Legendary jewelry designer David Yurman has been creating chic designs for nearly 40 years. After starting out as a sculptor, Yurman quickly began producing wearable art, and over the years, his classic-with-a-twist designs have garnered him legions of fans. His iconic Cable Bracelet, first created in 1983, has been produced in numerous iterations, from elegantly minimal to heavily embellished, and has become recognized as his signature motif.
Along with his wife and partner, Sybil, and their son, Evan, who is chief creative officer, Yurman continues to expand the brand, gaining a new generation of clients as he goes.
I caught up with Yurman at his newly opened boutique in Chicago, to talk about his creative process and a few of his favorite things.
This is an edited transcript.
Q: You started out in 1980. What is the secret of your brand’s success?
A: I think that the reasons are still the same. We’re a craft-art-founded company. We’re not a fashion brand, although, if you’re living in this moment, you can’t not be touched by fashion.
Q: How did you make the change from being a sculptor to being a jewelry designer? With fine art, isn’t there more freedom to do what you want?
A: I thought so, too, but the reality is there’s no total freedom anywhere. As Bob Dylan said, “We all have to answer to someone.’’ I was in high school, and I was making (bronze) sculptures. They were all small, figurative pieces. I sculpted halfway through the alphabet of hand signing. I had all these little hands around, so I put loops on them, got leather laces and sold them in the cafeteria for $5.
Q: What’s the brand’s aesthetic?
A: It’s rooted in a classicism. (The jewelry is) kind of relaxed; it’s not fussy. There are sculptural lines. I think what signifies my jewelry more than anything is a sense of balance and proportion.
I came up through nine years of apprenticing. I worked with (sculptor) Jacques Lipchitz — classic, classic training — (and) Theodore Roszak, who was very disciplined. I needed discipline, I was a little wild, but I was fine with discipline as long as I liked the subject.
Q: How do you keep the brand fresh?
A: I think there’s a lot of dynamic conflict in the company that I allow. Sybil is an editor, and she’s the brand watchdog.
Q: Is designing minimal pieces like your Continuance necklace more difficult than designing more elaborate pieces?
A: With Continuance, we did seven iterations that I know of until we got it. It’s an asymmetric twist with a loop. Those (more elaborate designs) are easier — you can hide more there. This one’s unclothed; it’s just the rhythm of it.
Q: Your new Chicago boutique devoted a large space to men’s jewelry. Men can be funny about wearing jewelry. Is it difficult building a men’s audience?
A: I think so. But it’s so rich — they’re out there. The men’s line is very masculine. The men’s line has a higher attention to detail than the women’s line. They go back and hand-finish so many pieces. They’re all hand-engraved. My approach (to the men’s line) is give it to my son and let him design it. He’s been doing it for nine years.
Q: What music do you listen to at work?
A: To get in my own zone, I’ve been listening to Charlie Musselwhite. Lately, I’ve been listing to a lot of Sonny Boy Williamson — a lot of harmonica. Then I’ll listen to Pablo Casals if I’m drawing, or the Rolling Stones if I need a break.
Q: If you weren’t a jeweler, what would you be doing?
A: Neurobiology. Biophysics. I think it’s a little more, you know, life-saving, and it’s really interesting. Understanding how a jellyfish actually responds — and can we learn something from the world around us.
Q: What’s the most important lesson that this journey has taught you
A: Be careful of what you wish for; you may get it. What do you do with it now?
A few of David Yurman’s favorite things:
Item I can always be found with: Pilot razor pen
Painter: Cy Twombly
Sculptor: Jacques Lipchitz
Reading: Western Horseman magazine
Way to relax: I don’t
Destination to get inspired: It’s between the Western wilderness — Montana, Wyoming — and small Italian towns.
Style icon: Bruce Willis. I think he’s underrated.
Indulgence: Reining. Riding Western horses.
Article Provided By: Chicago Tribune