What a treat it was to be invited to Tea and a Jewellery Masterclass with Sotheby’s own jewellery expert, Daniela Mascetti. At this event I spied eccentric pieces by french-born Jean Schlumberger and instantly thought of his collaboration with Elsa Schiaparelli.
I have been reading up on Elsa Schiaparelli and mesmerised by the rebirth of her fashion brand with her unforgettable designs that shocked the world – the surreal high-heeled shoe hat, a collaboration of his sweetheart, Salvador Dali, her fashion statement of zippers and the wrap around dress much loved by Diane von Furstenberg.
YELLOW SAPPHIRE AND DIAMOND BROOCH, SCHLUMBERGER FOR TIFFANY & CO., 1973
Jean Schlumberger is the man behind Elsa Schiaparelli’s costume jewellery designs, and they are just as collectable as any costume CHANEL jewels (though Coco Chanel was ahead of the game with her over-sized and ostentatious fakes that she called jewellery!). Schlumberger made a habit of visiting the local flea markets in search of old Victorian glass beads and serpents so he could create costume jewellery for his friends.
SHOP THE LOOK:
GEM SET AND DIAMOND NECKLACE, ‘JASMIN’, JEAN SCHLUMBERGER, 1973
His creations were a hit and his friends couldn’t get enough of them. Pretty soon the requests started rolling in, so he set up a jewellery making business with his sister that catered to the likes of Daisy Fellowes, Princess Marina, and the Duchess of Kent. It was at this time that fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli sat up and took notice and took notice and commissioned her own line of costume jewellery.
It was a collaboration that took off immediately and word soon spread across Paris to the outer reaches of the world. Everyone wanted one of those crazy iconic buttons – starfish, pebbles, shells, and rough gemstones fashioned in offbeat settings. The pair continued to work together and created gilt cherubs with fake diamond torches, spiders, insects, creatures from the sea, hearts pierced by swords. There was no end to what could be turned into an original piece of jewellery. It seemed no matter who Elsa Schiaparelli teamed up with – Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, the poet Louis Aragon – the world couldn’t get enough.
It was an exciting time in fashion. There was Fulco Verdura designing costume jewellery for Coco Chanel and Jean Schlumberger designing costume jewellery for Elsa Schiaparelli. There was fierce competition and rivalry between these two powerful women and there’s a famous story by Bettina Ballard that recounts how Coco set fire to Schiaparelli one night at a costume ball. Responding to Coco’s dare to dance with her, Schiaparelli, dressed as a surrealist tree, was skillfully led straight into a burning candelabra and caught fire at once. The flames were doused by a bunch of eager guests only too delighted to shower the flaming Elsa with their soda water.
The rivalry between the two jewellery designers travelled with them to NYC, where the two men individually set up shop to win the hearts and adorn the necks of Hollywood’s elite.
Schlumberger’s career continued to soar and in 1946, he partnered with his dear friend, Nicolas Bongard who was the nephew of a fine jeweller called Paul Poiret from Lacloche and Boivin fame. Together they opened a boutique on New York’s East 63rd Street and created pieces like these ones I found at Sotheby’s today. Not your usual diamond necklace and certainly a conversation opener.
These beautiful Jean Schlumberger jewels are part of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels and Noble Jewels Geneva Auction on November 16th.
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