3 Designers Who Shaped American Jewelry Style

To this year Oscars show, Jay-Z appeared in a head-turning diamond and citrine brooch that rivaled his wife Beyonce’s radiant diamond jewelry. Her style statement was John Schlumberger Bird on a Rock brooch (a diamond bird perched on a 55-carat citrine) on the lapel of his white tuxedo jacket.

Known for his chic style of dress, Jay-Z is one of many celebrities wearing the late jewelry designers’ striking creations to express their daring sense of style.

It’s not new. For decades, tastemakers from Jacqueline Kennedy to Babe Paley and Elizabeth Taylor have worn Schlumberger’s exuberant jewelry to express their individuality. Today, those same Schlumberger designs for Tiffany & Co are worn by a new generation of stylists, including Lady Gaga on the red carpet and rapper Kendrick Lamar when he performed at this year’s Super Bowl. And the jewelry is lavish, chic and remarkably relevant.

Schlumberger was one of the few mid-century masters who ushered in a new era in the style of American jewelry that reflected the changing times. In the same way David Webb and Sailor Scheppsthese designers have created extremely creative and expressive jewelry with great colors, diamonds and an innovative use of materials.

great american jewelry designers

At a time when women were entering the workforce in record numbers and taking on new roles in society, these empowering gems were more about self-expression than defining a person’s status and wealth.

“These pieces reflected the experimental/counterculture culture of the 60s,” said Anthony Barzilay Freund, 1stDibs Editorial Director and Director of Fine Arts, of the design trio. “Departing from the pared-back diamond jewelry popular in the Art Deco era and the feminine styles of the 1950s, these designers created bold pieces incorporating a kaleidoscope of colored gemstones and semi-precious stones, hard stones and enamel. .”

No wonder the trio of designers are back in the news today and draw a youth of stylish women (and men) who are discovering David Webb, Jean Schlumberger and Seaman Schepps for the first time.

Today, as people turn to jewelry with vibrant colors, natural diamonds, individuality and authenticity, these creations offer all of that and more.

According to Barzilay Freund: “What’s more joyful than the energy and optimism of these bright, confident pieces right now?”

Focus on the three jewelry designers whose iconic pieces are in high demand by a new generation of jewelry lovers.

Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.

Schlumberger’s colorful and imaginative jewelry is enjoying a renaissance, and it’s easy to see why. Considered one of the great jewelry designers of the 20se century, the French-born designer (1907-1987) expressed nature in an artistic way that had never been done before. He once said of his designs, “I try to make everything seem to grow, uneven, random, organic, in motion.”

This can be seen in her three-dimensional moonstone and diamond jellyfish brooch with undulating sapphire tentacles, and undulating gold vine necklaces and cuffs encrusted with diamonds and gemstone buds. Her clients included Greta Garbo, philanthropist Bunny Mellon and Jacqueline Kennedy, who wore her vivid enamel Crosillon bracelets so often that they became known as “Jackie bracelets”.

The designer’s foray into jewelry began when he moved from Alsace to Paris in his twenties. Her talent caught the attention of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli who hired her to create decorative buttons and costume jewelry. His budding career in Paris was interrupted by the Second World War. After serving in the French forces, he moved to New York where he briefly worked in fashion before opening his own jewelry salon. He quickly gained a following and was discovered by Tiffany president Walter Hoving, who hired him in 1956 to design the house.

During Schlumberger’s three decades at Tiffany, he created fantastical creations – exuberant sea creatures, the bold Bird on a Rock brooch, elaborate birds, and gemstones set in beautiful diamond rings.

Fast forward to 2020 when LVMH acquired Tiffany’s and decided to put the spotlight on Schlumberger again. The American jeweler featured the designer’s standout pieces on Beyonce and Jay-Z in its groundbreaking ad campaign that was seen around the world.

Tiffany’s also ensured that these wildly creative jewels were paraded on the red carpet and worn by top tastemakers. You can expect to see more dynamic designs from Schlumberger, as Tiffany says that’s just getting started.

David Webb

When David Webb featured his animal jewelry in the “A Walk in the Woods: David Webb Artful Animal” exhibit at his New York gallery in late September, there was a waiting list of visitors who wanted to see the colorful creatures from the Creator. That’s because her whimsical designs (imagine a monkey brooch wearing jeweled bracelets) offer that sense of elegant, cheerful pieces that people want today. Shouldn’t jewelry make you smile?

“David Webb (1925-1975) designed with personality in mind,” says Levi Higgs, head of brand archives and heritage, who curated the recent exhibit. “Large, bold shapes, along with color and pattern were at the forefront of his designs in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“No design has ever left the workshop without a good sprinkle of diamonds,” says Higgs.

Webb’s defining pieces reflected how women viewed themselves: Editor Diana Vreeland’s signature was a graphic black-and-white enamel and diamond zebra cuff; the Duchess of Windsor wore a double-headed frog bracelet in bright green enamel; and Gloria Vanderbilt was often seen in a snake bracelet. These cheeky animals defined the personality of the wearer and sent a discreet message.

Her designs caught the attention of a generation of women in the 60s and 70s who wanted more fashionable jewelry. Webb’s colorful and bold animals also won her the Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1964, cementing her place in the fashion arena.

Born in Asheville, North Carolina, Webb began his career working for his uncle as an apprentice goldsmith, but soon became restless and moved to New York. In 1945, the self-taught designer opened his own boutique with unique pieces inspired by traditional jewelry styles from China and India and jewelry from ancient Greece. The results were bold pieces with exotic references like chimeras and dragons, but still with bold colors and a sense of fashion.

The designer’s career ended too soon when he died aged 50, but he left an archive of some 40,000 designs and drawings. In 2009 the company was purchased by Mark Emanuel and Robert Sadian who moved to Madison Avenue and 74e Street with a workshop above the living room where we continue to reproduce our original creations.

Higgs sums up Webb’s influence as one of America’s most influential jewelry designers by saying, “As the quintessential American jeweler, David Webb represented the ultimate amalgamation of style diversification. Because isn’t the most American expression of style always a melting pot?

Sailor Schepps

No conversation about American jewelry designers is complete Seaman Schepps. Without stepping into Seaman Schepps’ new boutique on Madison Avenue, you wouldn’t know that the wood and diamond door knocker earrings and rock crystal and diamond curb-link bracelets were originally designed more 50 years earlier.

The only clues that reveal their age are the old photos and magazine clippings in the downstairs safe with famous faces like opera singer Marguerite Wenner-Gren and Blanche Knopf, house president. Alfred A. Knopf edition, wearing Schepps jewelry. Knopf appears in a photo lying on his yacht wearing a stack of three Mousetrap bracelets, a gold link style that looks, of course, like a mousetrap with diamonds. It’s still a bestseller. Downstairs, the walls are lined with leather-bound books with the designer’s original jewelry sketches. These include pieces made for Doris Duke and the Duchess of Windsor. There are more than 5,000 drawings, from which the house recreates pieces, each made by hand in its New York studio.

Today, the best-sellers remain the Turbo shell earrings set in gold and adorned with diamonds and precious stones (a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy). “The design is so appropriate today,” says Anthony Hopenhajm, who bought the brand from the founder’s daughter in 1992. “These earrings were the women’s uniform in New York and Palm Beach, and like while great design, they are timeless and still relevant today.

Schepps (1881-1972) opened his first store in New York at 516 Madison Avenue in 1931. His imaginative designs, including expressive animals, large chunky beads and Baroque-style gemstones, were inspired by visits to Paris and in the natural world.

“Schepps’ style reflected America in general,” says Hopenhajm. “His designs tended to be larger than life with a bolder use of color, and he wasn’t held back by preconceptions that you couldn’t mix a seashell with diamonds.”

These whimsical designs and unusual mixtures of materials presented nonchalantly exemplify Schepps’ irreverent way with diamonds, pearls and precious stones. This is an attitude that particularly suits today’s stylists.

Sarah C. Figueiredo