“My style is my signature,” said the jeweller Suzanne Belperron, the little known name who was arguably the biggest influence on modern jewellery design. That famous bon mot referred not only to her highly original style – Belperron was the first to mix precious and semi-precious stones, regarding colour as more important than value, and pioneered a sensual style of organic shapes – but also to the fact that she did not sign her work. It is for this reason that her creations are difficult to identify, extremely rare and are increasingly the prize acquisition of jewelry connoisseurs. The insatiable appetite of collectors for Belperron jewels will be on display at Sotheby’s Geneva on May 14, where the unprecedented 60-lot Personal Collection of Suzanne Belperron will be put to auction.

All the jewels in Sotheby’s sale are featured in a new monograph, Suzanne Belperron by Sylvie Raulet and Olivier Baroin (Antique Collectors’ Club, 2011). The first book dedicated to Belperron’s life and work, it is based on the jeweler’s personal archives which were acquired by Baroin (considered the leading Belperrron expert and collector) in 2007. It tells the story of how French-born Belperron studied drawing and jewelry at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Besancon before starting her career in 1919 at celebrated jeweler Maison Boivin in Paris. Partnering with stone dealer Bernard Herz in 1932, Belperron embraced her new creative freedom by rejecting the rigid lines of Art Deco which were so popular at the time and invented an entirely new aesthetic – sensual lines; shapes based on petals and fruits coupled; the use of motifs from African, Cambodian, Celtic, Eyptian, Indian and Mayan cultures; and priority given to the colour of a stone regardless of its value.

The instantly recognizable style of Belperron’s work can be found throughout the collection available at Sotheby’s. Highlights include the designer’s own ‘Yin and Yang’ engagement ring created in 1923 from hammered gold set with an old-mine diamond, which references her fascination for African craftsmanship. A selection of pieces in carved rock crystal set with diamonds – including an iconic brooch of descending scrolls that she was often photographed wearing – display her love of innovative combinations of stones and minerals. Natural pearls are another Belperron signature and are found at Sotheby’s in an unusually shaped ring with old-mine and baguette diamonds.

During the 1930s, the private Paris salon of Belperron attracted the cognoscenti as clients; the Duchess of Windsor, the Rothschilds, Nina Ricci and Colette were all known to be fans. In a 1933 issue of Paris Vogue, Elsa Schiaparelli, photographed in Belperron’s creations, declared them, “the new theme in jewels”. She was creating jewels right up until her retirement in 1974.

Now that Sotheby’s is calling her “the most talented and influential female jeweler of the 20th century,” and with the publication of her first monograph, Belperron is riding a new wave of popularity. While her work is as modern as ever, it is testament to her talent that it is no longer considered unique. Generations of young designers and even revered jewelry houses have been more than inspired by her work. Her “signature” is everywhere: Suzanne Belperron, the inventor of jewelry as we know it.

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Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/Suzanne-Belperron-Sylvie-Raulet/dp/1851496254/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336400653&sr=8-1