Jean Després was born in Avallon, France, in 1889. He was first exposed to the field of jewelry through his parents, who sold jewelry and fashionable goods at their family business. As a teenager, Després was interested in both metalsmithing and drawing. He completed an apprenticeship with a silversmith, but also took informal drawing classes in Paris. Through his interest in art, he began to form friendships with the leading Modernist artists, including Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque. Drafted into the army at the start of World War I in 1914, Després put his drawing skills to use by working as a draftsman drawing airplane parts. Post-war, Després combined the machine aesthetics he encountered as a draftsman with the meticulous handcraft of silversmithing, creating intensely avant-garde pieces of jewelry. Always innovative, Després collaborated with other artists to introduce new mediums into his work, even creating a series of jewelry that incorporated ceramic pieces by Jean Mayodon.
Starting in 1925, Després began exhibiting his work publicly at Salons. Most notably, his work was on display at the famed International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, which introduced French decorative arts and the Art Deco style to an international audience. In the 1920s and 1930s. Després began to branch out into the creation of flatware and tableware in the mediums of gold, silver, and pewter. These silverworks are heavily architectural in scope, and are reminiscent of the buildings of the Art Deco period. In the 1940s and 1950s, Després experimented with new forms in silver, developing a line incorporating a linked chain pattern known as “gormette.” Després died in 1980, leaving behind an enormous body of work that was amassed and admired by many collectors, including Andy Warhol, Rose Adler, and Josephine Baker.