Trying to break in, or break through, as an outsider — someone in the minority gender, race, social class or otherwise — has never been easy, but it can be done. Continuing with our series highlighting early female jewelry designers, today we will look at the life of early jewelry designer, Suzanne Belperron, who in a world of mostly male designers in twentieth-century Paris, became one of the most famous designers of her time:
- “Such was her standing as a créatrice-joaillière that the French state awards Suzanne Belperron the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor…. ‘What Chanel and Schiaparelli are in the French fashion world… Belperron is in the predominantly male fraternity of Paris jewelers.’”
Her Early Life and Education
The woman we know today as Suzanne Belperron was born in 1900 in Saint-Claude, France, as Suzanne Vuillerme. As an artist’s context and environment shape who they become, it is interesting to note that as a young child, Belperron was raised in Besançon — the birthplace of the first French public museum as well as the national watch industry. One might say that Belperron grew up in a burgeoning center of the arts, as well as of watch design in Eastern France, which undoubtedly influenced her adult life in jewelry design.
By the age of 18, Belperron had graduated from the local Besançon École des Beaux-Arts and quickly moved to Paris to work for the French company Boivin — a company that was founded in Paris in the 1890s and is considered to have “produced some of the most original and finely wrought jewels of the twentieth century.” Here, Belperron became one of three female designers who would blaze the trail in the predominantly male society of Parisian jewelry design.
Fiercely Independent Female Jewelry Designer
Early on, Belperron became a standout in her field. By 1932, she was invited to design jewelry exclusively for Bernard Herz — under his company name — which would require that Belperron give up her artistic name for job security. Belperron, fiercely independent, responded to this premier stone and natural pearl dealer with a definitive “No.” She stated, quite famously, a maxim that would guide her jewelry design throughout her life:
- “My style is my signature.”
And, as such, it was not for sale.
After rejecting the safety and lucrative career that might have been found under the Herz name, Belperron went on to achieve success under her own name. By 1934, her jewelry design had appeared on the cover of Vogue Paris; and in an ironic twist of fate, by 1941, Belperron would purchase B. Herz and rename the company “Suzanne Belperron, S.A.R.L.”
Read more about this famous feminista jewelry designer in the book Jewelry by Suzanne Belperron, published by Thames & Hudson.
Inspired to revisit some of the older pieces in your jewelry collection? Visit My Jewelry Repair for an update or fix of any of your favorite pieces.