Born into a well-to-do family in what was then German Mulhouse, today part of France, Schlumberger (1907-1987) exhibited an early aptitude for design and drawing, which was quelled by his parents, who refused to give him formal drawing and painting training. Undaunted, he pursued his talent, and today, his designs on paper underscore that he was a gifted draftsman. Further proof: many of his original drawings are in the collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Soon he was designing buttons for the couture garments of designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who then asked him to fashion costume jewelry for her catwalk shows.
Venturing to America he met, by chance, old friend Nicolas Bongard, who had also been designing buttons. In 1947, the two opened a New York City salon, where Schlumberger began producing fanciful and fantastic jewelry, incorporating Mother Nature’s splendor — undulating flowers, gliding sea life, swooping birds, whimsical creatures — into his jewelry. At the time, he notes, “I try to make everything look as if it were growing, uneven, organic.” Later in his career, he journeyed to exotic ports, including India, Bali, and Thailand, and those sojourns further informed his whimsical, mesmerizing animals.
From the Beladora Archives: Tiffany & Co. Diamond Flame Earrings in Platinum and 18K
He became the go-to jeweler for socialites and celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland, the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Françoise de Langlade (married to Oscar de la Renta), Lyn Revson (married to Charles Revson, founder of Revlon), Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Guinness, C. Z. Guest, and Jane Wrightsman.
Another hallmark of Schlumberger’s work was his paillonné-enamel jewelry, executed in a 19th-century technique, which produced a saturated, but luminescent color. So beloved was Jackie Kennedy of his enamel bracelets that she owned them in a rainbow of hues, and the press, which shadowed her, dubbed them “Jackie bracelets.”
From the Beladora Archives: Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger Red Croisillon Enamel Bracelet 18K
By the mid-50s, Schlumberger’s jewelry had caught the eye of Walter Hoving, the legendary head of Tiffany & Co. The retail titan invited him to open a workshop within their hallowed halls. Schlumberger, along with the select jewelry superstars who followed him, such as Paloma Picasso, Angela Cummings, and Frank Gehry, are among the very few who have been invited to sell their signed jewelry at the salon. Another impressive accolade: He was awarded the Fashion Critics’ Coty Award in 1958, the first jeweler to attain that prestigious honor.