Know Your Jewels: 5 Historical Jewellers With Distinctive Style

The 20th Century was a prolific time for jewellery design as accessories became an essential in one's wardrobe. Moreover, women of a high societal standing preferred not to be seen wearing the same jewel twice, which also created a hunger for a variety of designs that would allow one to stand out. Among all the jewellers who adorned their discerning clientele with precious stones during the post-war period, only a few developed their personal style that was instantly recognisable. In this article, I want to take a look at five of the most iconic jewellery designers who continue to be an inspiration and reference point even for contemporary jewellers.

Suzanne Belperron

Famously, Suzanne Belperron understood that unique aesthetics were necessary to differentiate yourself from other designers when she coined the phrase “my style is my signature,” refusing to see the need to sign her jewels, as they were so clearly created by her. Belperron began her career with Boivin in 1919, where she pioneered a modernist aesthetic in jewellery; achieved through bold, voluminous shapes and playful use of unconventional materials like rock crystal. Through stylish famous clients such as Elsa Schiaparelli, the Duchess of Windsor and Diana Vreeland, Belperron quickly gained worldwide recognition for her unapologetically singular designs. Some of her most well-known jewels are her sizable cuffs - which remain highly coveted pieces. Today, the Belperron collection consists of the archive of over 9,300 of Suzanne Belperron’s gouache paintings and designs, and President of Verdura and Belperron Nico Landrigan continues her legacy by producing these archival jewels for a new generation of jewellery fanatics.

Pierre Sterlé

Pierre Sterlé learned his trade from his uncle, a jeweller in Paris, and began creating work under his own name in 1934. He designed jewels for Boucheron, Chaumet and others, and after moving to Place Vendôme in 1943, became considered a couturier of jewellery for socialites and Royalty. The reasons these esteemed members of society fell for his art are apparent as soon as you look at the complex technical mastery of any of his designs. Pierre Sterlé is most famous for his exceptional skills with fine gold, ‘braiding’ and forming structures with fine threads of precious metal. This technique resulted in twisted, flexible ropes of gold, which lent an astonishing realness to the recurring natural motifs in his work. Sterlé created an abundance of brooches, which loaned his jewellery a suitability to being paired with complementary high fashion dresses or suits.

Marina B

A descendant of the famous Bulgari family, Marina B is a design star in her own right. Starting her own brand in 1977 after designing for Bulgari for a number of years, her heritage is evident in Marina’s love of brightly coloured, large gemstones and supersized yellow gold jewels, combined with Italian jewellers’ famous dedication to craft. Some of Marina B.’s design signatures are contoured gold, black enamel inlay accents, and rounded triangle gemstone cuts which resemble lotus motifs. Marina B. counts famous names like Beyoncé and Rihanna as fans of her work, although now the Marina B. brand belongs to Guy Bedarida, the renowned designer and the company's Creative Director strives to immortalise Marina’s iconic motifs and reproduces jewellery based on original designs.

René Lalique

René Lalique is the de facto Art Nouveau jeweller, who is largely considered to have defined the era in the medium of jewellery art. After studying at the Ecole des arts décoratifs and the Crystal Palace School of Art, he was an apprentice goldsmith to leading Parisian jeweller and goldsmith Louis Aucoc. He then began designing pieces of jewellery for Cartier, Boucheron, and others, eventually opening his own business in 1885 - a full 10 years before the generally agreed upon date of the beginning of the Art Nouveau movement (usually defined by the opening of Maison de l'Art Nouveau, an art gallery opened in Paris in 1895.) Lalique’s jewellery designs feature the feminine form, curved lines and scrolls, and pendulous drops in his signature pendants and brooches. He was unafraid to experiment with opal, plique a joué and other - less expensive - jewellery materials, selecting them for their beauty rather than monetary value. Today, like all of the jewellers in this article, Lalique remains in very high demand, and is instantly recognisable for his multiple style signatures. 

Jean Schlumberger

Finally, Jean Schlumberger is a formative name in one of the most famous jewellery houses in the world: Tiffany &Co. In 1956, he became Vice President of the company, and went on to create some amazingly lavish jewellery designs. Schlumberger’s creative direction is defined by the complexity of different jewellery ‘textures’: ribbon motifs are prevalent, yellow, white gold and platinum design elements are layered, and pavé diamonds are paired with single, significant brightly coloured gemstones. Playfully, his yellow gold wire can be found wrapping parts of his jewels, framing design elements like a row of gemstones, a butterfly wing, or a flower petal.  Like many of his 20th Century contemporaries in this article, he was most inspired by nature, with a heavy preference for florals, and the jubilant abundance of his personal style resonated with a post-war generation of high jewellery lovers.

This is just a brief summary of five revolutionary jewellery designers of the 20th Century. If you are fortunate enough to ever come across any original designs from these jewellers, it’s absolutely wise to consider investing in them, not least as they are all seminal to the modern notion of jewellery being considered an art form. 

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