The Emerson family of Redlands, California purchased Van Craeynest, an 86-year old San Francisco-based vintage Victorian jewelry manufacturer. The Van Craeynest and Emerson families were working together on the transition to not only keep the apprenticeship model of workmanship thriving, but to expand the Van Craeynest jewelry line into more independent jewelry stores.
“The opportunity to keep the Van Craeynest tradition alive has been both humbling and invigorating,” said Paul Emerson II, the Emerson family spokesperson. “To serve as stewards for an American institution in the fine jewelry industry is a privilege.”
The Van Craeynest story blends tradition, culture and artisan craftsmanship culminating in San Francisco during an era of excitement, said Emerson. “Just imagine the frenzy of the Gold Rush throughout Northern California and the hustle and bustle on the docks in San Francisco.”
One century ago, Roger J. Van Craeynest, upon immigrating to San Francisco with his family at the age of 13, began apprenticing for Shreve & Co. in Union Square, where he learned his craft and ultimately became his own master die cutter, designer and engraver. He founded Van Craeynest in 1926, continuing the apprenticeship tradition, which is now directed by Larry Van Craeynest who joined the company in 1960 after studying art in college.
Larry is dedicated to training young artisans employed at Van Craeynest and for passing on the tradition and jewelry making techniques developed in the Victorian era. Van Craeynest still uses many of the machines and special tools employed more than 100 years ago. (Watch the video.)
Emerson manages the factory on Mission Street in San Francisco, his son-in-law, Kyle Cummings, directs the marketing and operations effort and daughter Kerry Cummings provides accounting support and serves in a myriad of other roles.
“I’m so grateful to my children for their efforts and the resulting success in expanding the Van Craeynest legacy. What an honor it is to breathe life into such a cornerstone of San Francisco’s Victorian history and an American jewelry icon. We are humbled and honored to be the keepers of the Van Craeynest history and future,” said Emerson.
Each Van Craeynest piece is hand-crafted with the art of chasing, carving, engraving and die-striking to create heirloom signature originals. The antique design styles employed are rendered from original designs from the 1800s and 1900s.
“We believe in preserving the knowledge and skills, rather than considering them dead arts,” said Emerson. “It is a condition of employment that all knowledge is passed on to the up and coming members of our team.” This is the third generation of artisans to be trained in techniques that would otherwise be lost to the industry.”