In 1968, a writer for the Washington Post dubbed Seaman Schepps “America’s court jeweler.” Having founded his atelier in 1904, the designer had been around for decades but had reached the pinnacle of name recognition in the 1950s and 1960s, when Doris Duke, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Blanche Knopf, and other members of the stylish elite were spotted wearing Schepps’ whimsical designs. Andy Warhol was also a noted collector.
Many of the jewels were defined by organic elements such as seashells and wood or heaps of candy-colored stones incorporated into bold, sculptural silhouettes. Think jumbo beaded necklaces, dimensional button earrings the size of sea urchins, and exaggerated link bracelets looping lapis or incandescent blue chalcedony with polished gold.
The iconic pieces—those turbo shell earrings and mousetrap bracelet (both pictured above)—continue to captivate jewelry collectors. But today, Seaman Schepps joins fellow New York–based heritage brands including Verdura and Tiffany & Co. on a mission to reinvigorate itself for a modern audience.
An important step in any such trajectory often involves reimagining the in-store look and experience, and earlier this summer the brand opened a new flagship at 824 Madison Ave. near 69th Street.
Having closed the doors in 2020 at its previous location on Park Avenue and 58th Street—its home for 60 years—due to challenges associated with the pandemic, the opening of the new location heralds a fresh start.
The new, bi-level store was designed by Penny Drue Baird of Dessins LLC and houses classic pieces alongside new designs.
“It is vital, as time passes, to look around, be receptive to the times, and to be open to changes in the marketplace and potential clients,” says Anthony Hopenhajm, who assumed ownership of Seaman Schepps in 1992. “At the time we came into the picture, this grand dowager of a brand was being shepherded by Seaman Schepps’ daughter and granddaughter. They no longer had their own workshop.”
Hopenhajm and his business partner had been the owners of Trianon, a jeweler with its own New York City workshop just a stone’s throw away from Seaman Schepps’ on Park Avenue. One of the first innovations Hopenhajm and his team introduced was to begin producing the Seaman Schepps line in 18k and 22k gold (in Schepps’ heyday, the standard in the United States was 14k, according to Hopenhajm).
“We were able pick up the baton by making Seaman Schepps pieces in the cutting-edge, innovative, and unexpected combinations that could only be properly done when the jewelry is created in its own in-house workshop,” he says.
Decades later, that baton is continuing its journey—and has landed in the the uptowniest of uptown jewelry destinations.
“I believe we are aspirational as a brand with clients eager to acquire the classic link bracelets or shell earrings,” says Hopenhajm. “Our reputation for producing interesting, original, and wearable jewels that hold their value in the secondary market is part of the Seaman Schepps cachet. The ease and wearability of the pieces rounds out their multigenerational appeal.”
Meanwhile, the new store will straddle the brand’s past and future with a modern, vaguely beachy elegance. A spiral staircase, hand-painted in a faux steel and warm walnut finish, leads to the lower level, which houses original design sketches and historic pieces. The lower level also serves as a private event space for intimate gatherings. The nearly 50 feet of window displays will change seasonally and feature original watercolor backdrops by artist Diana Heimann and curated selections of jewels arranged amid objects like stone, wood, and shells.
Looking ahead, Hopenhajm says the plan is to “uphold the values of the Seaman Schepps DNA while we continue to develop new items in the iconic Schepps style. Our new Boat Link bracelets and Giro and Antibes earrings, among many other pieces, are based on our historical archives of over 5,000 jewelry renderings that go back to the 1920s.
“The mounting of natural shell with precious stones and the mixing of precious gold and wood was not only appreciated and desired seven decades ago when the concept was first introduced, but continue to be a must-have for today’s generation.”
Top: Inside the new Seaman Schepps flagship, there’s an an Italian rococo mirror from the 1850s and an angled vitrine in walnut that were both installed in the original Park Avenue store, along with a Baccarat steel and crystal chandelier (all interior photos: Kris Tamburello).
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