Oscar Heyman & Brothers, Inc.

501 Madison Avenue, 15th Floor
New York, New York 10022
U.S.A.
Telephone: (212) 593-0400
Toll Free: (800) 642-1912
Fax: (212) 759-8612
Web site: http://www.oscarheyman.com

Private Company
Founded:
1912
Employees: 100 (est.)
NAICS: 339910 Jewelry and Silverware Manufacturing

Headquartered in New York City, Oscar Heyman & Brothers, Inc., is one of the world's most prestigious jewelry manufacturers and is especially well regarded for its platinum settings. Known as the “jeweler's jeweler,” the company produces a wide range of fine jewelry, including necklaces, rings, bracelets, and brooches made from diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, and other precious stones. Heyman also makes custom-designed jewelry and maintains a comprehensive file of all the jewelry it has produced over its history, each of which is signed and numbered. Through much of its history, Heyman made private-label pieces for some of the world's best-known luxury jewelry houses, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, J.E. Caldwell, Neiman Marcus, and Shreve, Crump & Low. Many are collector's items, fetching high prices at Sotheby and Christie auctions. Heyman travels around the world to select precious stones by hand. It also cuts and polishes the stones, alloys its own metals, maintains a tool-and-die shop, and employs jewelers, setters, engravers, polishers, lapidaries, and other craftspeople. The company is owned and managed by the third generation of the Heyman family.

RUSSIAN ROOTS

The Heyman family's ties to jewelry reach back to Russia, where in 1901 the Latvian-born 13-year-old Oscar Heyman and his 16-year-old brother Nathan became apprentices at their uncle's jewelry store, which created pieces for the workshop of the famed Russian jeweler Carl Faberge. They learned how to work with platinum, the metal of choice for fine jewelry. They also learned how to make tools. After completing their training in 1905, the brothers returned home for the first time in five years. Although penniless and unable to speak a word of English, they immigrated to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Russian army, and as Jews they were likely concerned about the region's rising anti-Semitism.

COMPANY PERSPECTIVES

Since 1912, Oscar Heyman has been creating truly exquisite fine jewelry for truly exquisite women.

ESTABLISHING OSCAR HEYMAN & BROTHERS: 1912

In 1911 the three remaining Heyman brothers and three sisters left Latvia for New York. The following year Oscar Heyman struck out on his own to establish Oscar Heyman & Brothers with Nathan and Harry. In 1914 brother Louis became an apprentice to the firm. William also learned the craft at the company, as did George, who became a diamond setter and diamond sorter. Eventually, sisters Lena and Frances took administrative positions in the company.

Heyman initially worked out of a shop on Maiden Lane in Lower Manhattan, which was the heart of New York's jewelry district at the time. The company's skill with platinum secured work from major luxury jewelry houses. Heyman also made its mark as an innovator, securing several patents, due in large measure to Nathan Heyman's toolmaking skills. The company received its first patent in February 1916, which covered a method for linking parts with a hinge mechanism. As a result, bracelets and other pieces could be produced more quickly while also being more durable. In 1922 Heyman received a patent on a die-stamping that created box units with integral hinge components. By reducing production time and cost while at the same time providing extra strength, the machine revolutionized the production of bracelets, which until then had been entirely made by hand.

Heyman prospered during the economic boom of the 1920s, and in December 1928 the business was incorporated in the state of New York as Oscar Heyman & Brothers, Inc. The workshop ultimately employed about 120, but as the decade came to a close a stock market crash triggered the decade-long Great Depression. Although most of the workers were let go, the workshop remained open, unlike many other jewelers. The company scraped by, making small pieces and charms. It also continued to make contributions to jewelry manufacturing. In 1933 Heyman received a patent on a mechanism that improved the convertible brooch by creating a clamp that joined two separate pieces.

Also during the 1930s Heyman became the first U.S. jewelry maker to master the invisible setting technique that was pioneered by Van Cleef & Arpels in France. As a result, nearly all of Van Cleef & Arpels's invisible jewelry produced in the United States came from the Heyman workshop. More than anything, what helped Heyman emerge from the Depression was the tire row ring that the company created in 1935–36. Also during this period Heyman and its buyers began making regular trips to exotic locales in search of the most beautiful sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and colored stones for the company's settings. It helped establish the small island nation of Sri Lanka as a supplier of precious stones.

A WORLD'S FAIR TRIUMPH

As the decade came to a close, Heyman enjoyed another notable achievement with the creation of its five famous flower brooches: the orchid, the lily-of-the-valley, the pansy, the gardenia, and the double rose. The collection was introduced to the public in the Marcus & Co. display in the “House of Jewels” at the 1939 New York World's Fair. The brooches took first prize and became widely copied. Heyman's work for three other retailers were also on display at the fair. As a result of its work for numerous retailers, the company became extremely versatile. Heyman may have been a little-known company to the general public, but it had already established an industry reputation as the jeweler's jeweler.

KEY DATES
1912:
Oscar Heyman & Brothers is established.
1928:
The business is incorporated.
1969:
The workshop moves to its present-day address.
1970:
Oscar Heyman dies.
2017:
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts publishes an illustrated history of the company.

COMPANY MOVES TO CURRENT LOCATION

In 1969 Heyman moved to its current location at 501 Madison Avenue, occupying two floors. That same year it received a commission from Cartier to design a setting for a necklace using a 68.42-carat pear-shared D-flawless diamond that the actor Richard Burton had recently purchased for his wife, the actress Elizabeth Taylor. After accepting the commission, Heyman only had a week's time to design and complete the necklace, which was to be worn at Princess Grace of Monaco's 40th birthday celebration. Heyman quickly created six designs that were shown to the couple on the day they were leaving New York. Taylor chose one of the designs presented to her in a car on the way to the airport. It called for 62 graduated pear-shaped diamonds, all needing to be sourced. Working around the clock, the Heyman workshop completed the necklace on time. A photograph of Taylor wearing the necklace on the cover of Paris Match became an iconic image. Years later, Taylor was also gifted a diamond and emerald necklace by her close friend the singer Michael Jackson that had been made by Heyman in 1956.

The postwar years were also a period of transition in Heyman's leadership, as the founding brothers gave way to the second generation. The first of the Heyman siblings, Lena, died in 1951. Louis died in 1958 at the age of 60. In July 1970 Oscar, the namesake of the company, passed away at the age of 81.

Oscar Heyman's four surviving brothers, son Michael, and several nephews carried on the tradition that he established. In 1972 the company was commissioned to make jeweled replicas of the official patch used by astronauts on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo 16 mission conducted later that year. The three resulting creations became the first pieces of jewelry on the moon. Operating out of the public spotlight, Heyman continued to supply major retailers with private-label jewelry and accepted the occasional commission for a custom-made piece. Nevertheless, the company's reputation continued to grow. During the late 1980s the Christie's auction house gathered a number of pieces for a special lot offering. In honor of Heyman's 80th anniversary, Sotheby's followed suit with an auction of 10 Heyman pieces in April 1992. By that point there were three generations of the Heyman family involved in the company. Additionally, there were multiple generations among the seven families employed by the company.

BRANDING EFFORTS

Finally, during the early 2000s Heyman took steps to promote its brand. It began selling its signature invisible-set jewelry under its own name rather than the retailer, which had been the custom for 70 years. The company also insisted that its name be included with the retailer's name in marketing materials, catalogs, and advertisements. As part of the effort to improve its marketing proficiency, company representatives were dispatched to retail stores, not only to help counter representatives sell Heyman-made jewelry but also to gain insights into the needs of retailers and customers. At the same time, Heyman continued to make one-of-a-kind pieces that burnished its image. In 2003 it joined with the celebrity shoe designer Stuart Weitzman to create a pair of ruby and platinum shoes that were inspired by the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz for the 75th annual Academy Awards.

In 2017 Boston's Museum of Fine Arts published an illustrated history of Oscar Heyman & Brothers that presented the company's history and contained photographs and design drawings of some of its most significant pieces. Although the company possessed a rich history that now spanned more than a century, it continued to look forward. “We still feel there's a tremendous opportunity in America with American retailers for American-made jewelry,” Tom Heyman, a third-generation partner of the firm, told Victoria Gomelsky in JCK magazine in April 2018. “There are always going to be wealthy clients that want fine jewelry. And there are always going to be events for fine jewelry: birthdays, promotions, grandchildren, life events that you want to celebrate. If you remove jewelry from the equation, the world is more drab.”

Ed Dinger

PRINCIPAL COMPETITORS

Gabriel & Co.; Omi Privé; Stuller Inc.

FURTHER READING

Beres, Glen A. “Oscar Heyman: 90 Years of Innovation.” Jewelers Circular Keystone, September 2003.

Gomelsky, Victoria. “7 Things I learned about Jewelry-Making from Oscar Heyman.” JCK, April 23, 2018.

“Jewelry Dynasties: A Family Affair.” Couture International Jeweler, April–May 2003.

“Oscar Heyman.” New York Times, July 15, 1970.

Patrizzi, Kathryn Bonanno. “Oscar Heyman & Brothers: ‘The Jewelers Jeweler.’” Vox, Summer 2005, 9.

Thompson, Michael. “Oscar Heyman & Bros.: A Classic at 80.” Jewelers Circular Keystone, November 1992, 115.