Jewelry & Watches

The Saga Behind One of the Most Anticipated Jewelry Collections of the 21st Century

Inside the unveiling-and rebirth-of Suzanne Belperron's namesake company.
IMAGE CONDE NAST ARCHIVE/CORBIS
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"Who on earth made this?" was Ward Landrigan's first thought when he spotted the tribal-style carved gold cuffs and chestplate. He was then chairman of the jewelry department at Sotheby's, and the suite was part of the 1971 sale of the Extraordinary Jewels of Ganna Walksa, the six-times-married (four times well) Polish opera singer whose Fabergé egg eventually went to Malcolm Forbes.


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The cuffs that first caught Ward Landrigan’s eye.

Jewelry cataloging was still an imprecise art in the 1970s, but Landrigan detected a "sculptural integrity" in the bracelets that reminded him of other unsigned French pieces that had crossed his desk. All clues led to a designer who worked in Paris between 1920 and 1974 and refused to sign her work, saying, "My style is my signature." She dared to mix precious stones with wood and rock crystal, and she challenged stubborn Paris workshops to sculpt curves into temperamental smoky quartz. Her name was Suzanne Belperron.


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Landrigan left Sotheby's in 1973 and went on to buy the archives of another 20th-century jewelry master, Fulco di Verdura. But Madame Belperron had left her mark. Landrigan went to the sale of the Duchess of Windsor's jewels in 1987 in search of Verdura pieces, but he came home with a chalcedony Belperron suite instead. In 1999 he acquired the name and worldwide rights to Belperron's archive of designs with the dream of relaunching the company, as he had Verdura. He began to seek her pieces everywhere; one aquamarine bracelet was discovered on 47th Street in Manhattan. (Landrigan debated spending $5,000 on it; today Belperron pieces regularly fetch six figures at auction.) He bought 22 of the 60 lots at the Sotheby's sale of her personal collection, in Geneva in 2012. A year earlier a dealer tracked down the gold pieces from the Ganna Walksa sale. Those finds, along with about 50 new pieces made according to some of Belperron's 9,200 drawings, will be on display when the new Belperron company opens on Fifth Avenue this month—the culmination of almost 20 years of effort.

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Ward & Nico Landrigan


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Father and son in 1984.

Leading the Belperron of the 21st century will be Landrigan's son Nico, who first fell under the designer's spell as an 11-year-old on a family trip to Paris. "We went up to an apartment to see the entire archives for the first time," he says. "I sat on the floor, looking through Belperron's drawings for hours. I think even my grade school self recognized the these were beyond just sparkly things for women. It was art." After graduating from Brown and working in the Manhattan district attorney's office, Nico joined his father at Verdura in 2004 with an eye specifically to re-launching Belperron. Eleven years and a few global economic crises later, the project that began with an unsigned gold cuff in his father's office at Sotheby's is complete.


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Belperron herself, though married, never had children. After working with René Boivin and creating one-of-a-kind pieces for such clients as Elsa Schiaparelli and Diana Vreeland, she left in 1932—taking her clients with her—to partner with stone dealer Bernard Herz. They soon became romantically involved. In 1941, when Herz was arrested by the Nazis, Belperron bought the company in order to save it. Herz never came home. When his son Jean returned to Paris after a long internment in a POW camp, she gave him the keys to the company, and the two worked together as Herz-Belperron for the next 30 years. This month, when Belperron opens in New York, Jean Herz's grandson David will be in attendance.

745 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1210, NYC, 212-702-9040

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Stellene Volandes
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