Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle! The new National Museum of Qatar is now hosting “Magnificent Jewels of Jean Schlumberger,” an exhibition of the fantasy jewelry that Schlumberger created for one of his most important clients, Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon. Schlumberger, who fought under General Charles de Gaulle during World War II, began by creating buttons for the surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli and by 1956 was vice-president of Tiffany’s. His clients included the Duchess of Windsor, Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, Elizabeth Taylor, and, of course, Mellon. She commissioned some 140 pieces from Schlumberger—the iconic bird brooch of 1965 is in this show, as well as the enameled “Jackie bracelets” that the First Lady, Mellon’s close friend, wore in triplicate. Mellon and Schlumberger, whom she called Johnny, had an enduring romance as friends and lovers.
Schlumberger, who took inspiration from flora, fauna, and the sea, loved the play of color and light that came from mingling precious rubies, sapphires, and emeralds with, say, the spring green of semiprecious peridots or the lunar glow of moonstones. Diamonds, to Schlumberger, were rather vulgar. Still, he designed the mounting for Tiffany’s famous yellow diamond, a jaw-dropper that has been worn by only three women: Mellon, Audrey Hepburn, and Lady Gaga.
An exhibition of the fantasy jewelry Schlumberger created for one of his most important clients, Bunny Mellon.
Wife of Paul Mellon, the fifth richest man in America, Bunny was creative in her own right. Her taste in interiors was much admired and her style as a gardener was legendary. In 1962, at the request of President Kennedy, no doubt urged on by Jackie, she designed the White House Rose Garden (when a workman first dug a spade into the ground he cut the line through which a nuclear attack is authorized). Mellon always called herself “very simple,” but it was a simplicity that saw her sending a private plane to deliver fresh flowers and vegetables—grown on her Virginia estate—to far-flung friends.
Could there be a more pleasing setting for the Schlumberger-Mellon exhibition than the National Museum of Qatar? Designed by Jean Nouvel, it is stunning—an enormous architectural complex modeled on the desert rose, that petaled geological formation of mineral and crystal fashioned by wind, sea spray, and sand. Like the multilayered desert rose, the discs of Nouvel’s design are both vertical and horizontal, supporting each other like multiple flying saucers. The objects inside the museum are an amusing, multilayered, multimedia conversation devoted entirely to Qatar’s history: its early emergence as a settlement in the desert; its glory days as the world center of the pearling industry, followed by a collapse in the 1930s when Mikimoto’s cultured pearls took hold; the discovery of oil in the 1940s and gas in 1971; and the little country’s place today as the richest on earth per capita. The Schlumberger exhibition is on view through January 15, 2020—a gem within the petals of a rose. —Victoria Mather