063, and a diamond, cultured pearl and eighteen karat gold bracelet fetched an impressive $21,250.
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Images: Enamel and eighteen karat gold 'Paillonné' bangle bracelets, Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co., sold for a combined $45,250; A pair of enamel and eighteen karat gold 'Paillonne' earrings, Schlumberger, Tiffany & Co., Sold for $4,063.