Jean Schlumberger (1907-1987)
Jean Michel Schlumberger’s bold and colorful jewelry was designed with an artist’s eye and a focus on structure, individuality and dynamism.
Schlumberger was born to a family of textile manufacturers in Alsace, France in 1907. Although he showed artistic promise at a young age, his parents did not want to encourage a career in the arts, and instead sent him to Berlin to pursue training as a banker. It wasn’t long before he left Berlin and moved to Paris, a nexus of ideas, artistic energy and the ideal place to pursue his dreams.
Shortly after moving to Paris, Schlumberger found work with couturier Lucien Lelong. However, it was his time spent scouring the city’s flea markets that shaped his later career. Schlumberger collected obscure objects like Meissen flowers and rare gemstones that he mounted as clips to give to high society friends like the Duchess of Kent. Soon, he had so many requests for his jewelry that creating it became his full time occupation. He opened an atelier on the Rue de la Boetie, making jewelry for the wealthy socialites of 1930s Paris. In 1937, the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli took interest in a pair of “Flying Fish” earrings Schlumberger had made for the Duchess of Kent and asked him to design buttons and jewelry for her shop. By the end of the 1930s, Schlumberger was a fixture of the European jewelry market with a growing following of enthusiastic clients in America. Schlumberger moved to New York after World War II and resumed designing jewelry, but with ever finer materials. He opened a small salon on 5th Avenue with childhood friend, Nicolas Bongard and jewelry by Schlumberger quickly became the ultimate status accessory for patrons such as Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. With Bongard attending to business matters and Schlumberger designing, their atelier thrived and expanded to Paris. In 1956, they agreed to join Tiffany and Co. as vice presidents in charge of a dedicated design studio and salon, with full creative control and a Tiffany and Co. first – the right to sign his work Schlumberger. Schlumberger’s jewelry for Tiffany and Co. was a favorite of many wealthy women, among them Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy, who wore his enamel bracelets so often they were dubbed “Jackie bracelets” by the media.
Schlumberger rejected the flat geometry of the dominant Art Deco style, preferring instead a dramatic sculptural quality in his designs. He adored color, reviving the 19th century technique of paillonné enamel, the laying of enamel over 18k gold leaf to create translucent colors, to employ it in his work. He favored organic themes such as sea urchins, tropical birds and flowers, and often drew inspiration from his travels to Asian locales such as Bali, India and Thailand.
The market for works by Jean Shlumberger is very strong; the pieces that come to auction often sell well above estimate. Works by Shlumberger can be found in the holdings of The Kennedy Library in Boston, Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.