For Women’s History Month, the story that’s been resonating with me the most is that of Suzanne Belperron. She was a French jewelry designer who lived through World War II.
I think her story and her creativity are definitely worthy of a blog post, so let’s get right to it!
A chunky bracelet by Suzanne Belperron
Our story begins in France
Suzanne was born in France in 1900 to a community known for cutting gemstones. She was lucky enough to come of age during a time when women believed they could achieve anything! The suffrage movement was going strong, and Suzanne had great female mentors. Her mom noticed her artistic talent, and she was sent to a special school to get more training. After years of studying watch-making and decorative arts, she won an award at just 18 years old for a beautiful pendant watch she created.
During her studies, she became friends with the Boivin family. Specifically, the famous jewelry designer René Boivin, his wife Jeanne, and their daughter Germaine. Jeanne continued René’s work after he passed away and thought of Suzanne as her own daughter. This led to Suzanne joining the jewelry design house of Boivin in Paris at only 23 years old. She flourished working with other women at Boivin. And was influenced by similar things, like floral motifs and other cultures.
The floral motifs from Suzanne Belperron
Paris at this time must have been a thrilling place for a young designer. World War I was behind them, people were prosperous, and fabulous, outlandish art was everywhere.
A new design direction
After a decade with Boivin, Suzanne left to be part of a new company. She joined Bernard Herz, who had been one of Boivin’s suppliers. Bernard offered her complete freedom with her designs, and she was excited about that opportunity.
Suzanne created designs unlike what people had seen before. She mixed precious and semi-precious stones, used a ton of color, and everything was very curvy and bold. Keep in mind she did this work in the Art Deco era. And remember that Art Deco was very geometric, and very white (since diamonds were prominent). She also used 22K gold, something that no one else was doing.
Suzanne really pushed the boundaries of jewelry-making techniques. She ignored craftsmen who said it would be impossible to create what she had sketched. Her response was “débrouillez-vous — find a way.”