Happy 4th, everyone! As an Independence Day special, today I pay tribute to the greatest American fine jewelers.
J.E. Caldwell (1839 – present)– Most notable for their turn-of-the century Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces, this Philadelphia jeweler has produced some of the finest American jewelry since 1839.
Marcus & Co. (1892 – 1962)– Herman Marcus, along with his son, William established Marcus & Co. in 1892 in New York. Herman Marcus having worked at Tiffany & Co. and also Ellemeyer, court jewelers of Dresden before migrating to America in 1850, produced fine Art Nouveau designs, enamel and silver.
Black, Starr, and Frost (1810 – present)– One of America’s oldest fine jewelers, it was one of only five firms invited to exhibit in the New York World Fair in 1939. Although partners and addresses changed frequently, they have been considered for decades one of America’s great jewelers.
JAR (contemporary)– A very mysterious figure in the world of haute jewelry. JAR stands for Joel Arthur Rosenthal. He is the son of a postal worker and biology teacher from the Bronx. JAR has a shop on Place Vendome in Paris which doesn’t keep regular hours and has an ultra-exclusive and faithful clientele including the late Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Walters, Elle McPherson, Marella Agnelli and Princess Firyal of Jordan to name a few. The lucky ones who get an appointment speaks of him in hushed tones of veneration. JAR pieces routinely fetch double at auction what the buyer paid … unheard of for a contemporary jeweler. Diane Von Furstenberg called him the Fabergé of our time.
Tiffany & Co. (1837 – present)– Known the world over for that “blue box”, Tiffany & Co. has had a long and illustrious history in American jewelry and silver. Although Tiffany & Co. has revised the Great Seal of the United States and designed a combat Medal of Honor for the United States Navy as well as the White House china for Lady Bird Johnson, many would agree that the golden era of Tiffany design is between 1956-1962 when Jean Schlumberger designed some magnificent and whimsical pieces – including the “Bird on a Rock” brooch featuring the Tiffany Yellow Diamond which is on permanent display at its New York flagship store.
Seaman Schepps (1904 – present)– In my opinion, Seaman Schepps is the greatest American jeweler there ever was. Born in a tenement house on the Lower East Side of New York, he single-handedly changed how jewelry was to be worn and perceived. His designs were bold and whimsical – incorporating never before used materials in haute jewelry influenced greatly by travels to the East – especially Hong Kong. He rose to prominence in the 1940’s after the war when America was experiencing great wealth and economic growth. His designs perfectly reflected the spirit of the times – when Americans were looking to a bold and new way forward with unparalleled optimism with so many things having changed as a result of the war … there was a sense of power and out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new. Schepps’ designs embraced this excitement with his use of new and unusual materials. His subject matter was often witty – the perfect antidote to the heaviness and toll of war. Women’s fashion at that time also perfectly suited his often larger-than-life designs. Some sixty years later, Seaman Schepps designs from that era still feel fresh and continues to be coveted by the most stylish women.
Harry Winston (1932 – present) – For security reasons, Harry Winston never allowed his face (or his family’s) to be photographed … perhaps a little paranoid but understandable considering he is touted to be the King of fine diamonds and jewels around the world. He sparked a trend in the symbiotic relationship between designers and celebrities on the red carpet, when in 1944, he lent Jennifer Jones, some of his magnificent jewels to be worn at the Oscars. Since then, he has become the designer of choice for royals, maharajas, and Hollywood’s elite. Harry Winston is known for his classic designs letting the highest quality diamonds and gems speak for themselves without too much fuss and adornment. He is also well known for his purchase of the Hope Diamond (the world’s largest natural blue diamond weighing in at 45.52-carat with a storied history to match) in 1949 and which he donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958.
David Webb (1948-present) – In 1941, David Webb came to New York when he was 16 from Asheville, North Carolina. There, he met a French woman of exquisite taste and an eye for talent named Antoinette Quilleret who backed him and he set up shop on 57th street in 1948. Well, as they say, the rest is history … he quickly became the “go-to” jeweler in Manhattan catering to the social set. Honestly, though, who can resist those iconic diamond, precious stone, and enamel animal designs … especially the chunky bangles from the 60s?
Oscar Heyman & Bros. (1912 – present) – The Heyman brothers trained at the rigorous workshops of Fabergé in Eastern Europe before they came to New York and opened their own workshop serving illustrious clients like Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef and Arpels, Harry Winston and Cartier. They are responsible for the necklace design of the legendary pear-shaped 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond made for Cartier. In its third generation, this family business continues to bring rarified old-world skills, attention to detail and exquisite gems to every piece of limited edition or one-of-a-kind design that they lovingly create at their New York atelier. In addition to collecting pieces they have fabricated for other jewelry houses in the past, they also update family heirlooms … and I mean “Heirlooms” with a capital H.
Verdura (1939 – present) – Known for his endless variations on the Maltese cross design, Verdura was established in 1939 by Fulco di Verdura, a Sicilian duke who began his career as Coco Chanel’s head jewelry designer. After eight years with Chanel, and most notably, designing the Maltese Cross brooches and cuffs, Verdura embarked to America in 1934. With a Hollywood connection through his close friend Cole Porter, Verdura designed colorful jewels for stars of the era, including Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth and Katharine Hepburn. Eventually, Verdura settled in New York on Fifth Avenue (Cole Porter and Vincent Astor were his financial backers) and immediately gained following with fashion’s best-dressed list (Babe Paley was his muse and one of his best clients). Verdura, appointed “America’s Crown Jeweler” by the New York Times, was one of the premier jewelry designers of the 20th century. (excerpt taken from verdura.com)