Suzanne Belperron and Aimée de Heeren: a friendship, a necklace, a rediscovery

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Never before seen on the international jewelry market and until today never offered for sale at auction, a necklace by Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983), emblematic of her oeuvre, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s Paris on June 10th : international dealers and collectors are all on high alert wondering who will win the bidding war this spring.

“It is an exceptional piece, from a private European collection, which I had never seen other than in a photograph carefully kept in the personal archives by the designer herself”, explains Olivier Baroin, expert for Suzanne Belperron and keeper of the designer’s own archives. “This necklace is without a doubt not a unique piece, it is one of those that was created at the end of the 1930’s and then reproduced by the designer over decades”. How many of these necklaces might exist? Difficult to be certain according to the expert…” Other pieces will probably resurface onto the market once this one has been revealed to both the press and the public. I cannot imagine that a piece of jewelry such as this would have been taken apart when handed down to any heirs: the esthetic of this necklace, itself a true work of art, supersedes in this instance its intrinsic value.”

 

Designed as a partially articulated collar composed of two conical motifs suspending five curved bands, set in alternation with cushion-shaped diamonds, inner circumference approximately 370mm, French assay marks for 18 carat gold (750/00), gross weight approximately 132.30 grams, some restoration. The five curved bands are articulated, and the maker’s mark is located at their center, on the second curved gold band. There is only a trace of this maker’s mark present – when it was struck, it slipped, and only one end of the lozenge-shaped mark was reproduced. The expert Olivier Baroin located the end of this lozenge, and within it the word ‘Sté’ (short for ‘société‘, which is roughly the equivalent of ’Ltd.’ in English company names). He recognized it as a mark for the makers Groené et Darde, meaning that the piece was manufactured for Suzanne Belperron between 1942 and 1955. Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Monsieur Olivier Baroin. Cf.: Sylvie Raulet & Olivier Baroin, Suzanne Belperron, Paris, 2011, p. 211, For an image of an identical necklace. Lot 253 @Sotheby’s Joaillerie Paris, 10th June 2020. Estimate : 80,000 – 140,000 EUR

Influenced by the growing interest in African art that was enthusiastically collected by French artists at the start of the 20thcentury, Suzanne Belperron designed this signature necklace at the end of the 1930’s. The below drawing depicts a more slender variation of the necklace to be sold this Spring; although in this example, twisted strand of gold and diamonds, a characteristic of Belperron’s style, have replaced the gold studs.

Gouache, project for a necklace, bracelets and earrings “Africains”, yellow gold, platinum and diamonds. Archives Olivier Baroin. see: Sylvie Raulet and Olivier Baroin, Suzanne Belperron, Paris, 2011, P. 210.

We find an identical example of the necklace being offered sale in two adverts published in 1948, one in Femina, the other in Vogue,for Maison Herz-Belperron, as seen in the illustration below.

Advertisement in Vogue 1948, countersigned by the designer herself. @Archives Olivier Baroin

This necklace captivated many of the celebrities who followed the designers of their time very closely and in doing so had great influence on their reputations. Among those influential celebrities, Aimée de Heeren was one of the most important.

Aimée de Sá Sottomaior wearing a dress by Christian Dior, at the time designer for Robert Piguet, in the spring of 1939 at the reception of Lady Mendl’s (Elsie de Wolfe) Circus Ball at the Villa Trianon. From the exhibition Elegance in the Age of Crisis, Fashion of the 1930’s. This exhibition included a certain number of pieces of couture clothing that had once belonged to Aimée. @By The Museum at FIT, NYC.

Aimée de Heeren (circa 1903-2006), ravishing socialite of Brazilian origin famous for her beauty, her originality, her taste and her elegance, had an exceptional collection of jewelry (it is said that the Duke of Westminster, at the same time that he was Coco Chanel’s lover, gave Aimée gifts of jewelry that had once belonged to the Empress Eugénie). In December 2007, the New York Times paid homage to her with these words: “when she died last year at 103, Aimee de Heeren — of New York; Palm Beach, Fla.; Paris; and Biarritz, France — became one more lost link to an earlier age of social grace and high society ».

Aimée Rodman de Heeren and her daughter Christina in Biarritz. Aimée remarried in 1941. Her husband, Rodman Arturo de Heeren was heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune. @Getty images. Henry Clarke.

Always on the lookout for the talented of her time, Aimée de Heeren was one of Suzanne Belperron’s most important clients. “We can even go so far as to say that she and Suzanne Belperron were friends”, explains Olivier Baroin.

Aimée in 1939 photographed by Horst P. Horst
Suzanne Belperron at her desk at the end of the 1930’s @Archives Olivier Baroin

The importance of their correspondence, now kept in the designer’s personal archives, is testimony to a friendship that went beyond the communication relating to orders for pieces of jewelry.

Aimée de Heeren was a great admirer of the work of Suzanne Belperron. She supported the project for a book on the oeuvre of the jewelry designer, which would have been the crowning achievement of Belperron’s career. It is, in fact, for this project, which would have seen Hans Nadelhoffer as the author, that the designer assembled her order books and memorabilia. It was Aimée de Heeren who gave Suzanne Belperron the equipment with which to record her memoires and offered support for her friend to have an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A page from Suzanne Belperron’s order book dated November 1970, which shows the number of pieces of jewelry by Belperron owned by Aimée de Heeren! @Archives Olivier Baroin

In the postscript of a letter sent from the Hôtel Meurice (in the beginning of the 1980’s) to her “dear friend”, Aimée de Heeren describes, in no uncertain terms, the African inspired necklace that she had seen years earlier with Bernard Herz, the memory of which had remained amazingly clear: “if while you are going through your drawings, you happen upon one of that wonderful gold necklace with diamonds (of African inspiration?), which had those large gold studs that I had seen at Herz’s in 1939.(…) It was really wonderful. Would you be able to reproduce it? A gold necklace for the evening that is original and not those horrors that one usually sees is so rare”.

Letter from Aimée de Heeren to Suzanne Belperron. @Archives Olivier Baroin

It is this same necklace, just as fashionable to wear today, that we find on the cover of the auction catalogue. After having been for a while overlooked by the important international sales, Paris seems to have recently found – thanks to the work of experts and auction houses – a prominent place in the international jewelry market.

Photo by Julie Ansiau: the model wears a jumpsuit by Joseph. @Sotheby’s Paris

Sotheby’s, Joaillerie Paris
76, rue Saint-Honoré. 75008 Paris.
Téléphone + 33 (0) 1 53 05 53 05

Galerie La Golconde – Olivier Baroin
9, Place de la Madeleine. 75008 Paris.
Tel : + 33 (0) 1 40 07 15 69

Suzanne Belperron, Sylvie Raulet et Olivier Baroin,
La Bibliothèque des Arts (version française), 2011.
Antique Collector’s Club (version Anglaise)

Les bijoux de Suzanne Belperron, Patricia Corbett, Ward and Nico Landrigan, Karl Lagerfeld, Thames & Hudson, 2015.