Oscar Heyman & Brothers
Oscar Heyman & Brothers (Est. 1912 – ) Now run by the second and third generations of the Heyman family, third generation member, Tom Heyman defines a classic Heyman piece as having the following attributes, “It effuses quality, workmanship, details … [and is] a special piece.” Over the years, Oscar Heyman has come to be known in the trade as, ‘the jeweler’s jeweler.”
When the firm opened in America in 1912, there were three brothers, Nathan, Oscar and Harry who were later joined by other family members, Lena, William, Louis, Frances and George.
The family’s history relates that Nathan, Oscar, and Harry left Ukraine in 1906. Nathan was drafted into the Russian army resulting in the brothers becoming part of a group of immigrant-artisans to head for America. In their early years, Nathan and Oscar had trained in the demanding workshops of Fabergé through apprenticeships they served with their uncle who operated one. It was their last stop before leaving Eastern Europe for New York.
Fabergé’s history began in the mid-1800s crafting jeweled eggs and other jewelry pieces for the czars and royalty of the day. Fabergé installed stringent quality control and craftsmanship standards for their jewelers, traits the Heyman brothers took America. In addition to their uniquely honed skills, they also brought a passion for gemstones and an old world approach to customer service.
The Heyman brothers were proficient in working with platinum then an emerging new precious metal. Upon arriving in America, the brothers’ contemporary American counterparts had little experience working with in this medium. Their expertise with platinum made the brothers instantly employable. Oscar was hired at Cartier’s first New York workshop in 1909. He was the first non-French bench jeweler to work there.
Given their history with Fabergé, innate artisanship, and a leg up working with all precious metals, the Heyman brothers quickly worked their way up the ranks of the premiere design houses including Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Marcus & Co.
Centered on Maiden Lane in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Lower Manhattan’s jewelry district became the hub of soon-to-be famous jewelry houses with Heyman Brothers as an integral part of this creativity. Most jewelry historians credit the Oscar Heyman Company’s history as a chronicle of the birth of fine jewelry making in America and a rich resource of what it takes to create these items.
The firm first gained special attention in the 1920’s. Since then, it has been the self-proclaimed jeweler’s jeweler, producing pieces for, among others, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, J.E. Caldwell, and Shreve, Crump & Low. It also retails some of its own merchandise.
Heyman is reputedly the first American firm to master the invisible setting first introduced to the United States by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1936.
Known for their floral-motif pieces, Oscar Heyman won gold medals at New York’s World Fair in 1939 for its celebrated collection of gardenia, pansy and orchid brooches that were deemed Best of Show and continue to be in demand today.
The firm was also entrusted with important commissions. In 1969, Cartier asked Oscar Heyman to design and produce a setting for the Taylor-Burton diamond, a task that the firm successfully completed with great fanfare. Today Heyman continues to produce lovely pieces, specializing in platinum jewelry with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. The workshop creates their own tools and the firm holds various patents for manufacturing techniques.
Excellence in design is as essential to an Oscar Heyman & Brothers piece as is their execution of it. Each era in the firm’s history has been marked by prominent pieces fashioned at the time. Oscar Heyman is known to have said that “jewelry should never be a candidate for redesign but should transcend time like a fine painting, never losing its appeal.”
Between 1916 and 1942, the firm gained seven patents including the secure invisible bracelet clasp, the security pin for double-clip brooches, and became the nearly exclusive American supplier of invisibly set jewels for Van Cleef & Arpels.
One of the Heyman Brothers first in-house designs that set them apart from other luxury jewelry designers of the day was the Entourage Ring. Pioneered in the 1920s, the ring’s design was as simple as it was elegant. Each ring was set with a colored stone of superb quality, and surrounded by oval diamonds. To this day, more than a century later, these rings are fashioned exactly the same way.
Other defining designs for the Heyman Brothers include their penchant for flower pendants. Artfully and exactingly crafted, they capture the essence of the flowers they depict without any scent.
The Heyman Brothers also specialize in their use of diamonds. They became well known for creating large diamond necklaces, working with large fine single diamonds and creating necklaces of total carat weights that are the stuff of red carpet legend.
Equally important, the first generation of Heyman brothers established quality control standards that still characterize the company. From their own workshop in New York, they alloy metals, cut gemstones, and have their own tool and die shop. Every piece of Oscar Heyman jewelry is meticulously crafted before it is signed and numbered as an Oscar Heyman piece of jewelry.
Notable pieces either created or crafted by the firm include an Art Deco diamond and sapphire bracelet, with 4.00 carats of diamonds and 1.00 carat of sapphires, set in platinum from around 1922 and a multi-color sapphire and marquise diamond necklace, with 34 natural unheated multi-color sapphires, estimated at 66.5 carats, and 34 marquise diamonds, estimated at 8.5 carats, on platinum, from about 1946.
Also revered is a platinum, sapphire and diamond bracelet, composed of square cut-corner and trapezoidal step-cut sapphires, joined by full-cut diamond bars and shaped links, from the 1950s.
It is important to note again that each era in the firm’s history is marked by prominent pieces fashioned for the time. The goal was to create enduring appeal and international style.
The Teens featured straight line bracelets (notably, the block bracelet); the 20’s brought bright precious stones; the 30’s introduced the casting process and flowered brooches (pansies, gardenias, orchids, lilies-of-the-valley, and roses).
In the 40’s there were rings designed with five rows of stones, as well as finely crafted “Victory” jewelry worn during World War II in support of the troops. During this time the company had to deal with a shortage of platinum, which was being used for the war effort. With eighty or ninety jewelers in the OHB shop, most of whom were working on the popular row rings, this made the reduction in platinum problematic and fewer of the rings were produced during this period.
In the 1950s, pastel sapphire jewelry was the company’s hallmark. The predominant work of the 60’s consisted of very large diamond necklaces, including the creation of the monumental receptacle that held the 69-plus carat stone that Richard Burton purchased for Elizabeth Taylor.
Many of the firm’s trademark pieces from each era are still being created, including a number of the patriotic designs that originated in 1941 such as the recognizable flag pins.
The status of the firm’s vintage jewelry becomes clear by the prices they command at auction, usually selling for higher than estimated. The cachet of a Heyman piece always commands a premium, whether a gardenia or pansy brooch from a century ago or modern pieces of the same design. This continuum of successful form is a testament to the creative skills that have been passed down from father to son so the techniques are never lost.
In the early 21st Century, there was still no official reference book to document Heyman Brothers’ illustrious history. In 2014, however, that was rectified when Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, a world-class museum, as well as one of only a few in America with its own jewelry curator, decided to look for an area of the jewelry world that had received little or no scholarly attention.
The Oscar Heyman project began in 2007 when the museum and one of its longtime supporters approached the company with the idea of the book. When the recession hit, the company shelved the project idea until it was ready to regroup and reinitiate it which took place about 2012.
From that point forward, a researcher in New York City spent about three days a week poring over the company’s archives, while another in Hollywood combed through old movies to dig up facts like Lana Turner wearing $1 million worth of Oscar Heyman jewelry in 1959’s movie remake of “Imitation of Life.” The project remains in the works and a book may be released sometime in 2016.
During the book’s planning, the firm persuaded private collectors and dealers to loan pieces for the book’s photography. The firm reached out to clients and expected to get about 60 pieces but were loaned many more.
Among the sidebars collected in the course of the project it’s interesting to note that all the collected pieces received could be traced to the sketches Heyman still retains. There are sketches for each one, in all likelihood, because Heyman’s office and workshop, where all their jewelry is made, has never endured fire or flood, effectively safeguarding sketches of every single piece ever made — 175,000 in all.
Located in New York at 642 Fifth Avenue, members of the 2nd and 3rd generation work side by side with dedicated and skilled employees who continue to create pieces of the highest standards for connoisseurs of 21st Century jewelry.
For more than 100 years, Oscar Heyman & Brothers has sat almost anonymously at the helm of jewelry royalty. While their name is not well-known outside of professional circles, their pieces have been commissioned by the most elite jewelers in the world.
Known for their superb craftsmanship, exquisite stones, and peerless design, the company has not sought the limelight of their industry and left the glory to their clients, firms that also include Shreve, Crump & Low; and Bailey Banks and Biddle.
Oscar Heyman balances its rich history with a modern point of view and appeals to glamorous women of all ages with a style that is eternal.