In 1948 a discreet advertisement appeared in Vogue magazine publicising the partnership of Jean Herz and
Suzanne Belperron. The announcement, which simply stated
the firm’s name and address in the 9th arrondissement
in Paris, was illustrated with what appeared to be a silver
paper chain, but on closer examination revealed itself
to be a magnificent chain-link diamond bracelet.
This seemingly understated approach was absolutely in keeping
with the firm’s identity, one that had been formed in the
Art Deco era by Jean’s father, the successful
Parisian stone dealer Bernard Herz, and the maverick jewellery
designer Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983). Together they created
some of the most avant-garde jewellery of the 20th century.
Today, Suzanne Belperron’s name is associated with a daring
mastery of design. Her bold, angular shapes and her use of
modern materials were coveted for their exclusivity; Diana
Vreeland, Daisy Fellowes and Wallis Simpson were all clients.
To be a Belperron woman was to be a sophisticated player
in high society.
Belperron had a strong sensibility, taking inspiration from where
she pleased: Congolese tribal jewellery, Brutalist architecture and Japanese sakura (cherry blossom) were all translated into provocatively
cutting-edge designs. As Christie’s Head of Jewellery in the Americas Daphne Lingon explains, ‘If you think of when these pieces
were made in the 1930s and ’40s, they transcend the time period
in which they were created, revealing a confident, bold and
So distinctive was her work that Belperron never felt the need
to sign it, stating, ‘My style is my signature’. This presents
something of a challenge when it comes to attribution, and
goes some way to explaining why the designer’s name was all
but forgotten by the time of her death in 1983.
It was certainly the problem faced by Lingon when she first
saw the Belperron Diamond ‘Tube’ bracelet. ‘I was immediately
impressed by the scale and design,’ she explains, ‘which
led me to believe that it had been made by an important French
‘If we offer one or two pieces of Belperron in a sale, we consider ourselves fortunate’ — Daphne Lingon
But without a signature, the specialist knew it would be virtually
impossible to prove her suspicions. ‘Unlike paintings,’ she
explains, ‘provenance is rarely recorded with jewellery.’
It was while leafing through a book about the designer that
she came across the advertisement in which the bracelet was
featured — ‘a moment of pure joy after all these years’. That advert, which appeared in 1948, marked the end of a
traumatic period in Belperron’s life.
In 1942, the Nazis had arrested Herz and Belperron in German-occupied
Paris, and while the designer was released, Herz, who was
Jewish, was sent to Drancy internment camp. Before their
arrest, Herz had signed the company over to the designer
for safekeeping. Over the next few months Belperron fought
to have Herz released, but he was sent to Auschwitz, where
After the war Herz’s son Jean, who had been a PoW, returned
to Paris, whereupon Belperron transferred the company back
to Bernard’s rightful heir. As a token of his gratitude,
Jean Herz made Belperron a partner. ‘So this strikingly beautiful
bracelet marked a rebirth,’ says Lingon, ‘and the beginning
of a successful relationship that continued for many years.’
Beyond its provenance, what makes the bracelet exceptional,
the specialist explains, is that in spite of its substantial size it is easy to wear. ‘Since it is composed of wide alternating links of 18-carat
white gold and pavé diamonds, you’d expect it to be cumbersome, but it is actually the opposite’.
The partnership of Herz and Belperron lasted until 1974, when
the designer retired. Always an intensely private individual,
Belperron disappeared into obscurity. It was not until the
late 1980s, when her jewellery began appearing for sale,
that interest in her work was reignited.
Lingon confirms that it is still unusual to see her jewellery at
auction. ‘If we offer one or two pieces of Belperron in a
sale, we consider ourselves fortunate,’ she says.
The problem, she reveals, is that ‘people don’t know what they
have. Take this bracelet for instance. It would still be
a significant piece of jewellery without the name and its
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While Belperron remains something of an enigma, she is unquestionably unique. ‘She made her own rules in an industry
dominated by men, and she created a lasting legacy,’ says Lingon. ‘Once
you’ve seen her work, you never forget it.’