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Blazing a Trail, One Gem at a Time

A legend in America’s jewellery scene, Seaman Schepps continues its legacy of colourful and distinctively designed pieces.

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“[Seaman Schepps] had a natural attraction for the unusual, the baroque, and the colourful.”
—Anthony Hopenhajm

A maverick American jeweller, Seaman Schepps grew up in the Lower East Side of New York, a place often described at the turn of the century as the bastion of immigrants from all over the world. These diverse cultures helped shape the aesthetic of his namesake brand’s jewels: bold, colourful, and unusual.

Designer Seaman Schepps with his daughters, Jane and Patricia.

In many ways, Seaman Schepps injected creativity and spontaneity into an otherwise ascetic period in jewellery. His unique approach to design was novel when he first opened shop in 1904, eventually earning him the moniker “America’s Court Jeweller” because his designs were often worn by members of the elite.

Left: Three strands of Multi Baroque necklaces with multicoloured gemstones set in 18-karat yellow gold. Right: Fine jewellery pieces by Seaman Schepps, ranging from the 1930s to the 2000s.

A novel approach to jewellery

The brand’s current owner, Anthony Hopenhajm, who took over the company in 1992, is intent on keeping the brand contemporary and relevant while still respecting its heritage and the legacy of its founder.

“Today, many jewellers use big, colourful stones but Seaman Schepps was actually one of the first to do so,” Hopenhajm says.

“This design was deeply influenced by the diversity and vibrancy he was surrounded with growing up. This environment set the tone of the kind of jewellery he would design.”

Seaman Schepps drawings of whimsical animal jewellery and an Asian figure brooch (centre).

When he first started, Schepps used stones that bigger, more established jewellers didn’t want. “At the time, he wasn’t known for using the finest gemstones, nor those with great cuts. However, he more than made up for it with his unique and bold designs. He also had a natural attraction for the unusual, the baroque, and the colourful,” Hopenhajm says.

Schepps differed from contemporary jewellers in other ways as well. While the latter sourced the stones after their designs, Schepps did the opposite. He went into the market and found unique stones—baroque-shaped emeralds, aquamarines, or off-shaped rubies—and went on to create pieces from them.

Schepps also liked to combine precious stones with semi-precious ones. He would, for instance, pair a beautiful diamond with a faceted white topaz. This ran contrary to prevailing views that held semi-precious stones in lower regard than precious ones like rubies, diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds. Yet for Schepps, the look of a piece was more important than its materials.

Left: Koi Fish brooch in coral, turquoise, pearl, and diamond in 18-karat yellow gold. Right: A pair of Turbo Shell earrings with ruby ends and diamond bands set in 18-karat yellow gold.

Homage to the past

Hopenhajm inherited quite an impressive archive from Schepps. The archive boasts more than 5,000 detailed jewellery renderings and 650 moulds, including a few notable pieces designed for Jackie Onassis and the Duchess of Windsor.

These archive items reveal that in addition to unusually shaped colourful stones, Schepps also had a penchant for using unconventional materials in his designs, such as chess pieces, hand-carved lava, black jade, and Buddhist prayer beads.

Hopenhajm is particularly proud of the Seaman Schepps Canton collection, which uses beads carved in China. “Seaman Schepps had gone to Asia once and he just absolutely loved a lot of the things there,” Hopenhajm says.

A Snuff Bottle bracelet in jadeite, emerald, and rock crystal set in 18-karat yellow gold.

Breath of fresh air

Timing also played a part in Schepps’s success. During the Second World War, it was difficult to get hold of luxurious silks, which were then sourced from Paris.

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 117

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