The New York City Jewelers to Know Now
A small but dedicated group of Manhattan-based jewelers are keeping the spirit of New York City’s diamond district alive—one precious stone at a time.
Among the hundreds of communities and professional microcosms in New York, the diamond district has always done things differently. From the district’s beginnings downtown on Maiden Lane, then to Canal and Bowery (where many Chinese diamond dealers still hold court), and to its present location on West 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, most of its dealers have done business with a blessing and a handshake—an approach based on absolute trust and reputation that continues to exist even as the street has become more global.
But the globalization of the district has also fragmented it. It’s not uncommon for international jewelry brands based in the city to out-source everything from stone selection and setting to engraving and polishing. In fact, only a few New York companies remain as autonomous manufacturers of their jewelry, sourcing, designing, and producing pieces from their own Manhattan workshops. Oscar Heyman is the oldest, a 105-year-old family-run company (known within the industry as the “jeweler’s jeweler”) that has operated out of its offices on Madison Avenue and 52nd Street since 1969. “It’s always been important to us to make the jewelry internally, so that we can control the quality,” says Tom Heyman, principal and grandson of founder Oscar. The company makes its own tools, which have been patented. It also has its own 18-karat yellow-gold alloy. “So if we are repairing something from 50 or 60 years ago, our gold color will match perfectly,” Heyman explains. An Australian opal cocktail ring with canary and white diamonds, which took about two months to make, went from the designer directly to the jeweler, then to the engraver and polisher (and back, for quality control), all within the confines of the company’s 16th-floor workshop. The company recently acquired a Made in NY certificate—the oldest brand on the roster.
When Mark Emanuel and his partners purchased the David Webb company in 2010, maintaining the tradition of in-house craftsmanship was imperative. “We were cognizant of its history,” Emanuel says. “It’s part of the spirit of the company to perpetuate this continuity between the founder and the future.” The brand’s offices sit directly above its Upper East Side Madison Avenue boutique and house a library, workshop, and private showroom. The team that works there includes two full-time archivists and 25 jewelers, polishers, engravers, and lapidaries, three of whom also worked with Webb in the 1960s and ’70s, at the height of the designer’s fame. A pair of door-knocker earrings—a Webb classic—were pulled from the archives and reimagined with recycled coral, black enamel, and diamonds.
For James de Givenchy, having his own workshop has afforded him the ability to experiment with the avant-garde designs of his Taffin line, producing pieces that have won him a cult following and living-legend status among the jewelry cognoscenti. “I’ve had the workshop now for the past 18 years. It has taken a long time to find the cutters and setters and craftsmen who I can work with every day,” says Givenchy, nephew of the couturier Hubert, whose showroom and workshop were also on Madison Avenue. “Before, when there was a jeweler outsourcing the work, that meant that there was a middleman, and things would be lost in translation.” The designer is known for his use of a ceramic setting, like the one used in an old-mine-cut diamond bracelet, which he has incorporated in lighter, more wearable ways, such as a pair of diamond pavé and ruby stick earrings. He patented the process this year, which required new training for his craftsmen. “There’s really a lot of trust between myself and the cutters I work with,” he says. “I like to think that I challenge them. I am always pushing the limits of what can be done because these designs are not traditional.”
David Yurman is also no traditionalist. His brand has grown into a global operation in the 37 years since he and his wife, Sybil, sold his first necklace at a SoHo gallery. But this year, the 75-year-old designer went back to his craft roots as a sculptor, setting up a welding table in his private studio (across the street from the company’s headquarters on Vestry Street in Tribeca). “I like that experience—it’s super focused. It’s super intense with the heat, melting and puddling and controlling the bronze into a shape,” says Yurman, who used the welding sessions as inspiration for a new collection of bronze and diamond pieces. He certainly has the diamond district spirit. “Making things by hand is the most important thing for me.”
Styled by Dania Ortiz