MARCH 27, 2006

DCGIA spent an exciting, informative evening listening to Ms. Diana Singer, GG, telling anecdotal stories about the lives and works of four legendary American jewelers: Oscar Heyman, Julius Cohen, William Ruser, and Harry Winston. She accompanied her text with a PowerPoint presentation of their works and their achievements.

Diana Singer speaking

Diana Singer speaking

The post-World War II designs went from the elegance and extravagance of earlier periods to lighter, more whimsical, colorful jewelry. Dictated by the earlier wartime demands on materials, money, manpower, and time, the creation of unique superlative pieces was curtailed. Jewelers and designers were forced to use materials on hand and lesser quality stones from friendly nearby sources. Less precious metal was employed. Post-war saw the dominance of American design and creativity and initiated a new period.

Tony Conway introducing Diana Singer

Tony Conway introducing Diana Singer

Oscar Heyman was born in Russia and traveled for the house of Faberge, whose work greatly influenced his own. Later he worked part-time for Cartier and eventually opened his own shop on Maiden Lane in New York. The present day firm of Heyman and Sons is still located at that site.

Diana Singer announces winning ticket

Diana Singer picks winning ticket

The designs were classically elegant, tightly contained, and gracefully swirled.
He incorporated the use of baguettes and the motifs were repeated with minor variations. Similar pieces are still produced today. The firm is known for its three-dimensional bird and flower brooches and also for magnificent flag pins. The quality of the craftsmanship is due to the extreme care in the finishing of individual pieces; faceting the stones, solderless metal coupling, detailed and meticulous buffing, and fine detailing of the back, which also carries the firm�s logo.

Melanie Marts, Brenda Foreman and Lois Berger

Melanie Marts, Brenda Foreman and Lois Berger

Julius Cohen married one of the Heyman sisters and became a salesman for the firm. Later he went to Harry Winston in the same capacity. As a salesman he was larger than life, flamboyant and spectacularly successful. As a designer he used gold as the major component and decorated it with white and brown diamonds. (Was the use of brown diamonds the precursor of contemporary acceptance of this color?)

William Ruser was jeweler to the stars. Born in Chicago he moved to Beverly Hills in 1947 and opened his shop on Rodeo Drive. His clients were the most visible and famous of the Hollywood set. They often purchased personal jewelry which was also used in their particular films.

Courtland Lee showing his collection to Melanie Marts and Allison Brady

Courtland Lee showing his collection to Melanie Marts and Allison Brady

Ruser�s style was light and whimsical. His flowers were not as three dimensional as those of the Heyman Brothers. He carved the metals to give maximum light conveyance through the piece. Ruser�s motifs included angels, many of which were uniquely fashioned around a Mississippi River sweet-water pearl. He produced angels for the days of the week, for holidays, for pets, and for the nostalgic moments of life.

Harry Winston (Weinstein) was born in 1896. His father was a jeweler. Harry started his own business as a young man but it was subsequently stolen from him. At the age of 25 he began to buy quality estate jewelry at auction, sold it at a profit and established a client base. In 1932 the Harry Winston firm was incorporated. He, too, was a master salesman very tenacious and savvy. His Court of Jewels, 1949 through 1953, served to highlight his pieces and his company. Winston was never photographed while alive, a requirement of his insurance company to avoid kidnapping. However, our own Fred Ward photographed Winston for his National Geographic article, Diamonds, by keeping Winston�s face in darkness.

Allison Brady, Hap& Evelyn Williams, and new member

Allison Brady, Hap & Evelyn Williams, and Etta Saunders

Winston dealt in quality stones and often recut older stones for more modern settings. He purchased the 45.52 carat Hope diamond from the bedeviled Evalyn Walsh McLean in 1949 and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958, where it is on permanent display. His company was later sold to another corporation. Besides quality merchandise the Harry Winston company was also noted for the expertise of the design staff. Foremost among them was Shindi who often used his Indian tradition in the designs he rendered.

Currently the world of jewelry design, which had migrated from the old world to the new, is shifting to the Far East. India and China are major producers. Regardless, the old masters have left an indelible impression on the history of design and fashion. Their pieces now command an astronomical price and continue to rise in value.

Many thanks, Ms. Singer for taking us on this fabulous trip of introduction to the master American jewelers, Heyman, Cohen, Ruser and Winston. Well done!

Archive report by Lisa Carp

Meeting photographs by Doris Voigt

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