NEW YORK — Nicolas Bongard, a former vice president of Tiffany & Co. and longtime business partner of jewelry designer Jean Schlumberger, died Friday at his home in Manhattan after a brief illness. He was 91.
Born in 1908 in Paris, Bongard, a nephew of couturier Paul Poiret and Paris jeweler Rene Boivin, was schooled from an early age in design and jewelry.
In the Thirties, Bongard designed jewelry and was a cinematographer for Fox Movie Tone News in Europe, Africa and Asia. He enlisted in the army at the outbreak of WWII and was captured by the Germans, but he escaped while being transported to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany.
In May 1940, Bongard married Mary Roby King, an American expatriate, and the couple eventually moved to New York, where Bongard started a business in hand-painted porcelain buttons.
Shortly after, Bongard and Schlumberger, who were childhood friends, met by chance on Fifth Avenue.
The pair agreed to open a small atelier at 743 Fifth Avenue. Later they began a salon on East 63rd Street, which in 1956 caught the attention of Tiffany’s then vice chairman, Walter Hoving. In 1956, Hoving asked Bongard and Schlumberger to join Tiffany as vice presidents and create a Schlumberger salon, and the two transferred their operations to the store’s mezzanine. Schlumberger was a vice president until 1992.
“Nicolas Bongard was one of those rare human beings who possessed a great artistic vision as well as the business acumen that provided the framework for Jean Schlumberger’s design talent to flourish,” said William R. Chaney, Tiffany’s chairman.
Among the highlights of his career were a 1961 exhibition of Schlumberger jewelry at the Wildenstein Gallery in New York, and a 1995 retrospective of jewels and objects at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
Bongard, whose wife died in 1987, is survived by his niece, Chloe Salet, and nephew, Leonard Guillain, both of Paris. A memorial service will be held in New York at a later date.