Suzanne Belperron is acknowledged today as one of the most original and influential jewellery designers of the 20th century, a woman designing for women, in a style way ahead of its time, that remains as strikingly modern today as it was almost a century ago. Yet her name had sunk into oblivion until the 1980s, when, aided by the 1987 sale of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels, her talent and the timeless modernity of her designs began to be recognised and her story explored. Born Suzanne Vuillerme, in 1900 in Saint-Claude, in the Jura region of France, she studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Besançon, where her signature themes and influences, such as the fish-scale pattern, were already visible in her prize-winning work. She made her way to Paris in 1919 and was taken on by Jeanne Boivin, who had assumed control of the celebrated jewellery house after the death of her husband, René Boivin in 1917.
Accounts vary as to whether Suzanne started out as a salesgirl, or as a designer-modelmaker, but certainly before long her designs, always under the Boivin name, were hailed as the height of contemporary elegance by a coterie of artistic intelligentsia. In 1924, the year Suzanne married Jean Belperron, an engineer from Besançon, she was made co-director of the Maison Boivin. Her ideas, her daring originality, her values, and her own innate style meshed perfectly with those of Jeanne Boivin. Her versatility enabled her to move effortlessly from prevailing modernism – the stepped, layered Escalier designs – to inspirations from ancient civilisations and exotic cultures, Egypt, Asia, and Africa – all the while injecting her feminine sensibility, combining geometry and stylisation with fluidity and sensuality.