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Seaman Schepps jewelry is always recognizable and it always makes a statement. It is never subtle, always large, bold and dramatic.
Brief History of Seaman Schepps Jewelry
Seaman Schepps was born in 1881 on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He left school at 14 to work a variety of jobs, until he became a salesman traveling from New York to Los Angeles and back. He had a discerning eye for decorative objects and trinkets and collected his treasures on his travels. He eventually settled in LA and opened a shop that sold antiques, artifacts and jewelry. When he later returned to NY, he opened a shop on Sixth Avenue selling only jewelry that he purchased.
When Seaman lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929, he used the time to re-imagine his business. When he reopened his shop, he sold only jewelry that he designed himself. His designs were revolutionary: distinctive and bold with unexpected color combinations and unexpected materials.
The “glitterati” flocked to his shop: members of the wealthiest families, such as the DuPonts and Rockefellers; the glamorous stars of stage and screen, such as Carole Lombard and Lauren Bacall; President Franklin D. Roosevelt and, later, Jacqueline Kennedy; Fidel Castro, for gosh sakes! Seaman's clientele was the closest thing the US has to royalty and so he was dubbed “America's Court Jeweler.”
While other jewelry at the time may have conferred status on its wearers, Seaman's designs made a statement and often it was whimsical. He used the “big guns,” diamonds, rubies and emeralds, but he tended to use them as supporting players rather than the star. He was interested in shapes and an unorthodox mixing of semiprecious gems and found materials, in transforming unexpected materials into powerful works of extraordinary beauty. His designs have never gone out of style. His jewelry continues to inspire jewelry designers today.
His jewelry is considered by many to be works of art, as evidenced by the exhibits in his honor in museums across the US and Europe.
Seaman died in 1972, and his daughter, Patricia Schepps Vaill, continued his legacy for 20 years when she sold the business to Jay Bauer and Anthony Hopenhajm.
Seaman Schepps Jewelry Designers
- Seaman Schepps, with no formal training, began designing jewelry after he lost his business. His designs were unique, bold, fabulously chunky and clunky with irregularly cut gemstones, eclectic colors and materials gathered from nature, such as wood and seashells.
- Patricia Schepps Vaill followed in her father's footsteps during her 20 years at the helm. She honored his legacy by creating jewelry that reflected his own, but also developed new lines that would appeal to a younger market.
- Jay Bauer and Anthony Hopenhajm likewise based their designs on Seaman's traditional style. In the archives, they had more than 5,000 of his detailed jewelry designs and 650 molds to guide them. But, like Patricia, they also designed new collections in order to bring the characteristic Schepps whimsy to a new generation. They also changed the “rules” somewhat by decreeing that all metal used would be 18K gold.
Seaman Schepps Hallmarks
- “Seaman Schepps”
- “Seaman Schepps” with “P.S.V.” for Patricia Schepps Vaill designs
- Shell Pictomark
- Individual number of the piece
Materials Used in Seaman Schepps Jewelry
- 18K Yellow or White Gold
- Diamond, ruby, emerald
- Light blue sapphire
- Yellow topaz
- Pink quartz
- Rock crystal
Collectible Vintage Seaman Schepps Jewelry
Seashells are an iconic element in Seaman Schepps jewelry. These shells are accented with green chalcedony, a type of quartz that brings the wearer the courage to explore her talents. Set with14K yellow gold. Engraved with P.S.V, for Patricia Schepps Vaill.
It appears that this is a very early piece created by Seaman Schepps in the 1930s. Cushion-cut brilliant green peridot, approximately nine carats, flanked with two pearls and four diamonds.
Earrings crafted in rock crystal “encaged” in an 18K gold diamond-like pattern with hinged omega clip backs. Earrings measure 1.02” x .78”.
Each earring features a cascade of ethereal oval moonstones accented with 18K gold prongs fit into the curve of rich, lustrous wood. The unique design reflects the glamour of the 1970s.
This stunning Seaman Schepps bracelet features three strands of lapis lazuli beads and green gemstone beads. The clasp is set with a 7+ carat sapphire cabochon and two oval-cut sapphires with a total weight of 8+ carats and a 12-carat emerald-cut emerald and 6 old European-cut (mine-cut) diamonds. Fastens with a push clasp and safety chain.
Tips for Buying Vintage Seaman Schepps Jewelry
Buying vintage jewelry wisely is primarily a matter of having experience. The more you see, the more you handle, the more knowledge you have, the better you will be at discerning the “wheat from the chaff.” Here we have some things you can do until you get to that point.
Learn all that you can
Learn about specific designers, the markings the history of designs, and the prices. The Internet is full of information, some of it more reliable than others, and then there are the underused libraries to wander through and books to buy.
Examine the jewelry intently
Use a loupe. Take particular notice of the back. People who forge jewelry tend to skimp on the back. Check the markings, the prongs, the findings.
Beware of “too good”
It is almost always not true. That goes for price, of course, If, for example, you see a Seaman Schepps item for, say, $100, run, not walk, away from it. I doubt you could find a Schepps for under $1,000. “Too good” also applies to the condition of the piece. There should be evidence of wear on a vintage piece.
Shop reputable vendors
The Internet is a great place to browse but you must tread lightly when it comes to buying. Not all websites are authentic. Consignment shops are usually knowledgeable, and it's a good sign if they have been in business forever. Check out vendors who have been with a market for a long time. Now, it's going to sound as though I am contradicting myself. Yard sales—the person selling the jewelry may have no idea of its value. If you have a good feeling those earrings are, indeed, Schepps and they are, say, $10, it's worth a leap of faith. If nothing else, you have a pretty pair of earrings.