Fashion / Shopping

The Delightful, Feather-Ruffling Story Behind Jean Schlumberger’s Iconic Tiffany & Co. Brooch

'Bird on a Rock' Lives On

BY // 11.18.21

One day in 1965, French jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger brought a blue velvet box into his salon at Tiffany & Co., where a group of people had gathered for a peek at his latest creation. The well-known fashion orator Eugenia Sheppard was among the acolytes. As she captured the moment in the New York Herald Tribune, “He was wearing his navy-blue cotton work jacket, designed by Balenciaga, and just like Balenciaga’s own.” The air in the room must have buzzed with anticipation. “When he sat down and pressed open the lid of the blue velvet box,” continues Sheppard, “everybody smiled. One woman laughed as she looked inside.” The cause of the amusement? An impudent little diamond bird, perched atop an improbably big topaz rock, the color of pale toast.

Tiffany & Co. chairman Walter Hoving, who had hired Schlumberger in 1956 as a vice president of the company, laughed out loud when he saw the brooch a few weeks later. “For some reason it amuses everybody,” Schlumberger told Sheppard. “‘The bird is amusing rather than funny … I know there’s a thin dividing line, but I hate funny things. Jewelry is no joke.’” Schlumberger said he planned to make several others, including a diamond bird on a chunk of lapis lazuli, and to call them Birds on the Rocks.

 

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Bird on a Rock brooch designed by Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co, in gold and platinum. Birds are set with diamonds and pink-sapphire eyes, perched on tourmaline, morganite, and aquamarine stones.

It was classic Schlumberger — and a delightfully quirky start to one of Tiffany’s most beloved creations. A gifted artist who had some of the world’s most precious jewels at his fingertips, Schlumberger was renowned for his fantastical creations infused with wit and curiosity. His designs were often influenced by exotic flowers and creatures he saw on his travels through Bali, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. One of the first Bird on a Rock brooches was purchased by philanthropist Bunny Mellon in 1965, the year he created the jewel. A close friend of Schlumberger’s, she went on to purchase seven more. Schlumberger died in 1987 in Paris at the age of 80, but his Bird on a Rock lives on. In 1995, for a Jean Schlumberger retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the brooch was reset with the famous Tiffany Yellow Diamond, a 128.54-carat stone that Schlumberger had used in one of his first creations, the iconic Ribbon Rosette necklace, worn by Audrey Hepburn. The brooch with its flawless diamond toured the world and remained on view for 17 years at the NYC store.

Bird on a Rock, price on request, at the Tiffany & Co. boutique.

Elizabeth Anthony

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