This circa-1940 fan-shaped Seaman Schepps multi-stone, diamond and white gold bracelet achieved $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

This circa-1940 fan-shaped Seaman Schepps multi-stone, diamond and white gold bracelet achieved $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — Seaman Schepps reportedly received his first name after his mother spied a Seaman’s bank out her hospital room window after giving birth to him in 1881. He was the first in his family to be born in the United States, and his mother supposedly chose the name to give the impression that he belonged to the upper social strata. That impulsive act on her part would help him launch and establish a reputation as a top-flight jeweler.

Schepps (1881-1972) grew up to be an industrious young man, first as a traveling salesman and then as the steward of his own shop in Los Angeles in 1904 and later in San Francisco. He headed back east and opened a shop in New York City in 1926, where he created jewelry for wealthy patrons of the arts and theater stars. After the stock market crash of 1929, he rebuilt his business and his approach, focusing on challenging the preconceptions of what constituted fine jewelry. His innovative designs blended bold colors, textures and sizes to create chunky and bold statement pieces that appealed to independent women who were redefining their style. The mood of the country was grim after the Great Depression, and to combat the sense of austerity, Schepps came up with playful designs such as his bubble earrings and barbaric bracelets.

Heritage Auctions Executive Director of Fine Jewelry, Jill Burgum, said the brand’s styling is unique and immediately recognizable. “Their use of big, bold, chunky, irregularly shaped, semi-precious gems in various pastel colors sets the brand apart,” she said. “They also mastered using organic materials, namely coral and shell, which they crafted into whimsical designs.”

A retro Seaman Schepps multi-stone, diamond and gold bracelet sold well above its estimate for $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A retro Seaman Schepps multi-stone, diamond and gold bracelet sold well above its $7,000-$9,000 estimate to command $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

An apropos example of his chunky bracelets, in which he combined complementary gemstones into a pleasing color palette, is a circa-1945 multi-stone, diamond and gold bracelet that sold well above its $7,000-$9,000 estimate to command $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Heritage Auctions. The piece, from the Rio collection, featured tumbled pink tourmaline, aquamarine, emerald, sapphire, diamonds, rubies and ruby cabochons set in 14K gold. “This was a quintessential Seaman Schepps design with double provenance, as referenced in the book Seaman Schepps A Century of New York Jewelry Designs, page 48, where this exact bracelet appears with singer Phyllis McGuire’s attribution,” Burgum said.

While he did jewelry of all types, Schepps’ bracelets are particularly coveted as their styles were diverse. A circa-1940 multi-stone, diamond and white gold bracelet made $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Heritage Auctions. It combined oval, pear, round and cut-cornered square and barrel-shaped aquamarine stones with blue topaz, zircon, pale tourmaline and diamonds for a nearly monochromatic design. “This stunning fan-shaped bangle was a true rarity with a magnificent, almost magical design,” she said, adding that its provenance added to bidders’ excitement, as the bracelet was referenced in Seaman Schepps: A Century of New York Jewelry Design on pages 90-91, and its original artwork appears with McGuire attribution.

This Seaman Schepps 14K gold Mousetrap bracelet made $11,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

This Seaman Schepps 14K gold Mousetrap bracelet made $11,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Another iconic bracelet by Schepps was his mousetrap bracelet, an example of which in 14K gold made $11,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Heritage Auctions. This is one of the company’s best-known designs, and according to its website, was “inspired from a spring of a mousetrap, using gold tubing, Schepps connected the links together and adorned them with precious stones. [New York literary publisher] Blanche Knopf would wear three of them at a time making it one of the most iconic looks.”

A Seaman Schepps link bracelet in 18K gold and black onyx took $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers.


This Seaman Schepps large link bracelet in alternating links of 18K gold and black onyx took $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers.

Renowned for the fine gemstones he was able to source as well as his bold designs, Schepp captivated his fans with pieces such as a large link curb bracelet set in 18K gold with black onyx that took $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021 at Joshua Kodner. This piece carries a nice solid weight on the wrist without being uncomfortably heavy, and is eye-catching yet absolutely suitable for everyday wear.

Another fine bracelet design offering a different look was his multi-gem and diamond Garden bracelet, one of which realized $25,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. The wide-strap bracelet, set with sapphires, emeralds and rubies and accented by diamonds, demonstrated Schepps’ ability to offer unexpected combinations of gemstones set together in a range of tones and textures.

A Seaman Schepps multi-gem and diamond Garden bracelet realized $25,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

A Seaman Schepps multi-gem and diamond Garden bracelet realized $25,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Schepps often turned to nature for inspiration, and his Turbo earrings sprung from a desire to give clients an original and fresh look. When a notable client showed him a necklace made of turbo shells harvested from the Indian ocean that they wanted to have converted into earrings, Schepps was more than up to the challenge. He intuited that they would look best with coral or turquoise on the points of the shells, and bound with wire. A pair of Turbo shell and coral earrings earned £700 ($882) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023 at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers. This design became a staple of the company’s catalog and is offered today at prices ranging between $4,000 and $12,000.

A pair of Turbo shell and coral earrings by Seaman Schepps earned £700 ($882) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

A pair of Turbo polished shell and oval cabochon coral earrings by Seaman Schepps earned £700 ($882) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023. Image courtesy of Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

The market for Schepps jewelry is typically strong. Standout pieces usually meet and surpass their estimates, though sometimes a patient collector can find a good buy on a sleeper piece. “Seaman Schepps jewelry is always desirable and in demand when presented in the auction market. It doesn’t come up as frequently as other big brands, so it is more rare to find,” Burgum said.

In his lifetime, Schepps traveled the world in search of fine jewels and inspiration, which he found in everything from ocean shells and coral branches to chess pieces and string. He became known as one of the most innovative jewelers of his time, and his eponymous firm is still going strong today.