Despite countless offers to leave France, Suzanne Belperron (1900-83) remained in German-occupied Paris throughout the Second World War – a jewellery maker and a Resistance fighter.
Even when she and her partner Bernard Herz were arrested for
operating a company under a Jewish name, she followed his wishes
and re-registered the Maison Bernard Herz under her own name with
borrowed capital of 700,000 francs. Bernard Herz did not survive
the war but his son Jean returned from the front to resume a
partnership that lasted until Madame Belperron's retirement in
Despite the difficulties she experienced in obtaining the
materials for jewellery-making, Suzanne Belperron never stopped
working during the war - something evident from the collection of
wartime Belperron jewels offered for sale by
Sotheby's Geneva on May 13.
The 19 pieces were owned by Mme Picha-Eisenstein, a close friend
who recommended the designer to stars of stage and screen that she
met through her husband, Boris Eisenstein, founder of the Société
Parisienne de Sonorisation.
Sotheby's Geneva were among the first salerooms to put the
greatest female jewellery designer of the 20th century back on the
map with the sale of the Duchess of Windsor's jewels in 1987. But
it says much about scholarship at the time that only five out of 16
Belperron pieces in the catalogue were actually identified as
More recently, the rooms sold Mme Belperron's personal 60-piece
jewellery collection - discovered in a small apartment at the foot
of Montmartre in 2007 along with the huge cache of drawings, casts,
business correspondence, diaries and appointment orders that have
done so much to restore her reputation.
Asked once why she signed so little of her work, Madame
Belperron replied: "Mon style est ma signature."
Mme Picha-Eisenstein's jewels, some carrying maker's marks for
Groëné & Darde who produced many Belperron designs, were
assayed for either 1942 or 1943 when the Herz-Belperron boutique
was in most peril.
Arrested on November 2, 1942 at her private office on the third
floor of 59 Rue de Châteaudun following a letter of denunciation
indicating that "the Belperron house dissimulates a Jewish
business", on her way to the Gestapo headquarters in Avenue Foch
Mme Belperron swallowed the pages of the company address book one
She would later receive the Légion d'Honneur for her efforts on
behalf of the Resistance.
Conscious that the wellbeing of the company lay on her
shoulders, she continued to play with colour and a wide range of
aesthetic influences to create remarkable and varied jewels.
These included pieces as diverse as Mme Picha-Eisenstein's
diamond Mon Bracelet, a cuff bracelet composed of three
tapered bands set with circular-cut diamonds (estimate
SFr37,000-50,000) or her aventurine quartz and chalcedony
Sport clips (estimate SFr2500-4000).
Both with assay marks for 1942, they were pursued to sums
of SFr128,000 (£90,150) and SFr19,000 (£13,400) in a sale that saw
all Belperron lots sold and many for multi-estimate sums. A
selection is pictured here.
The current auction high for a Belperron jewel is the
premium-inclusive €553,000 paid for an emerald, diamond and gold
cornucopia brooch c.1950 at Christie's Paris in May 2010.
Exchange rate: £1 = SFr1.42
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