Artistry lies at the heart of the David Yurman jewellery brand. But so, rather sweetly, does love.
One of the nicest things about interviewing David Yurman is how often he turns the conversation back to his wife, Sybil. When we discuss the brand’s new Stax collection, and the general trend of stacking jewellery, he says: “We’ve been stacking jewellery since the mid-1970s. It’s really how Sybil was wearing it; she’d just be throwing things on.” And when we talk about how objects can be imbued with emotion: “When I leave on trips, I usually take a scarf of Sybil’s. I go on horseback-riding trips and everyone else wears their red gingham handkerchiefs – I wear Sybil’s. It’s silk and has her fragrance on it. The cowboys all laugh at me.”
I meet the duo, who have been together for 46 years and jointly founded the David Yurman jewellery company in 1980, in Dubai, where they are celebrating the long-awaited debut of the brand in the UAE. I quickly learn that the story of their relationship is inseparable from the story of their brand.
The company was born from jewellery that David crafted specifically for Sybil, his then girlfriend. Sybil reportedly wore one of these pieces to the opening of an art gallery. The gallery owner promptly fell in love with it and asked if it was for sale. David said no; Sybil said yes. She took the necklace off there and then, and left it at the gallery. Within a few hours, it (and four others) had been sold.
Nearly four decades later and David Yurman is one of the leading jewellery brands in the United States, and a celebrity-favourite worn by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga and Leonardo di Caprio. And it is now – finally – available at pop-up stores in Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols - Dubai.
Art has always been the cornerstone of the brand. Sybil is a painter, David a sculptor, and this informs all their creations. But while the pieces they design are highly sculptural, they are also extremely accessible and very wearable.
“Jewellery is an expression of a feeling, but it also has to feel good on the body. Your earring shouldn’t be pulling at your ear. Your ring, if you wear it every day, shouldn’t be catching on your pocket. It’s all those details,” says David.
“I think David’s background as an artist really allows him to understand the human form,” Sybil adds.
“I don’t take these things for granted – maybe because I didn’t have any jewellery training,” David responds. “I’m more about it referencing something that touches me, and that it should feel good and you can wear it every day. It should be your go-to piece.”
The idea of wearability is reflective of a wider shift in how women perceive jewellery, the Yurmans suggest. “The biggest change we’ve seen, and I think we were somewhat instrumental in this, is this whole movement for women to have choice,” says David. “There has obviously been a move since the 1950s for women to have equal rights and equal choice. And you might say, why would jewellery play into this? But even in the US, the liberated woman would traditionally not buy herself a piece of jewellery that was over US$500 [Dh1,835] without her husband’s approval. Now that ceiling has been raised much higher. And I think luxury jewellery has become more of a democratic purchase. She can accessorise herself with luxury – it doesn’t have to be costume jewellery. We offer this very relaxed American luxury; luxury that you can wear every day.”
The collection is brimming with such pieces. There are the classics – first and foremost, the iconic Cable bracelet, which was launched in 1983 and has become the brand’s signature. An obvious manifestation of David’s fascination with historical jewellery, Cable offers a variation on a universal form that can be found in the decorative arts of the ancient Greeks, Celts and Renaissance Italians, who all experimented with twisted linear patterns.
The Cable motif has become a recurring element in the Yurman repertoire, appearing on the inside of rings and the back of pendants, as the setting for gemstones or in the form of a subtle clasp. “Cable is the river than runs through everything I do,” David has said.
Other David Yurman stalwarts include the gem-encrusted Signature Pinky Rings – a modern play on an old classic – and the Starburst collection, which was first envisaged as the couple watched a fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower. That romantic moment is translated into mini explosions of multicoloured gems.
More recent creations show the brand’s eagerness to experiment with new materials. The Forged Carbon collection for men is engineered using carbon-fibre strands and resin, forged under high pressure and heat to create a unique brushed effect. “We are always involved in technology and bringing that modern technology to enhance the quality of the work we do,” says Sybil.
“It’s about exploration,” David adds.
The idea of artistry extends beyond the jewellery to the brand’s iconic marketing campaigns which, from 2001 to 2015, were all shot by German photographer and director Peter Lindbergh. Lindbergh, who is widely credited with kick-starting the careers of the original supermodels Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington, created a series of advertisements for the brand, all shot in black and white, and featuring supermodels such as Kate Moss.
Striking as they undoubtedly are, black and white seems like a bold choice for a jewellery brand, I venture. “It had to do with the concept of portraiture and the beauty of what some of the classic photographers had done,” Sybil explains. “Me being trained as a photographer in black and white lent itself to that preference as well. What we were conveying was not the individual piece of jewellery, but the style of how to wear your jewellery. It was a lifestyle. We didn’t need to do it in colour in order to convey that.”
Autumn 2015 marked a break from that tradition, with a colour campaign featuring Anna Ewers. “I think we just wanted a change,” says Sybil. “Some destruction.”
To hear David and Sybil talk is to realise that no one is more surprised about their success than they are. It all seems like something of a happy accident, I suggest. “I wouldn’t use the word happy,” David says jokingly. “It was so not planned. It was one step after the next. It was just the joy of making things and of both of us working together.”
“As David always says, be careful what you wish for,” Sybil interjects, with a laugh.
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, November 3.