It was Robert Keith’s childhood discovery of a black and white photograph in a trunk belonging to his great-grandfather that inspired him to venture into the world of jewellery. The photograph was of Hoorsenbuhs, a 16th-century Dutch merchant ship once sailed by his forebears, who traded in precious metals and gems – and it is Hoorsenbuhs that gave Keith the name for the California-based fine jewellery label he founded in 2005.
Working out of a Santa Monica bungalow, a band of gritty, confident and cool boundary breakers make up the predominately male team driving this unisex label forward. This tribe of self-assured visionaries have a disruptive approach to brand building. “We were transitional before it was cool,” says Keith. “I’m into androgyny and I don’t get caught up in the physical form. I prefer people’s character and spirit. I make what feels right and organically it takes shape. Almost all my designs have been worn by both women and men, and I love that my jewellery has been universally embraced.”
At face value, the brand’s success pivots around the instantly recognisable Tri-Link or Maker’s Mark motif – inspired by the original Hoorsenbuhs’ heavy-gauge, stud-link anchor chain. Keith has remained steadfastly true to this motif, and now the brand boasts a global cult following of loyal supporters, collaborators and collectors. It is not hard to spot the Tri-Link in Damien Hirst’s limited edition diamond-encrusted rosary beads created in collaboration with Hoorsenbuhs, or Jay-Z’s New York-inspired gold knuckle ring.
The Tri-Link motif is revised and reinvented in an endless repertoire of forms across the collections. The 18ct yellow gold and diamond-studded Dame Tri-Link ring ($5,500), or with diamond-set bridges ($2,750), is an update on the Hoorsenbuhs Classic Tri-Link ring ($3,500). The 18ct rose gold Quad-Link ring ($4,900) supersizes the link and is the largest and most robust of the series. Chubby heavy-gauge links make up these statement pieces. The Phantom Clique antiquated ring ($10,500), in 18ct white gold and diamonds, combines the openwork Phantom ring with the Dame Tri-link, and can be worn as a single piece or separately.
But for me, it was the launch of the Sacred collection that really shook things up. How do you take an instantly recognisable motif and make it unique? Not afraid to disrupt the status quo, Keith worked with an assortment of Hoorsenbuhs classic jewellery pieces and hand-melted each one. The result is a series of custom-made, one-of-a-kind pieces, individually numbered and stamped. The standout creations for me are the 18ct yellow gold Sacred Triple Dame Tri-Link ring ($10,800) and the 18ct yellow gold and diamond Sacred Phantom & Single Classic Link ring ($12,800). “It started as an idea about destroying the sacred. Taking something so precious and not being afraid to destroy it – a spiritual, surrealist exercise,” says Keith. “It’s a visual manifesto on the transient nature of things. We’re constantly evolving. Nothing stays the same, and out of destruction comes creation, out of death comes birth.”
The Sacred collection transforms the idea of collectable jewellery into wearable art. The fact that Keith’s bespoke and classic pieces are centred around a single link is a triumph. It is as if he has taken two incongruous worlds and brought them together through a single common denominator. By effectively destroying his most valuable asset, Keith has created something mysterious and empowering. This deliberate move into a more surrealist aesthetic wasn’t by chance; it has been thoughtfully conceived and exceptionally executed. “We thrive on new ideas and new iterations,” Keith enthuses. “We will continue to evolve.”
Juliet Hutton-Squire is a jewellery consultant and co-founder of Adorn Insight (adorninsight.com).