José Hess (???? – ) In a presentation by Cindy Edelstein to the GIA Symposium held in San Diego in June 1999, Edelstein named José Hess and his colleague Henry Dunay as trailblazers in the designer jewelry business.
Before he became a renowned jewelry designer, José worked in his family’s bakery and restaurant. When he finally found work in a jewelry factory, his first job put him behind a broom handle rather than at a workbench.
Over time, he became knowledgeable enough to be appointed as an apprentice where he learned to make plate, draw wire, melt gold, and hand-make settings. At first, Hess saw these processes as drudgery. He later realized their importance when he associated the tasks with the creativity that goes into jewelry creation.
After a number of years of informal study, apprenticeship and formal schooling, Hess began to work for David Webb. It was here that he fine-tuned his training and broke from standard jewelry design. When he finally established his own jewelry company, Hess’ designs initially did not receive much credit from retailers.
In spite of winning numerous awards, retailers were hesitant to use the name of a fairly new designer, and so Hess hid his name behind the business name, Flair Craft, hoping that would give him credibility. When his colleague Henry Dunay opened his business’s doors, under his own name, he met with some resistance and even a little outrage.
Nevertheless, branding became the major focus of an artisan’s initial foray into becoming a recognized and independent jewelry designer. According to Edelstein, “… Dunay and Hess [paved] the way for countless designers to come. Until then the jewelry industry was steeped in tradition and design status quo. Fine design on an accessible level was more along the lines of gold circle pins, a simple strand of pearls and perhaps a gold circle pin with pearls on it.
“While movie stars and society dames could afford the brilliant work of Schlumberger, David Webb, Harry Winston and Van Cleef, there wasn’t much available to the middle class that didn’t look, well, middle class. For style and the chance to make a more personal statement there was only costume and fashion jewelry. Or at best, silver jewelry by the likes of Georg Jensen and his fellow modernists.
“But [for] fine jewelry that would make a lasting statement about the wearer’s style and sensibilities, there were not many options beyond princess rings, bangle bracelets and love beads.”
Hess’ design philosophy changed over the years. While he was always interested in working with diamonds, his early pieces were big, with plenty of diamonds and ultimately largely unaffordable to most consumers. As the stones were large, the pieces were also best suited for occasional wear.
Over time, Hess’ jewelry became smaller and the quantity of diamonds decreased. His pieces now became anytime jewelry which was as suitable for formal occasions as for casual wear. Occasionally, Hess used pearls or colored gems. By and large, though, he stayed faithful to diamonds.
In 1988, José Hess and Henry Dunay were among the eight well known American jewelry designers who established The American Jewelry Design Council. The main objectives of the Council are to raise awareness of original jewelry as an art, to educate and encourage an appreciation of original jewelry, to exchange ideas and knowledge, to establish a set of standards for excellence, and to promote an artistic identity of jewelry to the public’s perception.
In 2009, JCK reported that Jose Hess signed an agreement with the LA VIE Group, TLVG, Inc. Hess was designated to “lead direction and design for special projects to create Jose Hess signature collections that will be manufactured, marketed, and distributed exclusively by The LA VIE Group.” Hess joined TLVG’s award-winning designers including Alan Friedman, Astrik, Daniel C and LAMONT.
Hess is the winner of numerous jewelry design award competitions including the prestigious DeBeers Diamonds International award. Hess is frequently recognized and his jewelry prominently featured in W, In Style, Mirabella, Town & Country, Vogue, and a variety of other magazines. Pieces from Hess’ collections are often seen on the Hollywood circuit worn by celebrities such as Demi Moore, Cindy Crawford, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Candy Spelling.
Hess’ expertise has also been noted by a variety of trade organizations. He was chosen as the first American president of the CIBJO (Confederation Internationale De La Bijouterie, Joaillerie, Orfevrerie, Des Diamants, Perles Et Pierres.) CIBJO is an international trade association whose mission is to establish uniform standards for the jewelry industry worldwide. Hess is a past president of the 24 Karat Club of New York City, the Manufacturing Jewelers and Silversmiths of America, and the Plumb Club.
Mentor and educator, Hess has taught model making at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and often addresses student groups on goldsmithing and jewelry design. A leader and active proponent of American jewelry design, Hess continues to offer popular branded collections.
Today, Jose Hess, concentrates on working with emerging designers and also teaching jewelry design at the Fashion Institute. He works as a consultant to jewelry companies in the United States and abroad to help them improve their design and manufacturing methods, and designs collections of jewelry featured on TV and the internet with Jose doing the presentations live.
“My design concept is the combination of elegance and simplicity with a futuristic approach. The main ingredients are logic, harmony, and sentiment” – Jose Hess