How luxury is made

Tiffany jewellery designer Jean Schlumberger’s collection to dazzle Hong Kong with ‘wearable works of art’

The master artist of jewellery produced pieces that were loved by Jackie Kennedy, Greta Garbo and the Duchess of Windsor. Now an exclusive selection of his works will go on display at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 11:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 November, 2017, 11:16am

For some, crickets may be infuriating creatures that chirp all night, but for jewellery designer Jean Schlumberger, these insects are just as beautiful as butterflies. He made their bodies sparkle as jewellery pieces with colourful gemstones, while their legs and tails were intricately recreated using yellow gold and platinum.

They are among some of the fantastical pieces the Frenchman made over more than two decades at Tiffany, and they will be on show in Hong Kong in early December as part of the Masterpiece Collection that pays tribute to Schlumberger and his jewellery pieces .

His time at Tiffany, from 1956 until his retirement in the late 1970s, was a highly creative period for Schlumberger, who was also known for his delicate floral creations, multicoloured butterfly brooches, parrots, underwater creatures from shells to sea horses, and in particular his “Bird on a Rock” piece, a brooch featuring a sparkling 128.54-carat yellow diamond with a fanciful bird perched on top.

Melvyn Kirtley, chief gemologist and vice-president of high jewellery at Tiffany in New York, explains why Schlumberger is one of the world’s most celebrated jewellery designers. “He is a master of stunning originality; each piece of jewellery is handcrafted by master artisans just as they were when Schlumberger joined Tiffany in 1956,” Kirtley says.

Because of his artistic talent, Schlumberger was a favourite jewellery designer among the rich and famous, such as the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, C.Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Jacqueline Kennedy, who apparently wore so many of Schlumberger’s enamel bracelets that the media dubbed them “Jackie bracelets”.

The artistic process began when Schlumberger would head to his home on the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean to work on his designs and inevitably, he found inspiration from his surroundings, according to Kirtley.

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“Schlumberger possessed a fascination with nature … He also found inspiration in his world travels and his Caribbean surroundings. For instance, the Cocoa Bean clip debuted in 1963 in a multitude of gemstone combinations that captured the colourful essence of his island residence,” he says, of the colourful pieces made with a variety of gemstones.

“Schlumberger’s designs have an emphasis on vibrant colour,” Kirtley continues. “With brilliant gemstones as his palette, he captured the glory of flowers, exotic birds and enchanting ocean life in designs of captivating beauty.”

From there the skilled craftsmen at Tiffany would interpret his sketches into jewellery pieces, using a variety of gemstones, from diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines, as well as cultured pearls, gold, silver and platinum.

“In the instance of Schlumberger, oftentimes, our craftsmen would only have two-dimensional sketches to work from. Our craftsmen focus on the same hand fabrication techniques and tools that have changed little over the centuries. The talented jewellers in our workshop are able to combine artistry engineering that transform these designs into wearable works of art,” says Kirtley.

At the special upcoming exhibition, visitors will not only be able to see Schlumberger’s playful creativity but also his interest portraying intricate details to make the jewellery pieces come alive, as well as reviving jewellery-making techniques, such as the enamel bracelets.

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“Schlumberger rediscovered the 19th-century art of paillonné enamel, a process of layering enamel over 18-karat gold leaf,” explains Kirtley. “The deep colour enamel comes to life through a very labour-intensive process where the enamel is fired multiple times on layers of gold foil that create an extraordinary depth of colour. Using this centuries-old technique, Schlumberger created some of the greatest jewellery designs of all times – shimmering bangles spiked with gold or studded with coloured gemstones.”

Visitors to the invitation-only event can also see some other iconic pieces, such as the aforementioned crickets, butterflies, floral necklaces, brilliant rings and earrings, and glittering bracelets.

Another stand-out creation is the Bow Brooch, a stunning “ribbon” made of platinum that is tied like a bow of custom-cut baguette sapphires and diamonds that Kirtley says exemplifies Schlumberger’s status as a master artist of jewellery design in being able to create a sense of movement.

Masterpiece Collection: The Legendary Designs of Jean Schlumberger will be on show for an exclusive VIP preview by appointment only from November 30 to December 3 at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.