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Mary Schimpff-Webb

a career devoted to excellence

by Marbeth Schon

excerpted from Marbeth Schon's upcoming book for Schiffer Publishing, Modernist Jewelry in America, 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement 

Above left: Early Mary Schimpff pendant forged from two pieces of square wire textured by the application of 24k gold, set with blue pearl. This brooch was shown in the exhibit "Five Jewelers from the West" that began at America House in New York City and was reviewed in Craft Horizons Magazine. 

Above right: Early Mary Schimpff brooch; sterling silver and amber.

In 1954, in an article titled “Five Contemporary Jewelers,” published in American Craft Magazine, Mary Schimpff’s jewelry was shown alongside that of Margaret De Patta, Bob Winston, Paul Miller, and Robert Von Neumann. Though not as well known within the collecting public, her work compares favorably with the best of mid-20th century modernist jewelry. Like De Patta, Schimpff is a perfectionist and a modernist whose designs are based on the integration of form and function. Schimpff’s work is biomorphic and colorful. She cuts her own stones, assembling the shapes like a sculptor and juxtaposing the colors like an abstract expressionist painter.  

Left and above: Two views of a Mary Schimpff-Webb abstract sterling silver ring with hand-cut lapis, carnelian, and green onyx.

Above left: Ring by Mary Schimpff-Webb; sterling silver, 14k gold, hand-cut amethyst and coral with faceted peridot.
Above right: Ring by Mary Schimpff-Webb; sterling silver, gold, hand- cut malachite, rhodochrosite, and faceted Mexican fire opal.

I visited Mary Schimpff at her New Symrna Beach, Florida home. We talked about her life as a jeweler and how, from the very beginning, she was precise.  When I was three,” she related, “I took an art class and we had to make a coil pot and I was so upset because I couldn’t roll out the coil evenly…I wanted things to be right.”

Her first experience with jewelry was an introductory course at prep school. When she returned home with her work to show her mother, she was surprised to find out that she had a full set of equipment stored in the attic. “I didn’t know she’d ever made jewelry!"


Left:  Brooch by Frances Schimpff fabricated from fused sections of gold with pearls.  

Mary’s mother Frances began, in the 1920s, as a fine arts student attending the Art Institute of Chicago, The Chicago Academy (with notables such as Walt Disney), the Kalo shop, and Pratt in New York. Her studies in art history, sketching, and painting became invaluable assets to her profession as a jeweler.


Mary attended the Peoria Art Institute and Illinois State University and throughout her career studied privately with jewelry technicians, stone setters, stonecutters, toolmakers, and enamellers. She names her first jewelry instructor Sue Fuller as one of her early influences because of the quality of the work she produced for Georg Jensen. Fuller helped to refine Mary's instinctive ideas of excellence and experimentation. Mary also thought very highly of jeweler, John Paul Miller.

In the 1950s, Mary and Frances began to make jewelry together; Mother and Daughter became a team.  They both worked in abstract naturalistic themes. Frances was a master of fused texturing. One of her bracelets is formed from links of textured “vines” of gold, every link holds five pearls each held by a separate soldered point. Frances spent endless hours working in this process—“all the little pieces had to be fused together.”  She was meticulous and did not mind the repetitive work of creating hand made chains for her pendants. Neither Frances or Mary did any casting of pieces—everything was hand constructed.


Right: Bracelet by Frances Schimpff; fused, textured gold with pearls.


Like their modernist counterparts, the Schimpffs challenged conventional ideas and were some of the first to use precious stones informally as an integral part of modern design, and to pair precious with semi-precious stones.  At the same time, they created unique mixes of materials such as matching gold with platinum.

Left: Gold bracelet with white, blue, and yellow jade made by Mary Schimpff for her mother, Frances.

Collaborative necklace by Mary and Frances Schimff; green cat's eye moonstones, sterling silver, and 18k yellow gold.


Mary’s constant flow of ideas, many inspired by her natural surroundings, were sketched on envelope backs, napkins, or newspaper margins, to be stored later in one of her many boxes of design notations.  A pin with fine silver wire spirals “like foam between and along the halves of a clear quartz crystal” is her interpretation of waves breaking off the shore. Nature is full of surprises she said, “Like when you look underneath a flower and see little dots or some little thing…. Everything has an idea with it.  It may not be done the way the thing itself appears.  I don’t like something to be too representative, too exact.  I don’t really copy things from nature. I get the feel.” 


Left: "Folded gold" pin by Frances Schimpff; 18k yellow gold.

The study of flow and movement, structure and rhythm has been continuous for Mary Schimpff.  “I always like triangles and things that sort of “Swish,” she said,  “I like buoyancy, action—things that flow, plus the interplay of detail in some place—a surprise.  I like a piece to look as if it were going to go somewhere. One outstanding difference between a piece of jewelry and all other art forms is that jewelry is viewed in constant motion, as it is seen on an animated being rather than stationary on a wall or pedestal…I am fascinated with reflecting materials that cause ever-changing patterns as the jewelry is worn…Therefore, jewelry, being seen from all angles, must be designed in the round.  The designing of a piece of jewelry also has many facets to be considered that are not required by other art forms. As well as aesthetic qualities, one must consider, since jewelry is worn, balance, weight, contour of the body, freedom from sharp points or snagging curves, and soundness of structure for durability.”  

Above:  Two views of a Mary Schimpff-Webb 18k gold and lapis ring with hammered dangles.

Above: Two views of a Mary Schimpff-Webb ring; sterling silver, 14k gold, hand cut blue chalcedony, coral, and clear crystal.

Above: Mary Schimpff-Webb double choker; sterling silver and faceted jet beads.


Mary’s husband, Bruce Webb, began to make jewelry after their marriage; a background in the linen business and weaving prepared him for the intricacies of working with metal and stone. Desiring to learn to cut their own stones, they traveled together to Germany to study silversmithing and stonecutting. While there, they were inspired by master stonecutter, Bernd Munsteiner. Mary wanted to be able do odd unusual cuts—to free her from the ordinary and enable her to design, in stone, cuts that would enhance the designs she made in metals.



Above: Mary Schimpff-Webb ring; Munsteiner-cut amethyst, 14k gold, and diamonds.

Right: Mary Schimpff-Webb pendant; Brazilian-cut aquamarine, 14k gold, and diamonds. 


Mary works with many materials and techniques--wood, colored gold, bronze, semi-precious stones, silver, and enamels as well as married metals and the ancient Korean technique keum-boo —pure gold file adhered to a silver surface. She also works with black iron and has combined iron exquisitely with pearls.  

Left: Mary Schimpff-Webb sterling silver perfume bottle with keum-boo, opal, and rutilated quartz crystal. This beautiful bottle won an award at the Signature Gallery in Boston.


Right: Mary Schimpff-Webb pin; keum-boo with ammorite  and pearl.         


Left:  Mary Schiimpff-Webb sterling silver box with plique á jour enamel "butterfly."


Above:  Mary Schimpff-Webb necklace; black iron and baroque pearls.

Lately, she has turned to sculpture as well, designing perfume bottles inspired by trees shaped by the ocean breezes called “Wind Swept,” silver fountains, and intricate figural boxes. 


Left: Mary Schimpff-Webb perfume bottles," Wind Swept" and her tattooed biker boyfriend; sterling silver, gold, coral, and green onyx.

Left and below: Mary Schimpff-Webb box, "Florida Panther;" sterling silver and precious metal clay with emeralds and gold (box opens when the tongue is lifted).








Above: Two Mary Schimpff-Webb perfume bottles. Left: Sterling silver, acrylics, ebony, and turquoise. Right: Sterling silver, gold granulation, and lapis.

Above: Mary Schimpff box," Manatee;" sterling silver, carved green jade, yellow and green gold, and copper, (box opens by turning the carved jade)/

Left: "Mary Schimpff-Webb box, "Armadillo;" sterling silver with sapphire eyes,( box opens when you push the nose).

Mary Schimpff achieved international recognition for her work, which has been exhibited in such places as the American House Galleries, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, “Tendenzen” at the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim, Germany; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Georg Jensen, and is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution of Art, Washington, D.C.; Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii; and the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, Florida. When Adlai Stevenson was leaving office, he commissioned the Frances and Mary Schimpff to design small silver boxes and letter openers bearing the seal of the state of Illinois, which he gave as parting gifts to his staff.  


Above left: Mary Schimpff-Webb pendant and neckring; Munsteiner-cut rutilated quartz, and 14k gold.

Above right: Mary Schimpff-Webb ring; rutilated quartz and 14k gold.




Left: Mary Schimpff-Webb earrings; sterling silver.

She has won many international awards including four De Beers Diamonds-International awards, honorary membership in De Beers Diamonds International Academy exhibitions and inclusion in the Trienniale Di Milano, Italy; the International Schmuckschau, Munich, Germany, and the Centenary in Johannesburg commemorating the discovery of South Africa’s first diamond.  

Left: Mary Schimpff received the Diamonds International Award in the late 1950s and was interviewed on the Radio Program, "The Voice of America." Here she is (on the far left) with the editor of Harper's Bazaar.   

Above left: Mary Schimpff-Webb ring; sterling silver, 18k gold, lapis, and diamonds.

Above right: Mary Schimpff-Webb ring; 14k gold, tourmaline, and diamonds.

Above: Mary Schimpff-Webbb pendant and neckring; 14k gold and faceted white topaz.

Mary Schimpff is a past president of the N.E. Chapter of the Florida Society of Goldsmiths, a group she and her late husband co-founded. She has taught jewelry design at Wildacres, North Carolina, the Southeastern Federation of the Gem and Mineral Society and the Florida Society of Goldsmiths as well as the DeLand Museum of Art, Atlantic Center for the Arts at Harris House.   

Mary Schimpff-Webb at home in Florida, 2003. 

Mary Schimpff's contemporary creations are available at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. email:

An exhibit titled, Mary Schimpff Webb - Artist/Jeweler will run from  September 6  to December 29, 2013 at the Museum of Florida Art, 600 North Woodland Boulevard, Deland, Florida.  This will be an intimate exhibit showcasing about fifteen pieces of Mary's jewelry accompanied by design drawings.

Please also see: Extraordinary Boxes:  the artistry of Mary Schimpff Webb



Marbeth Schon is the owner of M. Schon Modern at
   She is Co-moderator of SilverForum
 and Editor of MODERN SILVER magazine

   Article by Marbeth Schon
Photographs by Marbeth Schon and courtesy of Mary Schimpff and Fred Doloresco
Web design b
y Marbeth Schon
 Copyright © 2003 Modern Silver Magazine

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