In The Magazine

Gypsy Setting

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When jewelry designer Peggy Stephaich Guinness was in her 20s, she planned to visit Brazil for two weeks. She ended up staying 14 years. It was the ’80s and there was something about its culture, music, metals and stones that she found captivating. Soon, the country served as Guinness’s muse. It was there that she launched her namesake jewelry line of bold, colorful and often oversized pieces.

This spring, she brings her talents to Palm Beach to raise money for Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in Haiti, a hospital founded by her great-uncle Larry Mellon and his wife, Gwen Grant Mellon. Guinness will donate ten percent of her jewelry sales from a March 21–24 trunk show hosted by Betteridge at 236 Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. In addition, Guinness’s mother Louise Hitchcock Stephaich will be organizing a benefit for the hospital on March 24 at the Sailfish Club of Florida.

Larry Mellon was a successful cattle rancher in Arizona but realized he had greater dreams after reading an article about Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s legacy in LIFE magazine’s October 1947 issue. It propelled him to complete medical school, while Gwen studied a variety of topics, including tropical medicine and laboratory research on malaria. The couple moved to Haiti and built the hospital to care for patients suffering from the country’s widespread poverty and life-threatening diseases.

The jewelry on offer in Palm Beach will be mostly one-of-a-kind designs. With stones sourced from all over the world, the creative process varies, but are all pieces made in New York. “Sometimes, I sketch first or I’ll start by working with clay, wax or wire. There are no rules,” says Guinness. “Seeing the jewelry assemble and create itself is the most rewarding part of designing. When it clicks, that’s it.”

Taking risks and satisfying the thrill of wanderlust runs in the family. Guinness is a descendant of the Mellon Bank founders, who were based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her last name remains after her divorce from Sebastian Guinness, heir of the brewery family.

Born and raised in Paris, Guinness recalls her first memory associated with jewelry. “My parents attended balls in the ’60s,” she says. “All the ladies would come over and get their hair done before. I remember they wore chignons perfectly fit into jeweled diadems.” Guinness then moved to America as a teenager before venturing to Brazil and, later, to Ireland and Spain. Travel has been a constant inspiration. Over the years, she has created collections after trips to Portugal, Bali and Sri Lanka.

On a jewelry tray laid out in her Upper East Side apartment, Guinness picks up a gypsy ring, inspired by her roots. “I’m half Hungarian, [where] men wore gypsy rings on their pinkies,” she says. “It’s usually a three-stone ring with two sapphires and a ruby.” Her take is made for women and includes three diamonds set in 22k yellow gold. She believes two should be worn together—one on the ring finger and the other on the pinkie, because “two are better than one.” 

While taking another glance at the books in her hand, an idea sparks. “It just came to mind,” says Guinness. “I should do a Haitian collection next.”


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