2016 marks the 104th anniversary of one of the jewelry industry's pre-eminent designers: Oscar Heyman — a name that may not be well known outside of professional circles, but hailed by the great retail jewelry houses for whom Oscar Heyman & Brothers designed exquisitely beautiful and ingenious pieces in styles that are eternal. Known as "The Jeweler's Jeweler," Heyman was commissioned by such illustrious houses as Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co., Shreve, Crump and Low, and Harry Winston, as well as for the design and creation of the legendary pear-shaped 69.42- carat Taylor-Burton diamond necklace commissioned by Cartier.
Satisfied with staying in the background from the jewelry buying public, Oscar Heyman & Brothers prided themselves with ensuring their crème de la crème jewelry house clients with excellence on par with the greatest European jewelry designers and manufacturers. "Heyman jewels — in which even the smallest detail was afforded the greatest attention — were not signed by Heyman & Brothers but by the major jewelry houses that commissioned them," says Joan Boening of James Robinson. "Years ago we had a spectacular, one-of-a-kind bracelet that we did not know was a Heyman piece until one of the original Heyman brothers visited us and pointed out, "I made that bracelet." He remembered every detail from the sketch to its final polishing."
To this day, the company maintains their own tool-and-die shop, alloy their own platinum and gold, cut and polish their gemstones and shepherds each piece from inception through completion.
Oscar Heyman and his brother Nathan arrived in the U.S. in 1906 from their native Latvia where they apprenticed for Fabergé (the royal jeweler for the Russian Imperial Court) and trained in using platinum, a relatively rare metal at the time. Recognizing Oscar's inordinate skill, Pierre Cartier hired him as one of his first jewelers, and the only non-French-speaking employee, at Cartier's New York branch. In 1912, Oscar (then 24) with brothers Nathan and Harry formed Oscar Heyman & Brothers. The brothers — who later were joined by siblings William, Louis and George — had been trained to produce jewelry of the highest technical caliber to meet the exacting standards of Fabergé. Their unparalleled skill advanced the business quickly while garnering it praise, success and a sterling reputation. Their inventions resulted in seven patents, three of which were for the invisible clasp, the invisible setting, and for the idea of an extra pin to hold together two clips when worn as a brooch.
During the 1930s, Oscar Heyman & Brothers produced various designs including what would become their signature floral brooches — of a gardenia, pansy, rose, orchid or lily of the valley. By 1936 nearly all the invisibly set jewelry made in the U.S. by Van Cleef and Arpels was made by Oscar Heyman & Brothers. In the 1940s, Heyman designed the five-row ring consisting of a row of round diamonds stacked with baguettes of emeralds, rubies or sapphires; in the '50s, the company's hallmark was sapphire jewelry. The 1960s were dominated by Heyman's designs for very large diamond settings including the commission (by Cartier) of the spectacular mount and necklace for the 69-plus-carat, D-color, flawless Taylor-Burton diamond purchased by Richard Burton in 1969 for $1.1 million. (Taylor sold the diamond in 1978 for $5 million with part of the proceeds dedicated towards building a hospital in Botswana.)
Many Oscar Heyman & Brothers trademark pieces from all of the firm's eras are still being created today — whether it be the design of their 1920s straight-line diamond bracelet or a pansy brooch first created in the '30s. Their modern pieces, as well as Heyman's vintage jewels, always command a premium, if not by the public, but from the dealer trade that recognizes quality. Each piece of jewelry is the result of flawless design, excellent craftsmanship and impeccable matching and setting of stones in the finest metals with the result of a consummate piece that will never be a candidate for redesign.