An automotive heiress from Detroit recently trekked to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y., for a consultation with Stephen Dweck, a jewelry designer who flaunts his Brooklyn roots as readily as his latest gem acquisitions. After spending three hours perusing Dweck’s vast cache of minerals and gems, she selected 30 stones—including a rare blue-and-brown topaz, a green beryl, and an unusual opal—to be used in an array of custom designs. Such visits are reserved for Dweck’s most loyal clients; this patron had demonstrated her devotion by adding to her house a walk-in vault to display her expansive collection of colorful Dweck jewels.
Although the working-class neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay seems an unlikely source for such treasures, it serves as the wellspring for Dweck’s work. “Everything is inspired, designed, and made here,” says the chatty 45-year-old, who lives within a few blocks of his childhood home and near his three brothers, each of whom works in the family business that he established more than 20 years ago. “My style is gutsy, colorful, and worldly—just like Brooklyn.”
The walls of Dweck’s design studio are plastered from floor to ceiling with several thousand clear plastic bags arranged according to the color of the gem or mineral that each contains. The kaleidoscopic display illustrates the designer’s casual regard for precious gems, which are positioned next to far less valuable minerals and semiprecious stones. “I use stones as an artist works with paints,” says Dweck. “I select them for their color or unusual inclusions regardless of their inherent value.”
When composing a new collection, Dweck chooses groups of stones based on color, texture, brilliance, and depth, and then he has each gem cut or carved to his specifications. Though he is best known for his sterling silver and semiprecious collections, Dweck is expanding his use of precious gems and metals. He recently acquired a large number of what he describes as “intoxicating” green beryls that he is pairing with green garnets in Art Deco–style platinum settings with white diamond accents. Another new group combines peach tourmalines, honey-colored South Sea pearls, and champagne diamonds set in pink gold.
Dweck also has ventured into his first diamond collection at the request of his clients. “I worked with big rocks for so long,” he says. “I had to get comfortable handling hundreds of little bright stones.” In typical Dweck style, he used the diamonds to form understated points of light around colored gemstones and textured metal.
While Dweck is an avid collector of gems, he unabashedly acknowledges that he never studied gemology; his approach to jewels is decidedly unscientific. “These stones come from the earth. They are natural and simply beautiful,” he says matter-of-factly, adding with a bit of characteristic Brooklyn wryness, “and they sure feel better against the skin than a piece of plastic.”