Lee Siegelson: marking the centenary of my family business

Lee Siegelson: marking the centenary of my family business

New York jewellery specialist Lee Siegelson picks out a design piece of shared heritage and values to commemorate 100 years, as told to Caragh McKay

My grandfather, Louis Siegelson, opened his watch-repair shop in Brooklyn in 1920. When my father, Hy, took the helm, he expanded the business to diamonds and jewellery, eventually occupying the largest display window on 47th Street in the heart of the Diamond District. I joined my father in 1992, but when he died two years later, I began refashioning Siegelson as an appointment-only business focusing on 20th century masterpieces.

For me, the ‘Giraffe’ set sums up the Siegelson way – it has no big gems or obvious beacons of value. We have many rare pieces that do, but this is simply an exceptionally crafted design. The lacquered Oréum (a branded gold alloy) necklaces and bracelets are the work of sculptor, craftsman and jewellery designer Jean Dunand. They speak of a specific moment in the 1920s when the value of the material wasn’t as important, but the design was. In this case, Dunand used a series of stacked line necklaces to evoke the feel of something exotic but modern, not least because of how the metal was engineered to make an elegantly concentric line on the neck and on the wrist.

Josepine Baker

A similar model was made for Josephine Baker, pictured, who was Dunand’s muse. Recently returned from a major exhibition, ‘The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s’, at Cooper Hewitt and the Cleveland Museum of Art, the set owned by Siegelson is the largest known, with six pieces in total. We regularly loan pieces of jewellery to exhibitions, and we also work with museums who wish to buy important jewellery for their collections. In honour of our centenary this year, we will donate three significant pieces to three museums this year.

I am always looking to buy great pieces by Dunand, but ‘Giraffe’, if it comes up at all, is usually offered in singles or doubles. When a set of three necklaces and bracelets, in the iconic red and black lacquer, came up for sale, I just had to buy it. It will probably be the most complete set ever to come on the market. And so it feels like we have come full circle – that many of the greatest pieces I now offer were first created at the same time my grandfather was opening his store. §

As originally featured in the May 2020 issue of Wallpaper* (W*254) available to download here 

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