The renaissance of Suzanne Belperron : an interview with Olivier Baroin

This article is a translation by Claudine Seroussi of : Suzanne Belperron, histoire d’une consécration. Entretien avec Olivier Baroin 

« Suzanne Belperron is the most talented and influential jewelry designer of the twentieth century, » said David Bennett, now Global President of Sotheby’s International Jewelry Division, when he opened the auction on May 14, 2012 in Geneva of « the personal collection of one of the greatest jewelers of the 20thcentury: Suzanne Belperron (1900-1983) ».

The sale was comprised of 60 lots, all of which sold, for the most part, at exceptional prices – on average three times their estimate.

‘Jewels from the Personal Collection of Suzanne Belperron’. Sotheby’s. Lot 59. A carved rock crystal, white gold and platinum brooch of scrolling design set with diamonds, Suzanne Belperron, 1932-1955. Makers mark for Groëné et Darde. Estimate: 45,000 – 72,000 CHF (37,537 – 60,060 EUR). Hammer price: 302,500 CHF (252,355 EUR). An iconic piece of innovative and avant-garde design that the designer loved to wear. It sold for four times the high estimate.
Jewels from the Personal Collection of Suzanne Belperron. Sotheby’s. Lot 60. A rock crystal and diamond ring, circa 1935. This ring is set with a 12-carat marquise-cut diamond and is without maker’s mark. With an estimate of 45,000 – 72,000 CHF, it sold for 464,5000 CHF (506,000 USD), more than 6 times the high estimate. It was the most expensive piece in the sale. It was acquired by the renowned gallerist Siegelson, who presented it at that autumn at the 2012 Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris with a price tag of 921,500 USD. The journey of this ring is a testament to its aesthetic value and iconic Belperron design.

At the December 5, 2018, Christie’s ‘Magnificent Jewels’, sale in New York, a platinum and gray gold “Tube” bracelet set with old-cut diamonds, designed by Suzanne Belperron in 1935 as confirmed in her personal archives, appeared at auction. It had an estimate of 200,000 – 300,000 USD and was sold for 852,500 USD. Today, Suzanne Belperron is ranked amongst the greatest names in jewelry: Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron, Chaumet… and collectors of her work push the prices for her pieces ever higher to record levels.

Christie’s Head of Jewellery in the Americas Daphne Lingon explains, « iIf 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 brave visionary. » And she adds : “It has been a true honor to have been a part of this journey with this masterpiece by Suzanne Belperron, from researching and identifying the bracelet, to the excitement surrounding the sale. All of this culminating with a new world auction record for a Belperron jewel and we are delighted with this stellar result.”
A Jean Herz-Suzanne Belperron advert that appeared in French Vogue in February 1948. It is one of the first advertisements published after the establishment of Suzanne Belperron and Jean Herz company in the post war years, and which mentions the name of the designer.
Suzanne Belperron personal archives. Advertisement in Vogue in 1948, original page personally countersigned dating the illustrated bracelet from 1935. On the right side of the page, the certificate of this bracelet expertised by Olivier Baroin.

This crowning glory is the fruit of a very long journey.

Recognized, admired and highly sought after during her lifetime, Belperron’s name briefly fell into oblivion following her death. Her name reappeared in two major sales in the following years.

  • ‘The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor’, Sotheby’s Geneva 2 – 3 April 1987, featured 16 pieces by Belperron.
The Duchess of Windsor wearing her necklace of two rows of blue chalcedony beads, with a clasp of two blue chalcedony leaves set with diamonds and cabochon sapphires. Later the Duchess transformed the necklace by replacing the two leaves with a blue chalcedony flowerhead clasp (transformable into a brooch), the center of which is set with diamonds and cabochon sapphires. A pair of blue chalcedony cuffs completed the set. Photo: Archives Olivier Baroin.
Original design for the Duchess of Windsor’s blue chalcedony parure. Archives Olivier Baroin.
At the 1987 Sotheby’s sale, the necklace (lot 123) was sold for 183,000 USD and the pair of cuffs (lot 124), sold for 146,000 USD. Seventeen years later, the necklace and cuffs appeared in the Christie’s ‘Magnificent Jewels and Jewels of Style, Personal Collection” sale in New York on October 12, 2004. The sale prices were lower than those in 1987, with the necklace achieving a price of 119,500 USD and the cuffs 117,110 USD. The set appeared at auction a third time at Sotheby’s on the 9thDecember 2015, by which time the demand for Belperron had increased. The necklace, lot 459, sold for 430,000 USD and the cuffs, lot 458, sold for 526,000 USD. It is interesting to note that in 2015 the cuffs were estimated – and then achieved – a higher price than the necklace, which is probably more a reflection of the changing taste and fashion. The successive owners of these jewels were the Duchess of Windsor, Fred Leighton and Lee Siegelson. Today the necklace is in a private collection. Photo: Sotheby’s, 2015.
The Duchess of Windsor wearing her blue chalcedony flower clip, set with diamonds and cabochon sapphires. Photo: Cecil Beaton, 1937, Sotheby’s. Olivier Baroin book p 278
  • The May 17, 2004 sale held by Pierre Bergé & Associés in Geneva which featured 62 lots entitled ‘Créations de Suzanne Belperron’.
‘Créations de Suzanne Belperron’. PB&A, Geneva May 17, 2004. Lot 226. Fan-shaped blue agate clip, set with calibré-cut sapphires and featuring a cabochon sapphire (which was chipped), mounted in gold and platinum. Makers mark for Groëné et Darde.
‘Créations de Suzanne Belperron’. PB&A, Geneva May 17, 2004. Lot 279. Cuff with a detachable clip in the form of an ammonite, set with brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds. Makers mark for Groëné et Darde.

However, it was the discovery of Belperron’s personal archives by Olivier Baroin in December 2007, followed by the publication of Baroin’s book ‘Suzanne Belperron’, co-written with Sylvie Raulet and published in 2011, that saw the return of Belperron’s name and work to the limelight. In recent years, auction houses have presented works by Belperron at auction with great fanfare, emphasizing the unique style, and artist’s soul, of this grande dame of 20thcentury jewelry.

If the life of Suzanne Belperron was a passionate one, then so too is her legacy. From the incredible discovery of her personal archives, which had been thought to have been burned, to the tensions surrounding the reattribution of her work, the transatlantic disputes over the succession of her legacy, the name of Suzanne Belperron is in no danger of being forgotten for a second time.

Olivier Baroin, expert on the work of Suzanne Belperron, is here to explain to us how this artist, who was celebrated in her lifetime yet slipped into obscurity following her death, has become lionized in the salerooms.