He designed his first piece of jewelry at sixteen as a student at Great Neck High School in New York. “I made a series of bronze hands,” Yurman now recalls. “I made them to show my father: hands are the most difficult part of the body to draw, so I thought, if I could sculpt them, he would see that I was serious about art.”
Yurman studied and apprenticed with a sculptor in “a basement studio in Greenwich Village” and eventually launched his own career in fine art. Art, jewelry and love combined when he met a talented painter named Sybil. He began making jewelry as gifts for her—private tokens for his new girlfriend. When Sybil wore one of the pieces to an art reception, the gallery owner fell in love with it and asked if it was for sale. Suddenly, sculptor David Yurman was in the jewelry business.
“I knew it would be easier to sell sculpture as jewelry: something small and precious,” says Yurman. “It was the height of the craft revival movement and, initially, I sold pieces at crafts shows. I started working with picture jasper, carnelian, turquoise—unusual, pictorial stones. The more I learned about stones, the more fascinated I became with them. Once I began setting stones in metal, I was fully committed to jewelry.”
He was also fully committed to Sybil. The couple has been married for 35 years, and she remains his inspiration. “My wife is my muse,” he says. “She wears a lot of jewelry and enjoys playing with it. She is a natural stylist.” In 1980, they launched the David Yurman jewelry company. Combining his sculptor’s eye for shape, form and dimension with Sybil’s painterly sense of color, David Yurman’s jewelry for men and women has entered the fashion vernacular. It expresses a certain relaxed American elegance that makes it suitable for every occasion—from blue jeans to black tie. Its easy-going wearability contributes to its worldwide popularity.
Yurman’s signature creation is the cable bracelet: a torqued helix of sterling silver, capped with gold and gemstones at its finial ends. It is iconic—one of the most popular and recognizable designs in contemporary American jewelry—and its braided cable motif appears in Yurman’s rings, bangle bracelets, infinity pendants and even engagement rings.
“My use of the cable design is very sculptural,” says Yurman. “The helix gives it a very strong, powerful feeling. Adding stones at each end gives it a Viking or a Celtic influence. There’s a great sense of history and permanence to the design.”
Ultimately, his goal is to design jewelry that has meaning for the people who buy and wear it. “It can be a remembrance, a connection to family or a connection to fashion. It’s a wonderful way to present yourself to the world,” he says. “Jewelry is an amulet,” he continues. “It gives you a personal satisfaction to have an object of beauty that you can wear.”
Photos Courtesy of David Yurman.