How Oscar Heyman became the Jewelers’ Jeweler

Full disclosure I have been waiting for this book, Oscar Heyman The Jewelers’ Jeweler, to be released for almost 3 years. I follow JCK news frequently and on July 15, 2014. This story by Jennifer Heebner showed up.

I clicked on the link immediately! There was the editor detailing how this book about the over 100-year-old jewelry company was being worked on by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The main point I wanted to know was the release date, which was estimated around 2015 or 2016. Well that was pushed out, but I waited and waited. Then on February 3rd, 2017 I received an email from the Museum of Fine Arts about the book’s release on April 1st.

April 1, 2017, arrived and I called the MFA to confirm they had this book. The weather in Boston on April 1st was terrible with snow, wind and rain, a good joke for New Englanders’ thinking winter was behind them. Once I knew the book was ready to buy I made my journey, by public transportation no less, to the museum. Why go on the worst day when I could wait for a sunnier day the next? I wanted this book and the wait had been long enough. Amazon was even behind, not releasing it until the next week.

So what got me to this point? What is it that drew me to Oscar Heyman’s jewelry? It wasn’t the jewelry that got me curious about this company it was their reputation and their story.

The Beginnings

In 1901 the Heyman family sent two of their sons, Oscar and his older brother Nathan to train to be jewelers in the Ukraine. They were living in the Russian controlled area of Latvia at the time. These young apprentices manufactured jewelry and other objects for international clients and the House of Peter Carl Faberge. I had previously seen this reference to Faberge in literature about the Oscar Heyman & Brothers Company. This is what caught my eye and had me research and follow this firm for many years now.

I have written some about Faberge. He is one of my (if not my) favorite designer! My goal is to own a small item manufactured by Peter Carl Faberge’s company. It does not matter what it is, because whatever I buy will be of the best quality.  That is what made Faberge’s company so wonderful every piece no matter the size or value had to be consistent in quality. Everyone that worked for him or represented his company had to meet his high standards.

From what I have seen and learned about the Oscar Heyman Company on my own and through this book is that they have several aspects of their company that parallel Faberge’s. One being their craftsmanship and the second, relationships.

 

Craftsmanship

I see a lot of jewelry at auctions, stores, designer open houses, etc. and the over used phrase of, ‘That is so beautiful!’, is frequently heard at these events. But there must be more than beauty to make a piece of jewelry be looked at as an object of art and desire. The jewelry needs a soul.

A story I have highlighting the character of an Oscar Heyman piece, is from a Christie’s online auction preview I went to last year.  I was going through the cases, starting at one end and working around, when I heard a Christie employee telling a woman that was trying on jewelry from the case about an Oscar Heyman ring that she identified. I tried to move inconspicuously towards the two. The woman telling the story continued telling how Christie’s received a group of jewelry to be cataloged for this auction and as she was going through the jewelry, a ring stood out to her as being something that looked like it was by Oscar Heyman. There was no stamp of the designer but the worker wanted to just see if it might be one of theirs. Pictures and details of the piece were sent to the Heyman office and sure enough Christie’s was contacted and told the ring was in the Heyman archives! Making it a total of three Oscar Heyman rings being offered at this auction! The woman trying on jewelry was no longer looking at the piece she was currently trying on but taking in this fun story of discovery. She quickly asked if the piece she had on was the ring. Her ring was of a gold alligator that wrapped around her figure, most likely a Kieselstein-Cord ring, definitely not an Oscar Heyman, the Christie’s worker confirmed that.  What was the ring you ask? Well the other onlooker wondered if she had picked it but did not ask about seeing the actual ring. I looked in the case and saw three rings with a similar design, a large stone with smaller stones around it. One stood out and I had a feeling that was the ring. So I asked to see the Oscar Heyman ring and the employee picked the one I had my eye on! A yellow diamond in the center with smaller alternating yellow and white diamonds around it. What stood out to me? The setting. The stones were layered and seemed to sit a little higher than the other similarly designed rings. Picture below:

So that was one down. I spotted the second one, a ruby that was in a case by itself.

 

Had to try it on!

The third one I had to ask. This sapphire and diamond ring was in another case, two out of three is not bad!

Not every quality piece I have seen is from Oscar Heyman, but every Oscar Heyman is a quality piece.

 

Relationships

Another aspect that the book touches on is relationships the company has with their employees and retailers.

Company loyalty can be hard to find. Even when you do find a stable job the conditions can be hard to be happy in. So, it was refreshing to hear a story about how the Oscar Heyman employees handled the 25th anniversary of the company. Oscar Heyman and his brother came over to America in 1906 and founded their company in 1912. The 25th anniversary took place in 1937, a time when the country was struggling with troubling economic hardships. The day was to be like any other but the employees wanted to mark the occasion. For the silver anniversary, the employees worked in secret for fourteen months to complete a clock to present to their employers. Picture below found from post by Couture Musings:

Around the globe are the letters O. Heyman & Bros each character marking an hour. The figure on the right is to represent a workbench jeweler. The figure on the left is the god Mercury, that represents commerce and financial gain. At the silver base are the names of all the current employees for that time. It was touching to read that story and to think how much those employees must have loved working for the company to do all this!

Faberge ran a workshop that also cared for their workers. The workers had good wages, excellent working facilities and even had the opportunity to manage small businesses within the company. Many pieces not only have the stamp of Faberge but the maker in charge of that object. It gave a sense of pride and ownership to the workers. Rare for a company to be so invested in their workers.

The retailers also had favorable comments about Oscar Heyman. Mr. Heyman passed away in 1970, the book notes that one retailer recalled during the Depression how Mr. Heyman granted his clients with the option of credit and the opportunity to sell the jewelry on consignment. This helped many businesses stay open as paying for those high-end pieces would have crippled their cash flow significantly, causing them to possibly go out of business.

These businesses were not just a few retailers Oscar Heyman’s business model is selling to stores not to consumers. Black, Starr & Frost, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels to name a few had Oscar Heyman & Bros manufacture jewelry to sell under their stores name. When going to auctions you can still find pieces marked as one retailer but were created by the Heyman Company.

Below is a bracelet that was clearly marked in the Sotheby’s catalog as being from Black, Starr & Frost but on Instagram Heyman shared it as one of the pieces they manufactured. In the book a similar bracelet is pictured and credited as Oscar Heyman. Details of this amazing piece at auction are taken by me below.

Looking Forward

The book spends its time focusing on Oscar Heyman’s business from 1912-1970. Ending their story with the passing away of Oscar Heyman on July 13, 1970.  A few paragraphs mark the centennial that the company celebrated 5 years ago but the focus on the book is the company through the years.

I genuinely enjoyed the book. I was a little concerned when I saw the page count, worrying it would be all photos and no real story, like a coffee table book. It would have been the easy way to make this book.  The thought of picking from hundreds of thousands of jewelry photos seems difficult but how could you go wrong with picking any piece, especially with all the rich history? This book was to show and explain why Oscar Heyman is the Jewelers’ Jeweler. This isn’t a title they claimed for themselves like a marketing campaign. The title has been given to them by the employees, retailers and customers who have been a part of their story. I look forward to continuing to see their jewelry at auctions, in stores and on social media for a new audience to appreciate.

Links to buy the book from Amazon are here or from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston click here

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