ONCE UPON A TIME there was a jewelry designer named Jean Schlumberger. Because he was French, his name was pronounced zhahn shlum-bare-ZHAY. And because he was talented, he created magnificent pieces inspired by nature, especially the colorful creatures of the sea.
In 1956, at the behest of legendary Tiffany & Co. president Walter Hoving, Schlumberger began designing for the New York jeweler, by then almost 120 years old. He certainly showcased important gems, such as the Tiffany Yellow Diamond, three times the size of the Hope Diamond, but he also made pieces where the gems served his sometimes whimsical ideas.
Now through June 18, 2017, Schlumberger’s designs from the collection of the late Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon are on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. (It’s lovely to note that this first-ever show is being supported by Virginia jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke.)
Even as Tiffany has moved toward more modern looks, such as those by Elsa Peretti, and its recent Tiffany T collection, it has maintained its enthusiasm for Schlumberger. True, his designs resist being edited down to middle-market sterling silver (what is Schlumberger without the stones, without the intricate settings?). But still, he is available, in Tiffany’s private rooms and even online and in its catalogues.
At my first job decades ago, I bought Christmas gifts my five office mates, little sterling-silver Screwball key rings at Tiffany. If memory serves, they were $5 each—cheap but not nothing for someone earning $5,200 a year (in Spring 1985, according to the catalogue I have held onto, that style was $24; today it is $135). I assume that’s why I began receiving Tiffany catalogues in the mail, though I was barely in my 20s. I pored over those little booklets and was taken by Schlumberger’s enamel bracelets, then a heady $75 (I think). Today those Croisillon bracelets retail for around $30,000 (woulda, coulda, shoulda, right?). It is said that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore so many that they became known as “Jackie bracelets.”
I may never have a Jackie bracelet, but I still have hopes of owning a piece of Schlumberger. And I certainly intend to indulge in a trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
LittleBird Nancy is managing editor of MyLittleBird.com. She most recently wrote about The How and the Why at Theater J.