David Yurman, Dream Catcher

Among American jewelers, the name of David Yurman stands out for its uniqueness. His first success was Dante, a sculptural necklace he offered to his partner, and now wife, Sybil. The success of that piece opened up the doors to a world he knew little about. Thanks to his artist wife, Yurman takes off. A dreamer, he imagines a second piece, a twisted bracelet that will be become iconic. The Cable bracelet remains a constant source of inspiration for him, just like the exceptional stones that fascinate him so and make him travel the world with his son, Evan. 40 years later, the master of casual luxury has lost nothing of his sense of wonder and respect for the exceptional work of his craftsmen. 

—By Stéphane Le Duc

What inspired you to become interested in art? How did it become a passion of yours? When I was ten years old, I found a book in the library. My dyslexia made reading difficult, but this book was full of pictures of cave paintings from Lascaux. I took it home and studied those paintings. There was beauty and emotion in the lines, and I thought if cavemen can do this, so can I. I never could bring myself to return that book. It taught me that words were not the only way to communicate. There was a visual language that I instinctively understood, and it gave me a way to express my feelings. Later, when I was fifteen, this feeling became a passion when I met the sculptor Ernesto Gonzales. He put a torch in my hand, and I learned direct welding. From that moment, I knew I would be an artist.

Do you find that art and drawing continue to be a significant part of your business/life? For me, art, drawing, and sculpture inform jewelry in every way. There is no separation. Jewelry obviously has to fit on the body. Jewelry is a business but making it and creating it comes out of the same pool. It’s the same river. What we are doing is fusing art, fashion, fine jewelry, design, and commerce. A constant companion is my Moleskin sketchbook that I keep in my pocket to record what inspires me daily.

I sense that you are a man of passion. In the early days, were you creating jewelry with your wife in mind? In the late 60s, I’m welding, and Sybil’s painting, and we’re having a good time—life is art. I made a necklace out of welded bronze with little sculptural figures as a gift for Sybil. I called it Dante, because when I worked with Jacques Lipchitz, sculpture was all about allegorical moments. As I was making it, I kept wondering, will Sybil like it? She thought it was beautiful and wore it to a gallery on Madison Avenue. The gallery owner asked Sybil where she got it and Sybil said that I had made it. The gallerist asked if it was for sale. Simultaneously, I said ‘no’ and Sybil said ‘yes!’ Sybil took off the necklace and left it with the dealer. Within a few hours, four necklaces sold. And that was the beginning of our business.

What has Sybil brought to your designs? To your creativity? From the beginning, as a painter and a sculptor, Sybil and I responded to each other’s creative ideas. We work and collaborate together every day. I credit Sybil with bringing much of the beautiful color to our collections. Her works are lyrical with elemental forms expressed with a poet’s subtle color palette. I realized we didn’t have to separate the worlds of form and color, sculpture and painting—they merged in jewelry.

What was the inspiration behind the famous Crossover collection? Crossover is about the rhythmic weaving of line to create form and movement—the integration of one form into another. Sybil and I collaborate on everything—that collaboration and synergy is in all our designs, especially Crossover. These pieces really reflect the unity and integration of our creative partnership.

You also have a passion for stones, what characteristics do you envision in a perfect stone? Gemstones speak to us—we frame their natural beauty in our designs. Each stone is unique in its own way, no two are the same. My son, Evan, and I travel the world to find exceptional gemstones. We keep them until the right inspiration takes hold. When the perfect moment presents itself, we work together to create designs that highlight the stone’s beauty.

Seeing as you and Evan hunt for stones for high jewellery, how does nature resonate with you and your design process? During my early years as an artist, teachers would say, “Look to nature for inspiration!” It didn’t fully resonate with me until I was on a trail ride to decompress. I realized it wasn’t looking at nature but being in nature, and what I experienced there, that became a source of inspiration. When Evan and I look for stones, we are searching for something that evokes a feeling. We don’t know how we will use what we find, but that emotional connection to something, whether it’s because of its beauty or the idea it encompasses, is what gives it meaning and value to us.

What qualities of the Cable bracelets do you believe people love most? What has made these pieces become a success? Over the years, since we made the first Cable bracelet, the Cable motif has been used in so many of our pieces—it symbolizes our company and is the river that runs through all our collections. We continue to evolve our use of Cable, so that it maintains a sense of modernity while remaining a timeless form that we have used for almost 40 years. Even through reinvention, it remains our most identifiable design—both classic and contemporary.

Renaissance is one of your collections. Is this a period in time you feel a connection to? I’ve always been fascinated by that time—my interest in ancient jewelry really became the means to make these historical forms contemporary. Cable is a universal form that can be found throughout most cultures. The jewelry and architecture of ancient Greeks, Scythians, Celts and Renaissance Italians relied on twisted linear motifs. I was captivated by the antique torques at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, so when I created the first Cable bracelet in the early 1980s, we named the collection “Renaissance.”

“WE ARE CONSTANTLY INNOVATING BOTH IN TERMS OF THE ENGINEERING PROCESSES AND MATERIALS USED TO CREATE OUR PIECES, AS WELL AS CREATING COLLECTIONS THAT FEEL NEW AND SURPRISING.”

You have always been very innovative with your designs. What inspires you to design innovatively and is this an important part of the design process? We are constantly innovating both in terms of the engineering processes and materials used to create our pieces, as well as creating collections that feel new and surprising. We are lucky to have our own workshop at our offices in Tribeca. There, we work very closely with 30 master craftsmen. We are continually exploring a range of new technologies including 3D printing, CAD and laser welding. My artistic education was not traditional—largely through apprenticeships—so this direct access to the creative process and being able to feel and see the pieces at every step of the way is an important part of making jewelry to me.

You work with your son, Evan. How is your working relationship? The reality is that it is a family company. You cannot imagine how essential that is. We collaborate on everything: design, marketing, distribution. It’s like, together, we make one smart person. Evan, Sybil and I work together—everyone in our family is involved in the final process and final product.

I discovered your amazing archives on a recent trip to NYC. How do you speak to your early work? As Sybil, my wife, partner, co-designer and fellow artist, once said when visiting our archive, “These sculptures are the heart and soul of our designs.” Our company is first and foremost an artistic endeavor; art is about expressing a feeling and having that feeling resonate with someone. We approach everything we do as artists and each piece must have an emotional component or we just don’t make it. Our collections and designs continue to relate to one another over time as they evolve. The archive serves as a reference to the continuum of the work.

Written on: December 11, 2020