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A Jewel of a Collection

July 16, 1998|WILLIAM KISSEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Looking at his dramatic, three-dimensional jewelry, one can almost envision Jean Schlumberger perched on a stool in his New York studio, clothed in his customary Cristobal Balenciaga smock, coloring one of his ornate drawings at a collapsible table, child's paintbrush in hand.

The French master, who turned out innovative pieces for more than 30 years for Tiffany & Co., traveled in the same circles as many of his clients, including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, fashion maven Diana Vreeland and such Hollywood legends as Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. But the designer, who died in 1987 at the age of 80, was always more interested in the artistry than the wearers of his work.

"His thing was just to realize his fantasies through his designs," says Pierce MacGuire, the New York-based director of the Schlumberger collection. "His designs were always very focused on color," which explains why he worked with such stones as beryls, amethysts, sapphires and aquamarines. "If he wanted a certain color of pale green, for instance, he would use peridots instead of emeralds, because he was more interested in color than price," says MacGuire.

Many of Schlumberger's designs, on display at Tiffany in Beverly Hills through July 27, have become collectibles.

He often found inspiration in nature and then took liberal license. One of his most famous pieces is a diamond, emerald and sapphire dolphin clip that looks more like an ocean bottom-dweller than the adorable Flipper. To the late actor Richard Burton, the clip looked like an iguana, which is why in 1964 for the opening of his film "Night of the Iguana," he bought the piece for Taylor, his wife at the time. Tiffany has sold three additional dolphin clips, priced at a mere $118,000, over the last three decades.

The pins are still available to the public, although in extremely limited quantities, as part of Tiffany's touring 100-piece Jean Schlumberger collection, which will travel to Chicago and San Francisco later this year.

Only one piece in the touring collection--the 18-carat gold and platinum "Trophee de Vaillance" clip commissioned by former Vogue editor Vreeland in 1941 and featuring an oval-cut amethyst and ruby shield with a warrior's chain mail scaled in diamonds--is not available for purchase. That one-of-a-kind creation was bought back by Tiffany & Co. at a Christie's auction in Geneva in April and, MacGuire says, will never be duplicated.

Schlumberger collectors can own one of the translucent enamel "Jackie" bracelets like the ones frequently worn by Jackie Kennedy or personal versions of pieces owned by Marina the Duchess of Kent, dress designer Elsa Schiaparelli, New York socialite Babe Paley and actress Audrey Hepburn, who, naturally, was fitted in Schlumberger jewels for "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

One highlight of the exhibit is a 3.5-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement ring held aloft by two three-dimensional bees. The ring is similar to a three-bee ring commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte's grandson and modeled after the Bonaparte family crest.

"When the Schlumberger exhibit opened in France in 1995, Princess Napoleon, who is in her 90s, came in wearing the original ring," says MacGuire, who says that since the Schlumberger version was commissioned in the late 1940s, Tiffany's has sold dozens more at $89,500 each.

The Schlumberger jewels will be on view and for sale through July 27 at Tiffany & Co., 210 N. Rodeo Drive, second level, Beverly Hills. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.

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