Seaman Schepps (1881-1972) was born in Manhattan and grew up on the Lower East side. He worked as a travelling salesman, a job which took him all across the country and after arriving in Los Angeles he decided to settle there and open his own store in 1904.
He married soon after and went on to have two daughters, Virginia and Patricia. After relocating to San Francisco and then back again to L.A. the family finally moved back East and Schepps opened his shop doors in 1921 on 6th Avenue.
The business did well and Schepps was enjoying his success when the 1929 stock market crash hit and he lost everything, including his newly built premises. By the time he was able to re-open his shop (which he did in 1934 on Madison Avenue) he had decided to take the business in a different direction. He would focus on his own designs and create bold and striking jewels to compliment the fashions of the period using the most interesting, unusual and innovative materials he could find. It wasn’t long before his brightly coloured shell, coral, and wood jewellery was attracting the attention of movie stars such as Katherine Hepburn, fashion icons like Chanel and Schiaparelli and some of America’s wealthiest families from the Rockerfellers to the Mellons. During the 40s and 50s his witty and distinctive designs appeared on countless covers for magazines such as Vogue, Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar and he became known affectionately as ‘America’s Court Jeweller.’
His jewellery mixed multi coloured gems (often cut as cabochons) in bright and beautiful combinations with yellow gold, pearls and scatterings of diamonds. They were statement pieces, conversation starters and designed to attract attention. He would also re-set clients own jewellery into fresh, modern designs – reimagining their gemstones coupled with something new and boldly contrasting, thereby breathing new life into unloved treasures. Schepps retired from the business in 1969, leaving it to his daughters, and he passed away three years later in 1972. Patricia Schepps Vaill continued to make jewellery in her father’s style for the next 20 years whilst simultaneously seeking to make it appealing to a new generation.
In 2004 the Museum of Arts and Design in New York staged an exhibition of Schepps jewellery to celebrate the legacy of this 20thcentury jewellery artist. It was shown three years later in London at Somerset House in 2007. On both occasions the display included the earliest known surviving pieces of Schepps jewellery – a pair of bracelets from 1931 set with diamonds and engraved emeralds and rubies. The company has branches on Park Avenue in New York, in Palm Beach and also Nantucket and today they continue to produce jewellery very much in the spirit of their founder.