Who Are We
Founded in 1971, Prins and Volkhardt has been providing antique and specialty jewelry to the Main Line for over 45 years.
With unique jewelry from time periods:
- Georgian 1714 – 1837.
- Victorian 1837 - 1901.
- Art Nouveau 1895 - 1915.
- Edwardian 1890 - 1910.
- Art Deco 1920 - 1935.
- Retro 1940 - 1960.
After three years of internment in a Japanese concentration camp, and subsequent life in Amsterdam, Leonard Prins moved to the United States, and founded Prins and Volkhardt, with the belief that “Every piece of jewelry tells a story”.
The Prins Story
His life reads like a Joseph Conrad novel. It began on his family’s tea plantation, Kartamana, in Java, Indonesia. Years before, Leonard’s great-grandfather had come from Berlin, settled in the Dutch East Indies, and made a fortune owning the only hotel chain in Java and the Malay Archipelago. Attracted by this mineral-rich country’s gold, gemstones, rubber, rice, oil, spices, coffee, cocoa and tea export trade, people poured into this Dutch colony from all over the world to start a new life.
Life was pleasant, indeed, on the Prins plantation when Leonard was born in the mid-30s. The estate, covering nearly 8,000 acres, had been granted to his father by the Dutch government and produced tea, coffee and quinine. Then, Java exported 90% of the earth’s supply of quinine. Here, Leonard and his two sisters were educated by Waldorf-Rudolf Steiner governesses. Every two years, the family would make visits to Europe to see his mother’s parents in Amsterdam and relatives in Berlin, until World War II broke out, leading to their three years in internment in a Japanese concentration camp.
Dutch Indonesia was the world’s major supplier of oil and rubber. Hence, it became a main target of the Japanese in their quest for world power. Japan’s overall plan was to eliminate all Western presence from the Asian scene…all whites, regardless of religion or citizenship. When Java fell 3 months after Pearl Harbor, Japanese soldiers rounded up 6-year-old Leonard, his two sisters, their governesses and mother, forcefully taking them off to an uncertain fate. Given 24 hours’ notice, Leonard’s mother had gathered all the family jewelry, sewed it into their clothing and managed to bury another cache in their grandfather’s garden miles away.
With scarcely more than the clothes on their backs, they were herded like cattle into a waiting wagon. As they drove away crying and screaming, they saw their beloved manor house, crops, warehouses, canning factory, stables and packing plant go up in flames.
They were brought to a one-room building surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and imprisoned in one average-size room crowded with 100 other women and children. Leonard remembers: “No eye contact with the Japanese captors was allowed. At the approach of a guard you had to stand still immediately, take off your glasses or hat, set down whatever you had in your hands, put heels together, arms straight down, and bow at a 90-degree angle pledging an oath of obedience to the emperor and remain in that position until the guard had passed a prescribed distance. Any infringement of rules was considered an insult to the Emperor resulting in sometimes inhumane torture.”
Punishments ranged from a public beating, shaving of heads, or standing for hours in the broiling sun. Mothers were beaten publicly if their child cried. “We watched a woman bludgeoned by the camp commander for breaking a rule,” Prins says, “blood spurted from her nose and ears onto the commander’s immaculate white shirt. Enraged at being soiled by her blood, he took time out to rip off the blood spots, then resumed the beatings. She never cried out. Nor did anyone who had to watch, for we knew from experience the crying only provoked more rage.”
Japan’s inhumanity to captured whites was total. The Japanese let nature take its course by slowly killing with the noose of starvation. Hard labor on a caloric intake of about 600 calories took its toll causing many young children to die due to complications and diseases. One little boy cried himself to death. At morning call, the dead were removed. The death toll rose dramatically for no medical intervention was ever given.
Once a boy prisoner aimed his slingshot at a spot on the wall and a jar of jewels hidden under the plaster crashed to the floor. Perhaps that was when Leonard’s fascination with jewelry took fire.
After being freed by American troops, the Prins entourage was shipped by the Red Cross to Amsterdam. Cut off from the outside world for three years, the children were far behind in schooling. All reading material had been confiscated during their stay in the concentration camp.
Before leaving Java, Leonard’s mother was able to retrieve those jewels she had planted in their grandfather’s garden, thus providing a nest egg to supplement a pension she received due to her husband being missing-in-action.
In Holland, Leonard attended a boarding school run by Jesuit fathers, where 1,000 boys were taught shop, farming and husbandry along with their ABC’s. After graduating, he learned design techniques for textiles. His first employment was with Metz and Company, Liberty-of-London’s Netherlands affiliate.
Starved for beauty after those drab years in prison, Prins was swept into the rarefied world of international interior design, associating with dealers to the Royal Family and their circle. Through an American friend he had met on the beach at St. Tropez, Prins got a contract to furnish the entire new Time/Life European Headquarters when it moved from Paris to Amsterdam where printing was superior and less costly. He became a close friend of Charles Staal, Holland’s grand antiques dealer whose clients included then Queen Juliana and Princess Beatrix. With Staal, Prins refurbished Castle Hooge Vuursche” entirely with priceless antiques for its enormously wealthy new owner, a Polish millionaire.
At a black-tie dinner in the castle, the owner took Prins to his office and pulled from a drawer two 7-inch-wide diamond bracelets, asking him which should he buy as a gift to his wife in celebration of the castle’s refurbishment. Prins chose the one being sold by a jeweler to the Royal Family and diplomatic corps in The Hague. Admiring Leonard’s flair, taste and international contacts, that dealer offered to pay Leonard three times his present salary to work with him. He would also be rewarded with a commission for sales. He would also study at a prestigious college of gemology and travel throughout Europe, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina.
He arrived in Philadelphia with a bundle of antique jewelry on a Friday in 1964, before the Labor Day weekend. “Walking down Chestnut Street, what did I see buy a beautiful shop window with a rare rock formation spotlighted in the middle with a 20-carat star sapphire set in an interesting cluster of diamonds. All the room in the world with only one piece of jewelry pinpointed by a dazzling light – it was smashing!” says Prins. “So was the jewelry shop, F.J. Cooper. Its arched interior design had won awards for architecture and its jewelry brought wide acclaim for the owner, Douglas Cooper.”
Leonard was unaware that Cooper’s wife was Diene Pitcairn. He had known her at art school in Amsterdam when she lived in a mutual friend’s canal house on the Amstel. Soon they had a surprise and joyous reunion when Cooper invited him to dinner at his home. Before Labor Day weekend was over, Douglas Cooper had bought all of Leonard’s antique jewelry and offered him a top job. Planning to go international, Cooper had been looking for a talented jeweler to open new branches. “Douglas wanted to become the Faberge of The 20th Century,” Leonard relates, “and needed someone to take over the day-to-day details. In the next three years, I had opened branches in Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Amsterdam, plus being trouble-shooter for the Philadelphia shop as well. I was plunged into international high society but had no time for a social life of my own. So in 1971, with the backing of an ardent customer, Mrs. Volkhardt, I decided to open my own business. In May, 1972, I moved into my present location in Spread Eagle Village, and raised the Prins & Volkhardt flag.”
Location was everything to Prins. He wanted to be near the most fashionable place to eat on the Philadelphia Main Line: Helen Sigel Wilson’s L’Auberge. He had seen Cooper’s clientele follow a pattern – from Main Line to the Orchestra, head for shopping Nan Duskin, lunch at Helen Sigel’s and stop by F.J. Cooper in transit. So when Sigel moved to her swank new restaurant in Strafford’s exclusive Spread Eagle Village (now the Shops of Eagle Village), he followed and set up shop close by.
Before he officially opened, a wealthy industrialist dropped in and bought a $4000 bracelet his wife had admired in the display window. From then on, whenever their family wanted very special jewels, they came to Mr. Prins rather than going to their former jeweler in New York or Palm Beach.
Prins says, “Philadelphia is so close to New York, we have a problem. Our customers love what they have in Manhattan…at Cartier, say, or Bulgari, but hate to pay New York prices. We have the quality they see in New York, but due to low overhead, we give better prices and service. Too, we have their complete trust, know their taste, where they’ll wear what. For 45 years, we have become sort of a Fifth Avenue jeweler for elite families of Wilmington and the Main Line.” Sons Henri and Andrew continue the tradition: Henri, based in Arizona, supplies jewels to the retail trade, and Andrew, in St. Thomas, is a certified gemologist. It’s been a long road from the Prins plantation in Java to his country home in Chester Springs, but to Prins-the-jeweler it’s been a gem of a journey.
Antique Indian Coral Necklace (Top Left)
Handmade necklace inlayed with diamonds
Calcite and Diamond Pendant Necklace (Bottom Left)
Calcite Beaded Necklace(Right)
Australian Andamooka Opal Pendant
26Kt Opal inlayed in platinum and diamond