Madame Boivin: The Legacy Continues

Chic, intelligent, business savvy and ahead of her time, Jeanne Boivin was a force to be reckoned with in the jewelry world. When her husband René Boivin, died in 1917 Madame Boivin made a decision that was unheard of for the time: She decided to continue the Paris-based firm. That decision made her the first woman to preside over a jewelry house in France, a world that was dominated by men.

Boivin Pomegrante brooch, 18-karat yellow gold with emeralds, circa 1930s, courtesy Ernst Faerber.

Madame Boivin had been running the business-end of the company while her husband handled the design end. After working together for twenty plus years, she knew and had relationships with the artisans in the workshops and she knew how to run the business. Beyond that, Madame Boivin had a great deal of style and her own eye for design as well as ideas for new creations.

While she herself did not sketch, draw, or have technical jewelry making skills, Madame Boivin employed designers who had those skills.  She would explain her ideas and what she wanted, which were then rendered for her by the designers. A woman of great style, Madame Boivin  had an innate understanding of how to wear jewelry. She wasn’t one to follow trends (Madame Boivin was after all the sister of couturier Paul Poiret who set the trends) instead she created bold, sculptural jewels brimming with color. The look was so recognizable that Boivin jewelry was only signed if a customer requested it.

Not wanting to deal with the general public, Madame Boivin never opened a street-level storefront, relying on the reputation of the company to move the business forward. Instead she had a private salon for those in the know who found Boivin through word-of-mouth.

The Suzanne Belperron Years

Boivin “Moineau de Paris” Bird of Freedom brooch from a drawing by Juliette Moutard, blue sapphire and pink tourmaline set in 18-karat yellow gold, circa 1945, with certificate of authentication from Francoise Cailles, courtesy Gros Difussion.

In 1919, Madame Boivin hired a young designer fresh out of Ecole des Beaux Arts — Suzanne Belperron. The Art Deco movement was in its early stages at this time and the trend of the moment was minimalist — streamlined jewelry with geometric forms that was often comprised of diamonds combined with onyx, enamel, sapphires, rubies or emeralds. Instead of designing jewelry in that style, the two women forged a new look that was known for its innovation and color as well as its rounded architectural shapes, such as elliptical or spherical. In 1924, Madame Boivin named Suzanne Belperron co-director of the house. Belperron held that title until she left the company in 1932.

Madame Boivin, along with Belperron, created jewelry that mixed precious gemstones with hardstones and other colored gemstones, which was not done at the time and it opened a new path in design that set the firm apart. She also used wood, rock crystal and chalcedony, materials not generally used in jewelry in that era.

The Juliette Moutard Years

Boivin Starfish, one is garnet with bluish-green garnets, the other is peridot with bluish-green garnets set in 18-karat white and blackened gold, courtesy © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

After Belperron left the firm, Madame Boivin hired Juliette Moutard who stayed with the house until she retired in the 1970s. Working very closely together, Moutard designed and Madame Boivin supervised production. Over time the pieces continued to become larger in scale. Nature was an important theme for the design house with florals and fruits being two favored motifs. Wild animals and aquatic life were also favored themes of the company. One of Moutard’s most recognizable and also one of her most famous pieces, was the articulated jeweled ruby and amethyst starfish brooch created for movie actor Claudette Colbert, who was widely photographed wearing the oversized (it measures 4 inches by 4 inches)  fantastical creature. In 2019 Claudette Colbert’s starfish was acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Very few of these brooches were fabricated and heiress and model Millicent Rogers also had a starfish brooch in amethyst and ruby. In addition, there was a version made in sapphire and moonstone as well as another version made of emerald and aquamarine. The firm later made some of these brooches in a smaller scale.

Boivin Quatrecorps ring, diamonds and white gold, circa 1970, from a private collection.

Claudette Colbert and Millicent Rogers were just two of numerous celebrities that favored Boivin jewelry. Through the years, Boivin had built up a stellar clientele that included such luminaries as artist Edgar Degas, songwriter Cole Porter, neurologist Sigmund Freud and photographer Cecil Beaton among others.

The Later Years

Boivin 18-karat gold, silver and opal, leaf brooch, 1938, with certificate of authentication, courtesy Palais Royal.

René and Jeanne Boivin’s daughter Germaine joined the firm  in 1938; she took over managing the company after Madame Boivin passed away in 1959, leaving the business to Germaine, who sold the company in 1976. The firm continued to craft jewelry in the Boivin legacy until the Asprey Group purchased the firm in 1991 and shut down the business. It is notable that in 1970, designer Caroline DeBrosses joined Boivin, where she stayed until the sale of the company twenty years later.  DeBrosses had a bold style that emphasized voluptuousness and felt like a natural continuation of the look that Juliette Moutard had forged for the company.

In 2020 the Boivin archives was purchased by Geneva-based G. Torroni SA, a six-generation firm specializing in antique jewelry with an international reputation as leading authorities on precious colored gemstones, diamonds, natural pearls, and antique jewelry. The company is currently  authenticating and making special order pieces while re-establishing the business so that the legacy of Boivin lives on for a new generation.

Featured image (top of page): Boivin Leaf Brooches, 1930s, 18-karat yellow gold, diamonds, emerald, ruby and sapphire, come with certificate of authentication from Francoise Cailles dating them at 1938, courtesy Lucas Rarities.

Authored by Amber Michelle

René Boivin: A Natural Talent

A keen interest in botany and naturalism were prime influences in the work of René Boivin, the Parisian jeweler who shifted the way that jewelry was designed and perceived at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s. His bold jewelry that countered the traditional fashion and styles of the era was considered quite avant-garde for the time.

Natural pearl, old mine diamonds, rose cut diamonds, silver topped 18-karat gold, by René Boivin, circa 1890 to 1900, with certificate of authenticity from Francoise Cailles, courtesy Gros Diffusion.

Born in 1864 in France, Boivin followed his older brother, Victor, into a position as a jewelry apprentice when he was just seventeen years old. René Boivin trained as a goldsmith and engraver and along the way learned other jewelry making skills in various workshops. He also attended art school where he studied drawing. In 1890, when Boivin was in his mid-twenties, he was considered a master jeweler by the guidelines of the time. He struck out on his own, purchasing a workshop in Paris that allowed him to acquire jewelry making tools as well as skilled jewelers to fabricate his unique designs.

Boivin was known for his exacting standards of crafting as well as his eye for design. The combination of those two skills made his workshops very successful. His work was in demand by other jewelers and initially Boivin was creating for other design houses including Mellerio and Boucheron.

René Marries Jeanne

Rose cut and old European cut diamonds, silver topped gold, by René Boivin, circa 1900, courtesy Pat Saling.

In 1893 Boivin married Jeanne Poiret, who was the sister of the haute couture fashion designer Paul Poiret, one of the most influential couturiers of the pre-World War I period. His clothes were colorful, flamboyant and daring, almost costumey. Importantly, Poiret was tapped into the wealthy, high society set who purchased his clothes. Poiret had extravagant parties and he invited his sister and brother-in-law. It was through these parties that René and Jeanne Boivin met many of the glitterati of the day who became their clients. René was the design talent behind the firm and Jeanne, who was an astute businessperson in her own right, took care of the more practical matters of running the company.

While Boivin produced the light, lacy white-on-white garland styles of the early 20th century and the sensual forms of the Art Nouveau movement that was happening concurrently, he also created innovative pieces with distinctive designs that broke the model of how most jewelry looked at the time. His jewelry was large and sculptural attracting a more artistic clientele. Boivin became known as the “jeweler to the intelligentisia”, catering to a sophisticated customer who wanted something different and developing an elite clientele of artists, intellectuals, foreign visitors and nobility who admired both his unusual designs and superior crafting. Most of Boivin’s pieces were custom made for his discerning clients.

The Assyrian Jewels

Assyrian style Silver brooch, by René Boivin, circa 1913, with certificate of authenticity, courtesy Pat Saling.
Silver pendant with cabochon amethyst by René Boivin, circa 1913, courtesy Pat Saling.

Boivin used lots of moonstones, aquamarines, sapphires, amethyst and diamonds. He had a knack for combining unexpected materials to break barriers in design while still creating chic, wearable pieces. By 1905, Boivin’s business  was such a success that he no longer needed to manufacture pieces for other jewelry houses.

In addition to botany, Boivin was also inspired by Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations, drawing upon motifs from ancient cultures and making them into jewelry that appealed to the aesthetic of the time. Known as the “Assyrian Jewels” many of these pieces featured lion’s heads.

In 1917, at the peak of his career, at the age of 53 René Boivin passed away. The firm continued under the direction of his wife, Jeanne Boivin and flourished for many more years.

For more on Boivin, read next week’s blog, “Madame Boivin: The Legacy Continues”.

Featured image (top of page): Japonism style engraved dice cups by René Boivin, circa 1890, courtesy Palais Royal.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Cartier: The Early Years

Perhaps one of the most famous names in jewelry, Cartier had rather humble beginnings during a very turbulent time in French history, which almost ruined the firm, yet eventually set it on the course to fame and fortune.

The story starts in Paris in 1847, when Louis-Francois Cartier bought the watchmakers store where he had apprenticed for a number of years. He had ambitions to make the store into something bigger and better and purchased the best jewelry he could afford to buy to showcase in his store. However, it was a turbulent time in France and trouble was on the streets. After a severe economic downturn in France triggered the French Revolution, King Louis Phillipe abdicated the throne in 1848. Napoleon III took over first setting himself up as President and then declaring himself Emperor and officially establishing the Second Empire in 1852. Needless to say it was a tough time for Cartier and anyone else in the jewelry or luxury business. The store managed to survive the crisis and was on an upward growth trajectory from there, even though it was slow growth. Louis-Francois’ son, Alfred, joined the firm during this challenging time.

Business was going along quite nicely for the company and by 1856 Cartier was selling to Princess Mathilde, second cousin of Napoleon III, and soon after Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, became a client. Those two clients drew all the right attention to Cartier. Other royals, wealthy bankers and industrialists began to frequent the store. At the time, as was customary, Cartier did not yet design and fabricate jewelry. They purchased from other makers, but only the very best jewels they could find for their store.

In 1870 there was another revolution in Paris (the Paris Commune) that caused the ruling class and other elites to flee for their lives. Unable to access their bank accounts, many of the blue bloods sold their jewels to raise cash to leave town. Alfred Cartier took full advantage of the situation buying spectacular jewelry from desperate aristocrats at rock bottom prices. When all was said and done he had an outstanding collection of jewelry for sale. The revolution didn’t last long and soon it was back to business.

Cartier and Fashion

By 1899 business was going so well that Alfred decided to move the store to Rue de la Paix a prominent area for fashion houses including the highly regarded House of Worth. Alfred had three sons, Louis, Pierre and Jacques. It was around this time that Louis joined the firm and around the same time that Cartier began to design and manufacture jewelry. It was the beginning of the Edwardian era and platinum was becoming a choice metal for high-end jewelry. Cartier took advantage of the new technology that made it possible to fabricate platinum into jewelry and began creating diamond pieces in platinum settings – especially in garland styles. It was a motif that was very airy and kept the jewelry light enough to wear easily while also capturing the white-on-white style that became increasingly popular in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The firm expanded in the first years of the 1900s with Alfred’s youngest son Jacques setting up a workshop in London. Cartier was a favorite of England’s King Edward VII who proclaimed that Cartier was “The jeweler of Kings and the King of jewelers.” In 1904 the company was honored with the first of fifteen royal warrants appointing the firm the official purveyor to the court of King Edward VII.

Cartier in New York

In 1909 the decision was made to establish a presence in New York. Pierre headed up the venture with Louis. One of the big challenges in New York was finding a space for the business to operate. But once again, luck coupled with a strong business acumen brought Cartier to exactly the right place.

One of Cartier’s clients was industrialist Morton Plant and his wife. The couple had a beaux-arts style mansion at 653 Fifth Avenue, a perfect location for Cartier to set up shop. Mrs. Plant was enamored with a double strand natural pearl necklace. So Pierre made a deal – the pearls, valued at the time at $1 million, plus $100 in cash in exchange for the mansion. To this day Cartier is still housed at that address in New York City.

Cartier and Art Deco

In addition to being innovative jewelers with exacting quality standards, the brothers traveled the world purchasing extraordinary gems, gaining new clients and finding design inspiration from far-away lands. It was the Art Deco movement that really put Cartier on the map as a premier design house.

There were many cultural touchstones at the time that provided inspiration to the firm: Asian and Islamic art, Cubism and Ballets Russes. One of the most important influences was the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. It sparked a huge interest in Egypt and Egyptology and there was a major Franco-Egyptian exhibition at the Louvre. Cartier was in tune with the trend creating pieces with scarab motifs and lotus blossoms.

Moving beyond Egyptian motifs, Cartier masterfully designed pieces with diamonds and onyx tapping into the black and white trend that was so popular in the 1920s. They also used bold colors in their designs, blending coral, jade and lapis lazuli with diamonds. It was ground breaking at the time.

It was the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationales des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes that really launched Cartier into the spotlight. Interestingly, the firm chose to exhibit with fashion houses rather than with other jewelers, establishing a connection between jewelry and fashion.

One of Cartier’s most iconic design innovations came about during the 1920s: Tutti Frutti, an exuberant mix of carved emeralds, rubies and sapphires accented with diamonds, first fabricated in 1923. Emeralds were of particular note in this style of jewelry. Many were brought to the design house by Mahrajahs from India. Their emeralds had been imported into India from Colombia since the end of the 1600s. The gems were carved in India by artisans who drew upon the flowers depicted in Islamic art for their carvings. Cartier added to the emeralds with carved ruby and sapphire leaves making up a “fruit salad”.

Cartier continued its expansion and design innovation in the following decades, with the family in control of the business until the early 1970s. Cartier is currently owned by Compagnie Financière Richemont and continues to produce iconic designs based on its archives as well as new innovations.

Featured image (top of page): Carved emerald, sapphire and ruby Tutti Frutti brooch accented with diamonds, signed Cartier, courtesy Palais Royal Collection (@palaisroyaljewels).

Authored by Amber Michelle

Jewelry in this article is available for sale on The Jewelers Circle.

David Gross: Jewelry is in His DNA

With a watchmaker for a grandfather on his mother’s side of the family and a grandfather who was a diamond cutter on his father’s side, you could say that jewelry is in the DNA of David Gross. He started his firm, David Gross Group, 12 years ago after spending a number of years in the family business, MJ Gross a diamond manufacturing firm in New York City. While there, David made sales, purchased diamonds and designed diamond jewelry. After marketing and selling a 7-carat fancy intense orangey-pink diamond for MJ Gross, David found himself very intrigued by color. Colored diamond prices were soaring at the time, so David turned his attention to colored gemstones. He learned about colored gems on the job and says that the world of colored stones is so vast that he continues to learn something new every day. David found that most colored gemstone dealers focused on color saturation, brilliance, hue and origin of the stone. He noticed that none of them really put the emphasis on cut and clarity. David quickly discovered that when you put the emphasis on color and then focus on cut and clarity, the end result is something breathtakingly beautiful.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

A stone has to talk to me. If it doesn’t talk to me, then it doesn’t come on to the table. Every stone has to have something compelling. Regardless of its color saturation it has to exude brilliance or we have to be able to bring it out of a stone. Traditionally the gemstone industry has focused on color saturation and brilliance of the stone, very little attention was being given to cut and clarity. When you do take that into account you end up with a superior product. I have to think about how a stone will look when it is set. And how does it look, will I be providing something of value to my customer? 

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

In my world the setting is there to enhance the stone. The center stone is the focal point and the side stones and design are there to enhance it. The side stones have to enhance not detract from the center stone or it’s not as attractive. The faceting of the side stones have to either match or contrast the center stone. A well-made piece of jewelry is one where the design flows throughout the piece. Components that are stiff will never have a good feel. The finish has to be very  good. A truly well-made piece of jewelry is a sum total of hundreds of minute details.

What inspires your designs?

My biggest inspiration actually comes from customers. We do a lot of custom work. I ask customers to send me images of what inspires them, what intrigues them and then try to fulfill their dreams while enhancing the piece as well. I work with the concepts from the pictures they sent. I’m always looking for new ways to make a piece unique, or a bit different. I play with different diamond cuts for side stones and I’ve found that mixed cuts really pop the center stone. Since classic designs are most in demand we take our stock product and try to find ways to make each piece unique. Most of my bench jewelers say that it is more difficult to create a classic piece than something with a more intricate design because there is no forgiveness if something is off. I spend a lot of time arguing with bench jewelers about the angle and height of the side stones and I’m always pushing my cutters to get better brilliance out of a colored stone.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I would like them to feel that their piece of jewelry is an extension of themselves. Jewelry is an expression of who you are. I like the idea of a person buying something that will be worn and enjoyed. What do you like? What feels special to you? A piece of jewelry is meant to be cherished and enjoyed.

Featured image (top of page): Blue sapphire, 7.43-carats framed with 4.10-carats of old mine diamonds, all set in platinum.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Suna Bros: Masters of the Classics

The story of Suna Bros started with Kenneth Suna in 1925 in Poland. After apprenticing in a jewelry factory in Warsaw, Kenneth came to the United States. Several years after arriving in the U.S., Kenneth launched Suna, specializing in channel set wedding bands. He stopped the business when World War II started and relaunched it with his brother Joel, after the war ended. In 1974 Aron Suna, president Suna Bros Inc. in New York City and Kenneth’s son joined the business. Aron never planned to come into the jewelry business instead he attended law school and was a Navy JAG (Judge Advocate General Corps) for four years. Just before Aron left the navy, Kenneth was diagnosed with cancer. Aron went to visit his dad in the hospital and that’s when his father asked him to join the family business. After two days of soul searching, Aron agreed to come into the business. He then spent 3 months in Antwerp, Belgium where he learned to polish and sort diamonds. Today, Aron, with his brother Jonathan,  continues taking the business, which makes all of its jewelry in its in-house New York City workshop,  in new directions adapting to changing times and shifting customer desires, which in recent years has meant a foray into colored gemstones.

What inspires your designs?

We are very, very classic. We like new and different concepts, we do an updated classic with a slightly different twist. We go through cycles. In the early 1990s I went to Vicenza, Italy. That was when gold was inexpensive and before Italian gold had really entered the U.S. market. We bought Italian gold and made 18-karat gold necklaces and bracelets with no stones. That was very different for us. We were always creating diamond pieces with rubies, sapphires and the occasional aquamarine. In the past ten years we started to work with more exotic color — spinel, moonstone, Paraiba tourmaline. We have a new gemologist who opened our eyes to the breadth of color.

What criteria do you use to select your gemstones?

We’re fussy about our color. We want the finest colored gemstones that we can find. It has to be high quality. We’re not a price point house, but we do want something that is well priced, has depth of color and brilliance, that is well cut and has no windows.

What is the most unusual gemstone that you have ever used in a design?

The nicest was a padparadscha sapphire layout that I found in Geneva. It was really special. The stones were all 2 to 3-carat ovals and there were about 30 of them. Each stone had  a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) report. I didn’t know what to do with them, but when I got the stones back to New York, we came up with the idea for a floral bib necklace. It has different size flowers with padparadscha sapphires at the center of each one. We used Argyle pink diamonds and yellow diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold. It took hundreds of hours to make, it’s truly a work of art.

What are the characteristics of a well-made piece of jewelry?

When I’m showing a piece of jewelry, I always like it when someone turns it over and looks at the back first. It shows that a person knows that a piece of jewelry has to be constructed properly. When we use rose gold, we use 20-karat because it has less porosity than lower karat gold and we want no porosity. You should hear a clasp click when it closes and there should be nothing that catches on clothes. You should be able to run a piece of jewelry over a silk blouse without snagging anything. It has to look right and flow well. Depending upon the design, an item can be delicate or chunky, but it needs to be proportional. When we make a necklace we use a neck form, this way we know it flows correctly, it has to flow with the body. Each piece has a unique serial number stamped inside of it. We keep meticulous records so that we know where the stones are from and who the jeweler was that made the piece in our shop. That way if a piece comes back to us to be refurbished we can give it back to the same setter. Each setter has a slightly different hand. A lot of little details go into making a fine piece of jewelry.

What should a person look for when buying a piece of jewelry?

I always say buy quality – 18-karat gold or platinum. How is the piece made? Does the ring fit right? Make sure that a necklace sits right on the collarbone and doesn’t flip.  The quality of the stones is important, cut affects the appearance of diamonds and colored gemstones.  The most important thing is that the jewel has to appeal to you.

All of the jewelry showcased in this blog can be found on the Jewelers Circle.

Featured image (top of page): Padparadascha sapphires, yellow diamonds, Argyle pink diamonds, platinum and 18-karat yellow gold, necklace, all images courtesy Suna Bros.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Harry Winston: A Diamond Legacy

Floral motif diamond and platinum necklace, converts into two bracelets, circa 1959, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

From the red carpet to royalty Harry Winston jewels are seen sparkling on some of the world’s best known luminaries at some of the world’s most high profile events. Winston himself became quite famous due to the important diamonds and gemstones that he acquired and through his penchant for sharing his passion for diamonds and gemstones with the public.

Harry Winston was born in New York City in 1896. His father had a small jewelry shop and young Harry spent a great deal of time there. The defining moment for his future career as a purveyor of exceptional diamonds and colored gemstones happened when he was just 12 years old. Winston stopped by a pawn shop and was looking through some costume jewelry, when he saw a green stone. The pawn shop owner thought it was a piece of glass, but Winston knew better. He bought the stone for 50 cents. Two days later he sold it for $800. The piece of glass was actually an emerald.

In 1909, Winston’s family moved to Los Angeles where they opened a store. Young Winston worked there alongside his father before moving back to New York City a few years later.

Harry Winston’s First Company

When Harry Winston arrived back in New York City, in 1920, he opened his first business, the Premier Diamond Company. It was a fortuitous year for Winston, he also met his wife Edna, that same year, although they did not marry until 1933.

After opening the Premier Diamond Company, Winston realized the complexity of the diamond market and breaking into it with few resources. Known for being an astute business person, Winston made a name for himself by purchasing the estates of well-known socialites, industrialists and other notable families. These acquisitions gave Winston access to diamonds and colored gemstones that he would not have otherwise been able to acquire. He often took the jewelry apart and reused the stones in his own creations.

Harry Winston ring with 52-carat Colombian emerald, minor oil, diamonds and gold, 1970s, courtesy Paul Fisher.

Winston opened his eponymous store on Fifth Avenue, in 1932. And a couple of years later he was making headlines with the purchase of the famed Jonker Diamond, the 726-carat rough diamond was discovered in South Africa and named after the miner who found it. Winston brought the rough diamond back to New York and promptly sent it out on a press tour around the country. While on tour the uncut diamond was photographed with stars of the silver screen, Shirley Temple and Claudette Colbert. After its press tour the Jonker was finally cut, yielding 12 gems, with the largest weighing 125.35-carats.

That was the start of Winston and his connection to some of the most important diamonds in the world. Harry Winston has also been the guardian of the Vargas Diamond, Winston Diamond, Star of Independence, The Washington and perhaps most famously, the Hope Diamond.

Court of Jewels

Harry Winston and diamonds were so inextricably intertwined that in 1947 Cosmopolitan Magazine, dubbed him the “King of Diamonds”, a title that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Winston loved sharing his passion for jewels with other people and wanted to make sure that the public was informed about gemstones. He also had a passion for philanthropy, so in 1949 he created another headlining event: “The Court of Jewels” a traveling exhibition of spectacular gemstones and jewelry. The exhibition toured several cities and in each destination  money was raised for local charities. He later donated The Hope Diamond and some of the other items from “The Court of Jewels” to the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, he mailed The Hope Diamond to the museum through the United States Postal Service.

The Harry Winston Cluster

Classic cluster diamond and platinum earrings by Harry Winston, circa 1969, courtesy J&SS DeYoung.

Harry Winston is known for the use of exceptional diamonds and gemstones in its jewelry. Winston always let the stone dictate the design rather than the setting being the main focus. With that in mind, the cluster design is one of his most renowned creations and the idea came from a rather unusual source: A holly wreath.

Winston arrived home in Scarsdale one winter night and glanced at the wreath on his front door that was sparkling with snow and frost. The next day Winston went to his head designer, Nevodon Koumrouyan and together they created the now iconic “cluster” design. The Cluster which features diamonds in round, pear and marquise shapes all in one piece is designed so that the gems are angled and in perfect proportion to each other creating spectacular sparkle. The diamonds are always set in platinum so that the setting is barely visible instead emphasizing the gems so they appear to be floating. It’s a look that is closely associated with the firm.

Hollywood has come knocking on Harry Winston’s doors many times. Its sparklers have been worn in a number of films including the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Notorious”, “The Graduate” and  “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”.  And who could forget Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”  purring the famous line – “talk to me Harry Winston” — as she sang “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.  Winston also started the trend of loaning jewels to stars walking the red carpet for various award shows, which earned him a second nickname: Jeweler to the Stars.

Harry Winston passed away in 1978. His son, Ronald Winston took over daily operations of the business until he retired in 2014. The company was sold to Aber Diamond Mine, which later sold the company to Swatch. But Winston’s legacy of “rare jewels of the world” continues to today as a new generation of clients discover the magic of his jewelry.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Suzanne Belperron: Visionary Designer

Portrait of Suzanne Belperron and Toi et Moi Virgin Gold ring, all images courtesy Belperron.

Recognized as one of the 20th century’s most influential jewelry designers, Suzanne Belperron remains a bit of an enigma. Fiercely private, almost secretive, her talent was undeniable. Despite being conceived many decades ago, part of the genius of Belperron is that her work looks as contemporary today as when it was first produced.

“She was a woman designing for women at a time when jewelry making was dominated by men,” explains Nico Landrigan, president, Belperron. “She mastered many jewelry making techniques and then combined them all.”

Born Madeleine Suzanne Vuillerme in Saint-Claude, France in 1900, her family moved to Besançon a year later. She became Madame Belperron when she married engineer Jean Belperron in 1924.

Her mother recognized Belperron’s talent at a young age and encouraged her to pursue her art. Belperron attended the Besançon Ecole des Beaux Arts. After graduating from school in 1919, Belperron moved to Paris, where she was hired by the Maison Boivin as a model-maker and designer. She never signed her work, but her style was recognizable and it changed the design aesthetic of the firm. 

Suzanne Belperron and Bernard Herz

Belperron Vintage Pyramide Brooch with sketch.

After a few years at Boivin, Belperron was offered a position by Bernard Herz, a high-end gem and pearl dealer. She was hired to design exclusively under his company name, B. Herz, and was given free rein to design as she pleased. Again she declined to sign her creations famously stating that “my style is my signature.”

So how do you know if a piece is by Belperron? She had a very extensive archives of 9,300 sketches and in 2015 Nico Landrigan and his father Ward, relaunched the brand, after acquiring the archives and the Belperron name and trademark in 1998. One of the things that they needed to figure out before the launch was how to distinguish the newly made Belperron from the vintage pieces.

“The new pieces are signed Belperron in bold block letters,” says Landrigan. “Some pieces are rock crystal or hardstone and there is no space for a signature so we put a coded scratch number on the piece. We have a record of all the pieces we’ve made.”

When Belperron left Boivin for B. Herz, she kept the same workshop, Groené et Darde, and the pieces designed by Belperron have those maker marks. According to Landrigan, the French system of marks is very structured and those pieces with the workshop marks help to identity her vintage jewelry. The Belperron archives can also be accessed to verify that a jewel is actually her design.

“The archives are critical to identifying Belperron’s work,” comments Landrigan. “You have to study how a piece is constructed, see the markings, but without the archives, it’s hard to be sure if the pieces are authentic.”

Belperron and World War II

In 1941 when World War II was on Europe’s doorstep, Bernard Herz asked Belperron to purchase the business from him so she could keep it going during the Nazi occupation of Paris. A year later, he was arrested and sent to jail. Belperron was part of the French Resistance and she was able to get him released, but he was arrested again and she was unable to secure his release the second time. He was sent to a concentration camp and did not survive the war.

Despite the difficulty in accessing materials to make jewelry, Belperron kept the business going throughout the war and in 1945, after spending five years in a prison camp, Bernard Herz’s son Jean Herz returned to Paris. Belperron gave the company back to Herz and he made her an equal partner in the business — Jean Herz-Suzanne Belperron, S.A.R.L.

During her career Belperron challenged traditional thinking about what jewelry should look like and how it is made. She created large-scale, curvaceous and voluptuous pieces that are as stylish now as when they were first made.

“She was an exceptional artist,” observes Landrigan. “I think she foresaw a modern style. She looked into the future. She had restraint and balance in her jewelry. She never gave everything away at a first glance. You really have to zoom in and look at her pieces, the more you look the better it gets.”

Belperron and Serti Couteau

Belperron Paisley Serti Couteau Spinel Earclips.

Landrigan notes that Belperron invented her own style of setting to accommodate her designs. She liked to create pieces with multiple gemstones in different sizes and shapes, so she developed a special setting, serti couteau, or knife edge, to hold the stones in place. The setting technique, which looks like an irregular honeycomb on the back, became a part of the design. The setting allowed Belperron to mount stones of various shapes and sizes into her pieces in a random pattern.  She also pioneered the setting of gemstones into hardstone, a favorite combination was diamonds in rock crystal. Some of her all gold pieces were textured — through the use of microhammering and scratching – to look ancient.

Belperron worked very closely with her clients. She custom made jewels in collaboration with her client, taking meticulous measurements of the fingers and wrists to make sure that the finished jewel was a perfect fit.

In 1963 Belperron was given the Knight of the Legion of Honor award by the French government for her contributions as a jewelry designer. It is the highest distinction given to a French citizen. In 1974, after 55 years in the business, 42 with the Herz family, Belperron and Jean Herz closed up shop and retired. Belperron passed away in Paris in 1983, but her artistic legacy lives on through the jewels she created.

The late great designer Karl Lagerfeld summed up the essence of Belperron’s work when he wrote the forward to the book “The Jewelry of Suzanne Belperron” by Patricia Corbett, Ward Landrigan and Nico Landrigan. “There is a humble splendor you can never find in other designers’ work before her. One feels that the heart always prevailed,” concluded Lagerfeld.

 Authored by Amber Michelle

Treasure Hunters: Women Who Sell Jewelry

The jewelry business is a fascinating world filled with designers who create the sparkling jewels that we love to wear and dealers who find amazing jewelry from bygone eras and give them a second chance to be loved and worn again. We’ve spoken to three women who started jewelry businesses and the path that led them to selling all that sparkles.

Celine Catalaa, French Collection

Celine Catalaa, French Collection

Based in Amsterdam and Paris, Celine Catalaa, travels the world searching for the most unique jewelry. Celine brings a deep passion for jewels with a story — and over a decade’s worth of experience — to her company French collection. She prides herself on discovering some of the best fine jewelry in the market to meet the tastes of her clients. French Collection is Celine’s homage to treasures with a past that come from some of the most famous heritage jewelry houses including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Tiffany & Co. as well as bespoke, one-of-a-kind pieces.

What attracted you to the jewelry business?

When I was growing up, at my house, jewelry was not a business, but a love affair. I have vivid memories from my childhood of a “treasure chest” that belonged to my mother and grandmother. I was always fascinated and emotionally touched by the beautiful and precious little jewels that it contained. I never imagined that I would become a jewelry dealer.

How did you get started in the jewelry business?

I was a journalist and I decided that I needed to make a radical career change. A friend of mine, who really believed in me, gave me some help. When I was 35 years old, I became the oldest intern at Drouot, the famous Hotel des Ventes auction house in Paris. During the few years that I was there, I met many interesting people in the business… including my very talented husband. Changing careers was the best decision I ever made.

What is your favorite era for design and what makes jewelry from that era special?

I can easily fall for a beautiful piece of Art Deco jewelry, but I’m a 1970s lady! I like bold, colorful jewelry. I can’t resist anything with amethyst, turquoise or lapis lazuli. It’s happy jewelry and that’s what we need, don’t you think so?

What makes vintage jewelry relevant today?

Preloved jewelry and vintage jewelry has never been as popular as it is today. There are many reasons. First, there is sustainability, the carbon footprint of a piece of vintage jewelry is close to zero. Vintage jewelry is also very high quality. Most of it is handmade with a high level of craftsmanship. The pieces are also quite rare because most of the jewelry was handmade so the production was limited and pieces were often uniquely one-of-a-kind.

Sara Sze, An Order of Bling

Sara Sze, An Order of Bling

Singapore-based Sara Sze, is a jewelry designer and founder of An Order of Bling. She immortalizes words and phrases into diamond jewelry creations that can be handed down through the generations. Sara’s designs are often inspired by the gem she is working with and this leads to pieces with their own unique personality. A self-taught designer, Sara won the Design Competition in the Singapore International Jewelry Exhibition in July 2019.  During the covid-19 lockdown, she was part of a virtual panel discussion with Fabergé and VAK hosted by the India International Jewelry Show (IIJS). Sara’s jewelry has been featured in the  Robb Report Centennial Edition on pink diamonds, Vogue Singapore, Harper Bazaar Singapore and most recently in Her World.

What attracted you to the jewelry business?

My love affair with Jewelry started when I was 16.  My grandfather gave me my first diamond to mark the occasion. The diamond came with a story about his life that he wanted to share. I remember thinking that no other gift was ever that significant. A family’s oral history and the precious gifts that accompany it are a forever gift.  When I finally had the chance to start my own business, jewelry design felt like the best thing I could do because I wanted to spend my time doing something that had great emotional and social impact. The ability to capture love stories in beautiful pieces that my clients wear next to their skin always pulls me back to the love I share with my family. 

How did you get started in the jewelry business?

I started An Order of Bling in 2016. It was a culmination of all the repressed creative energies that have been bubbling below the surface since I was a child. I do not come from a family that has obvious artistic talent and so I never dreamed I could be a designer. 

You say that you are a “gem whisperer” tell us about what that means to your designs.

Working with diamonds and gemstones is an incredible experience. We are so transient — here for at most one hundred years. However, gems have been here for millions, even billions of years. For me, working with gems over time, they emit a sort of energy that translates into a thought. Not all gems will resonate with me, but the ones that I select for a design at An Order of Bling have a very magnetic pull and the design idea occurs almost instantaneously. It’s like the gem decides how it wants to be presented. The result is usually quite distinctive.

What makes good design?

In my mind, the best bespoke designs truly belong to one person.  They can’t be repeated for someone else because when I conceived it for that person, the whole process involved thinking about who that person is, the emotions they stirred up in me when I met them and the emotions that I saw stirred up in the person who came with them, it’s highly personal. It’s so personal that if someone asked me to make another one of the same design, I would never do it, it’s not right.

Inez Stodel, Inez Stodel Kunsthandel

Inez Stodel and Leonore van der Walls, Inez Stodel, Kunsthandel

Specializing in jewelry and small works of art for over 50 years, Inez Stodel opened her namesake store, Inez Stodel Kunsthandel, in the heart of Amsterdam in 1964. She sells rare and wearable antique jewelry and is known for her extraordinary eye for design and exceptional taste, both of which she developed from watching her antique dealer father sourcing pieces for his store. Her daughter Leonore van der Walls, who was an attorney, joined Inez in the business in 2004.  Jewelry in the collection dates from antiquity to the 1970s and features pieces from esteemed houses including Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Marcus & Co., Mauboussin and Boucheron. The collection also features jewels from renowned designers such as Carlo Giuliano, Alexis Falize, Jean and Georges Fouquet and Seaman Schepps. In addition to jewelry, the company also carries objets de vitrine — boxes, scent bottles, micromosaics and more.

What attracted you to the jewelry business and how did you get started?

My father was an antique dealer and while I was growing-up he took me on some of his buying trips. He opened his store right after World War II and he bought everything from Chinese ceramics and Oceanic art to jewelry. I fell in love with the jewelry. Now, that spark has passed to my daughter, Leonore van der Walls, who is currently managing Inez Stodel as a third generation dealer.

What is your favorite era for design and what makes jewelry from that era special?

I love early jewelry because of its soft appearance and the romance of past eras. It’s the same for vintage gemstones, the way they are cut is softer to the eye. I do not have a preference for any period. I am more interested in the proportions of the design and the quality of the jewel. When a piece of jewelry is pleasing to the eye, then that makes it good. I also love some contemporary designers like Jacob de Groes, who is from The Netherlands.

What makes vintage jewelry relevant today?

It is the workmanship and history, but so much more as well. We, as a society, need to be careful about what we want to produce. By selling antiques we both recycle and upcycle.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Marina B. Jewelry: A Woman Designing for Women

Stack of three gold and diamond necklaces with a triangle motif that Marina B. favored. The necklaces have a spring closure and may be worn singly, two or three at a time. Image courtesy Marina B.

Her style was innovative and bold, with jewelry pieces that fit a woman’s evolving lifestyle — that is the design DNA of Marina B., whose creations were the epitome of 1980s opulence.

“Marina B. is an incredible icon,” says Guy Bedarida, creative director of the firm. “Her entire story is a beautiful adventure. It is the story of woman empowerment.”

Born into the Italian Bulgari jewelry dynasty in 1930, Marina’s father, Constantino, was the eldest son of Sotirious Bulgari, who founded his namesake silversmith firm in 1884. When his sons — Constantino and Giorgio —  joined him in the business, jewelry was introduced.

How Marina B. Started

As a young child Marina was already showing an interest in art, design and math. She attended St. Mary’s College in England and when she returned home, Marina began adding her design ideas to the family business going into the workshop and laying out stones for different pieces which ended up selling quite well.

 In 1973, when Constantino passed away, Marina and her sister Anna took over the operation of Bulgari along with their cousins — Nicola, Gianni and Paolo. At the time Marina saw it as her opportunity to make her mark in the jewelry world. She was right, but it wouldn’t happen in the family business. Anna was married and left the business, leaving Marina to deal with three cousins who tried to push her into administrative work in the accounting department.

By 1976 it was clear that Marina wanted more than what she was going to get in the family business, so she cut ties with the firm and struck out on her own. A very daring move at a time when the jewelry industry was dominated by men. A mere year later, Marina B. opened her first showroom in Geneva, which through the years led to boutiques in New York, Paris, Milan and Monte Carlo.

“Her brand quickly became one of the most famous in the world,” comments Bedarida. “Marina B. jewelry is bold and colorful. She used black gold, which became a signature of her work. Her unthreaded beads were also unique to her. Marina was famous for her collars and chokers. She designed for women and she wanted to make jewelry that was easy to wear.”

Jewelry That Does Double Duty

Determined to bring her designs to life, Marina made the decision to have her jewelry made in Paris because that’s where all the finest jewelry of the day was being fabricated. By the end of the 1980s, Italy had become synonymous with the production of high quality jewelry, so Marina began to have some of her jewelry made in the Milan area. Two of her first collections were  Onda and Pneu. 

French for tire, Pneu was inspired by the oversized tires on an airplane. The collection was uniquely groundbreaking in that it was convertible — the earrings may be worn as studs or drops. But it didn’t stop there, the earrings are also interchangeable allowing more options for wear, the wheel comes off and can be changed to another gemstone wheel.

Marina designed jewelry that was not only easy for women to wear, but the pieces were created for women to buy for themselves.  Her business started at a time when women were entering the workforce at an unprecedented rate and the concept of a woman purchasing her own jewelry was a relatively novel idea. But as women entered the workforce and dressed for success, they also needed jewelry that they could easily buy and wear every day from the board room to cocktail hour.

One thing that can be a bit tricky is putting on and taking off a necklace or bracelet; clasps can sometimes be hard to use. To address this issue, Marina added springs to some of her pieces. This not only made the pieces easier to put on and take off, but it also made the jewelry sleeker with no clasps to interrupt the design.

“Marina made big chokers on a spring that could easily be divided into three,” explains Bedarida. “It’s very versatile. A woman can start with one during the day and then add more if she is going out.”

The Marina B. Cut

Sketch of Marina B. Fuchxia earrings, image courtesy Marina B.
Sketch of Marina B. Pivomab earrings featuring her signature “Chestnut” motif, image courtesy Marina B.

To fully create pieces the way she really wanted them to be, Marina developed her own colored gemstone cut known as the “chestnut”, or Marina B. cut. Marina came up with a design for a gemstone shape that is a cross between a triangle and a pear, it’s rounded on the bottom with a point on the top, a bit like an inverted heart with no cleavage. The shape became a signature motif for Marina B. and it shows up in her jewelry in gemstones and in the precious metals used in her creations.

“It’s a very strong signature for her,” comments Bedarida. “She took an oval cut that was not too elongated and turned it into the chestnut. It is a voluptuous, feminine shape.”

The brand was extremely popular during the 1980s and 1990s , but as fashions changed, the brand languished a bit. Now it’s set for a revival and according to Bedarida, there is big demand for Marina B. jewelry, especially vintage pieces, which he notes are hard to find.

“There is a big comeback of the 1980s,” concludes Bedarida. “There is a return of jewelry, accessories, fashion and big shoulders from that era. Marina B. was forgotten for about 20 years, but there is always a return to good design, it is fashionable forever. Marina B.’s vintage pieces are especially in demand but they are hard to find because people are keeping her jewelry. We try to buy those pieces when we can so we can create a museum of Marina B. jewelry.”

Marina B. is now retired and living in Rome, but her jewelry continues to resonate with a new generation of women who buy their own jewelry and make their own rules.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Oscar Heyman Jewelry: It’s All in the Details

The story of one of the most prestigious American jewelry firms actually started in Latvia in 1888 when Oscar Heyman was born. One of nine children, Oscar along with his older brother Nathan, apprenticed in their great uncle’s jewelry workshop in Kharkov (Ukraine). The shop did work for the incomparable Fabergé and the brothers were trained in the finest jewelry making techniques.

In 1906, Oscar and Nathan made the trip across the Atlantic to New York City. A year later their brother Harry followed. Oscar had learned to work with platinum during his apprenticeship in his uncle’s shop and was well versed in using the new high-tech oxyhydrogen torch that made it possible to fashion the metal — which has an extremely high melting point — into jewelry. He soon landed a job with Cartier and was the firm’s first New York bench jeweler who was not French. Nathan worked for Western Electric in the tool and die shop. After leaving Western Electric Nathan continued to make tools and Oscar Heyman holds a dozen or so patents for jewelry making.

The Family Business

It didn’t take long for Oscar, Nathan and Harry to strike out on their own. In 1912 they opened their doors in downtown Manhattan at 47 Maiden Lane as Oscar Heyman & Brothers.  Later that same year, six more siblings arrived in the City and through the years all but one spent their entire careers working in the business.

The firm was making jewelry for all the big-name jewelers of the day including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Black, Starr & Frost, J.E. Caldwell and Van Cleef & Arpels among others. Currently, Oscar Heyman continues to produce jewelry for high-end jewelers but also brands its own collection.

Oscar Heyman was known for its high-quality manufacturing and jewlery design and today the company has an extensive archives of about 200,000 sketches. Color is at the core of the firm’s aesthetic, which is known for its exceptional gemstones.

“We look through the designs in our archives continually for inspiration and ideas,” comments Tom Heyman, co-president of the company and a third-generation family member. “We let the gems speak for themselves. That means that the design should show off the gem, not compete with it.”

The Jewelers’ Jeweler

The design talent and manufacturing skills of Oscar Heyman & Brothers was on full display at the New York 1939 World’s Fair House of Jewels where five luxury jewelers exhibited. It turns out that Oscar Heyman & Brothers had made the jewelry for four out of the five participating jewelers — Cartier, Marcus & Co., Udall & Ballou and Black, Starr & Frost-Gorham — leading to the firm being nicknamed “the jewelers’ jeweler”.

A couple of short years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Oscar Heyman & Brothers got in touch with General Electric, Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, offering to adapt their factory to wartime use. A portion of the factory was set aside for jewelry making and the rest of the factory was making items needed for the war effort such as jeweled bearings which were used in airplane instruments, compasses and watches. Meanwhile, much of the jewelry being made at that time had a patriotic theme especially American flags and military motifs.

It is the ability to adapt to the times that has helped the firm — which rebranded to Oscar Heyman in 2012 when it turned 100 — stay in business. “We continue to make pieces that are very classic,” explains Heyman. “It starts with the stones. Our Boolean bracelet is a good example of how we change with the times. It is a two-row bracelet originally made in the 1950s comprised of baguette and round diamonds. For the first 40 years the bracelet was all diamonds. Then 15 or 20 years ago we began to make the bracelet with baguette diamonds and round sapphires, rubies or emeralds. Now, the bracelet is made using round multi-color gemstones for a more playful variation.”

The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Another big milestone for Oscar Heyman came in 1969 when Cartier asked the firm to design and manufacture a necklace for Elizabeth Taylor showcasing the 68-carat pear-shaped Taylor-Burton Diamond. The catch —  there was just one week to make the necklace as Ms. Taylor wanted to wear it to a 40th birthday party for Princess Grace of Monaco. A few sketches were quickly rendered and one was selected — the diamond dropping from a dazzling necklace of pear-shaped diamonds. All other production that was happening in the Oscar Heyman workshop was put on hold and all hands were working feverishly on the necklace to meet the delivery date. It was delivered on schedule to Cartier and was flown directly to Monaco for the festivities.

Many celebrities and even royalty has worn jewelry made by Oscar Heyman including Queen Sirikit of Thailand. Most recently, actor Billy Porter created a sensation on the 2019 Academy Awards Red Carpet when he accessorized his Christian Siriano gown with jewels from the company worth $1.5 million. 

So after 100 plus years in business how does Oscar Heyman continue to maintain its standards?

“We uphold three values,” concludes Heyman. “We use the best quality gems, best quality designs that showcases each gem simply and elegantly and we have the finest manufacturing in the world. We pay attention to details, we care about our jewelry and we want to be the best. We are consciously, continuously striving to do that.” 

Authored by Amber Michelle