This week I had the good fortune to visit and photograph two special jewelry related exhibitions here in St. Petersburg “Jewels of the Imagination” and “Drawn to Beauty”, both featuring the work of the legendary French jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger.
You might not know the name, but in the world of jewelry he is a true legend.
Jewels of the Imagination features over 135 jewels & objects from the personal collection of socialite and philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon who was hands down Schlumberger’s most devoted client and friend.
Mellon’s collection was bequeathed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts after her death in 2014 and her collection is thought to be the largest assemblage of Schlumberger’s pieces in the world.
Jean Michel Schlumberger was born in then-German Mulhouse France in 1907 to a well-to-do family involved in the textile trade. Schlumberger always had an eye for beauty and by the 1930s he was living and working in the creative scene in Paris.
Bleuet (Brooch) c. 1957 - Sapphires, Diamonds, 18-karat gold, platinum
Flower (Brooch) c. 1960s - Amethyst, diamonds, 14-karat gold, platinum
Tiger Lily (Clip) 1956 - Yellow sapphires, blue sapphires, diamonds, 18-karat gold, platinum
Starlight Clip, 1950-1955 - Gold, diamonds, rubies, and aquamarine (Tiffany & Co. Archives). This clip takes its name from the stylized rays of gold - some terminating in diamonds or rubies - that radiate out from a single, massive aquamarine of cool, star-like blue.
Pectoral Cross, 1960 - Emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines, diamonds, 18-karat gold
In his early years he was known for creating costume jewelry pieces for friends created from antique chandeliers.
By 1937 he was working with costume jewelry couturier Elsa Schiaperelli where his imagination blossomed until WWII called and he joined the Army. Schlumberger survived the Battle of Dunkirk and by the time the war ended he couldn’t wait to return to his creative roots.
Jasmine (Breath of Spring) Necklace, 1966 - Colored sapphires, diamonds, 18-karat gold, platinum. Blossoms and buds are suspended from a golden vine intertwined with diamond ribbons in this resplendent collar necklace. Though the design was not created specifically for Mrs. Mellon, the thoughtful balance of color and sequence of its feature gemstones - sapphires collectively weighing 211 carats - make this necklace unique. It was nicknamed Breath of Spring by Mrs. Mellon for the honeysuckle bush whose unmistakable fragrance is a harbinger of the season. Mrs. Mellon wore this eye-catching necklace to the third Andrew W. Mellon Dinner at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. on May 3, 1985, a white-tie event marking Paul Mellon's retirement as chairman of the museum's board of trustees.
Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co. Hedges and Flowers Necklace, 1978-1990 - Gold, platinum, diamonds, turquoise, and rubellite tourmalines. The title of this magnificent necklace evokes Schlumberger's passion for gardens and colorful blossoms. This piece was commissioned by Carroll Petrie, a style icon, socialite, and philanthropist. During her lifetime she and her husband gave hundreds of millions of dollars to museums, hospitals, and other charities. Her spouse was the retailing mogul Milton Petrie, who made a fortune by investing in the company "Toys 'R' Us."
Flowers and Leaves (Fleurage) Necklace, c. 1958 - Diamonds, 18-karat gold
Leaves (Necklace), 1956 - Turquoise, diamonds, 18-karat gold, platinum.
This necklace, which appears at a glance to be orderly and symmetrical, demonstrates Schlumberger's skill at infusing his works with subtle variation. The leaves decorating the turquoise-mounted fringe are actually attached at different points and oriented in various directions. Turquoise has been used for adornment and ceremonial purposes in global cultures since antiquity. In the mid-20th century however, turquoise became a fashionable feature of mainstream jewelry when designers like Schlumberger combined it with diamonds and other precious stones.
Jean Schlumberger Necklace, 1948 - 18-karat gold and diamonds, Tiffany & Co. Archives. Schlumberger designed this necklace for Manhattan fashion entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie. She visited his New York shop and was entranced by his works. Carnegie commissioned this piece using diamonds from her personal collection. With its lively, abstract design the necklace looks remarkably contemporary.
He made his way to New York where he opened a salon and started working with gemstones and precious metals.
By 1956 Schlumberger joined Tiffany & Co and served as a Vice President with his own in-house design salon at the 5th Ave headquarters. He is noted for being the 1st jewelry designer permitted to sign his work and he stayed with Tiffany until his retirement in the 1970s.
Jean Schlumberger "Tassels" Suite: Necklace, Bracelet, and Earclips, 1948 - Gold, platinum, diamonds, and emeralds, Tiffany & Co Archives.
This splendid suite of jewelry was commissioned by socialite Sarah Jane Pansa. She first inquired about a tasseled necklace after admiring a bracelet in Schlumberger's shop, and then returned with rings, bracelets, and ear clips to be used in its creation. The necklace has a boldly asymmetrical design, which allows the tassels and interwoven cords to cascade downwards in beautiful, uneven profusion. Over the following months of 1948 Pansa commissioned the matching bracelet and earclips.
Inspired by nature, his designs often featured whimsical sea creatures, birds, butterflies or fantasy garden flowers adorned with colorful gemstones in a rainbow of colors, all worked in sculptural gold & platinum metal work. The perfect showcase for his incredible talent and imagination.
Over his many design years his talent attracted a glittering array of loyal clients which included Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Babe Paley, Gloria Vanderbilt, Lauren Bacall and Jacqueline Kennedy.
Jewels of the Imagination & Drawn to Beauty
Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg
255 Beach Drive, NE
Through March 31, 2019
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