Bunny Mellon's Schlumberger Collection on Exhibition

Mrs. Mellon wearing one of her many Schlumberger bracelets at her estate in Virginia.

Mrs. Mellon wearing one of her many Schlumberger bracelets at her estate in Virginia.

Beloved by collectors, connoisseurs and jewelry nerds alike, Jean Schlumberger’s distinctive jewels are easy to spot and a delight to wear. Now, a major donation from the estate of Rachel ‘Bunny' Mellon to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has resulted in the largest public collection of works by the jeweller. Opening to the public today, ‘The Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger’ puts on display 142 pieces by the artist in a show running February 10 to June 18, 2017.

French-born Schlumberger (1907-1987) began his career in jewelry by designing costume pieces for Elsa Schiaparelli in 1930s Paris. This eventually led to a long-standing partnership with Tiffany & Co. in New York that started in 1956 and continued for decades. Given his own salon at the 5th Avenue flagship, he had complete creative control over his signature pieces and grew an impressive client list that included the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Guinness, Diana Vreeland, and Mrs. Mellon.

Drawing inspiration primarily from the natural world, Schlumberger’s sculptural designs are exuberant in color and  imaginative in details, whimsical without being silly. Most designs were not based around large stones, but rather gemstones were used like paint to highlight and show texture. He had great disdain for jewels that seemed to be created only to flaunt wealth, saying “you may as well pin a cheque to your lapel” in regards to more ostentatious designs of the day.

His most devoted client may well be Mrs. Mellon (1910-2014), a noted philanthropist and horticulturist, who bequeathed the pieces now on display. Kindred spirits with their love of nature, Schlumberger designed many pieces specifically for her that drew inspiration from her famous gardens and life events. An intensely private individual, Mrs. Mellon was rarely photographed in her jewels and so it was unclear to anyone other than her inner circle just how extensive her collection was. A longtime supporter of the VMFA, Mrs. Mellon and her husband have donated many works of art in addition to the jewels that join their permanent collection.

Today, Schlumberger signature pieces are still being produced by Tiffany & Co. based on his archived sketches and his jewels continue to fetch high sums at auction - showing the staying power of his creative vision.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - Free Admission - February 10, 2017 to June 18, 2017

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