Conference at the School of Jewelry Arts – Jean Vendome, jewelry as a work of art

Marianne Riou

To counter the absence of “live” courses, exhibitions or conferences, the Van Cleef & Arpels School of Jewelry Arts is offering video conferences on the themes which it holds most dear: jewelry know-how, the history of the art of jewelry and discovering stones. Accessible once a month by registration, in English or French, the talks are then available online or on the School’s website and allow everyone to perfect their culture and understanding of the jeweler’s arts. On January 27 and 28, the conference entitled “The Art of Jean Vendôme” took place, looking back on the path taken by this visionary and unclassifiable jeweler.

We discover this exceptional jeweler, an emblematic figure of contemporary jewelry, through an informal conversation between Inezita Gay-Eyckel, an art historian and professor at the School, and Thierry Vendôme, a jeweler and the youngest son of Jean Vendôme. Together, they look back for an hour on the life and creative journey of Jean Vendôme or, to use his real name, Ohan Tuhdarian.

Born in Lyon in 1930 to Armenian parents, the accidents of life, luck, talent and unlimited creativity made Jean into the jeweler artist he became. Firstly, health problems made his parents send him to live outside the city. It was in the French countryside that he therefore created, in 1941, his first work, the face of Christ, on the perforated metal plate of a French fighter plane, which crashed in a field, a few steps from his house at the time. The quality of his drawings then led him to take lessons in gemology in Paris while working as an apprentice with his uncle, who was a jeweler. The gemologist Dina Level, among others, was responsible for his training. When he was 18 years old, with the strength of perseverance and thanks to the support of a trader who lent him his premises, Jean Vendôme opened his first workshop-boutique, before he settled down a few years later on Boulevard Voltaire. After an unexpected meeting, he joined the School of Fine Arts: the director of the École des Beaux Arts in Orleans saw his drawings through an open window during a visit to the barracks, where the young man was then doing his military service.

Among the artist’s sources of inspiration: Paris, Brassens and Nelly, his first wife and muse, who he met in 1955. For her, he created the Mal pavée (“Badly” Pavé) brooch, sown with aquamarines and a homage to the streets of Paris. Jean Vendôme’s creations, “jewelry sculptures” were innovative, often packed with uncut stones or minerals, extremely original, free, bold or baroque, fruits of drawings (not gouache paintings), combinations of ideas and impulses.

His talent led him to meet illustrious characters or artists of the 20th century, such as Laurent Jiménez-Balaguer or Salvador Dali. Thus the Pépite (Nugget) collection, where gold is hammered and appears as a flame, a result of his encounter with Jean Cocteau. It bears witness to his passion for yellow gold and his work around form, asymmetry and balance.

His iconic pieces include the Tour (Tower) Ring (from the 1950s), the Boréale (Boreal) Line (inspired by the marks on the ground in the street), the Nocturne (Nocturnal) Line (from the 1960s, inspired by Paris), the Florilège (Anthology) Line (diamonds dotted on white gold wire), the S Ring (for which, among others, he was entered into the Larousse dictionary of the 20th century), the Manhattan Rings (where an emerald symbolizes Central Park) and Fifth Avenue, the articulated tie necklace (a futuristic creation at the time!), the Terre Lune (Earth Moon) brooch (inspired by the space conquest) or the academician’s sword of Roger Caillois (1971), which would become a landmark!

Even if since 2008, Jean Vendôme’s jewelry works of art are only on sale at auction, you can nevertheless admire them thanks to the magnificent virtual exhibition dedicated to him by the School of Jewelry Arts: Jean Vendôme artist jeweler or go directly to the photo gallery.

A virtual tour of the exhibition is also available.

Note: his tourmaline tree is one of the remarkable pieces of the Gems exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

On the School’s e-library, you will find a wide range of content (videos, courses and online conferences), offered by experts and teachers, allowing you to expand your knowledge of the world of jewelry. You can also visit the School’s YouTube account to watch the conferences on offer directly.

Finally, to find out about the upcoming program and conferences, visit the School’s Online Conferences page. The following courses in connection with diamonds are planned (but not yet accessible for booking on the website):

– March 24 and 25: Jean-Baptiste Tavernier et les routes du diamant (Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and the diamond roads);

– April 14 and 15: À la poursuite du diamant bleu (In pursuit of the blue diamond).

To reread our articles on the School of Jewelry Arts:

“Fascinating Diamond” – The day I took a class at the Van Cleef & Arpels School of Jewelry Arts
The Golconda diamonds, reunited by the School of Jewelry Arts Van Cleef & Arpels and the French National Museum of Natural History

An occasion for a lecture at the Van Cleef & Arpels School of Jewelry Arts: “Fancy Colored diamonds: on the beauty of defects”


L’École des Arts joailliers Van Cleef & Arpels
 22, place Vendôme, 75001 Paris. Entrance via 31 Danielle Casanova Street.
 Phone: + 33 (0)1 70 70 36 00.

Source Rubel & Ménasché

Photos © L’École des Arts Joailliers, Benjamin Chelly.