Famous Jewelry Designers – How Did They Get Their Start?

How jewelry designers got started in their career seems to be a very interesting subject to a lot of people. Did they hit the ground running and become an overnight success? Were they “discovered” on a beach stringing shells by some wealthy investor who financially nurtured them into the sophisticated artist they became? Or did they slog it out for 20 years and gradually grow into fame and fortune?

There’s just something compelling and so attractive about jewelry designers. I don’t think a lot of other peoples’ occupations stir up the same kind of interest and excitement. “Oooo, you’re an insurance lawyer! Wow, how exciting! What made you want to practice insurance law?” Nope. It just doesn’t happen.

How have some of the most famous, or popular, jewelry designers got their start? David Yurman, for one, was not an overnight success. He and his wife never expected the company to be the worldwide phenomena that it is today. They just wanted to make enough money to pay the bills!

At 16, he was already exhibiting talent, producing little angel sculptures that he was selling at his high school. He studied for a year at NYU, left for California to hang out for a year in an artist’s commune, came back east to Greenwich Village and started studying with such famous sculptors as Jaques Lipshitz and Theodore Rozack. He was apprenticing as a sculptor with Hans Van de Bovenkamp when he met his future wife, Sybil Kleinrock.

Like so many other designers’ stories, things started to happen when Sybil started wearing David’s pieces. An art gallery owner wanted to purchase one of David’s creations that Sybil was wearing at an art opening in 1970, and that, along with other important sales, prompted them in the early 1970’s to open Putnam Art Works in the country.

During that decade, they spent their time doing art fairs, developing their craft, exhibited their artwork and jewelry, and learned the marketplace for fine jewelry. In 1980, the company David Yurman was born, and by the mid-80’s had already established a national reputation and was showcased in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, Bloomingdales and other high-end retailers. He rocketed to super-stardom when he created the Yurman signature cable bracelet, an oxidized twisted sterling cuff accented with gold, precious and semi-precious gems.

I’ve studied the early careers of many famous jewelry designers, and they are all so different! Some have studied extensively, others are self-taught. Some had the advantage of capital backing from investors, others slowly built a reputation and following, one piece of jewelry at a time.

But almost all jewelry artists had one thing in common: persistence! It took David Yurman 15 to 20 years to achieve the beginnings of the success his company now possesses internationally. David and his wife trudged through the entire decade of the 1970’s doing art shows, slowly building his clientele and reputation as he developed and improved upon his technique and style.

David and Sybil may not have understood or formulated their goals early on, but I’d be willing to bet my firstborn child that as time on went their goals became razor sharp. There is one thing I can guarantee, however, being a jewelry designer myself. They LOVED what they did, and do. Nobody spends that much time on a path unless they are passionate and single-minded about it. Nothing gets in the way. Failure will not deter them. Hardship and despair are obstacles to overcome. A person doesn’t just work as a jewelry designer; a person IS a jewelry designer. It’s more than love; it is who we are.

I’m sure David Yurman and is asked incessantly how he became a jewelry designer. I’m asked that question frequently. Sometimes I give the flippant simple answer. “I made a necklace, and I sold it. Voila! AndreaGems was born.” And it’s true, in the most surface of ways.

But in reality I was at a crossroads in my life. As a successful real estate agent in downtown Chicago for 20 years, I was living the good life. But I was so tired of what I was doing, and I’d been tired for a long time. I felt like the life was being slowly sucked out of me. I couldn’t imagine doing this for much longer, let alone for the rest of my life. But my husband and I was a two-income couple. Our lifestyle (and mortgage) was based on two high incomes. I was a prisoner of my job.

I come from a family of artists. I knew that I could no longer turn my back on my creative side. But how could I make money and be creative at the same time? This was a very difficult period. A caterpillar crawling out of his cocoon turns into a butterfly. What was this caterpillar going to turn into?

So what did I do to help me think through that period? I cleaned my house! I cleaned out closets, the garage, drawers, and in one drawer there were a bunch of necklaces that I hadn’t worn in years. I got a little angry because they weren’t cheap and I didn’t especially like them.

I got a brilliant idea! I’d remake them into something I’d wear! What a concept! I decided to take a 2 hour stringing class, and I was shocked to see what beautiful things I created from those ugly necklaces.

That weekend, I went on a business trip to Miami with my husband, and wore one. One of his clients tried to buy the necklace off of my neck. I said no. He kept upping the price. It got ridiculous. I didn’t sell it because I thought he was an idiot.

The next evening we went out to dinner, I wore another necklace. Another client of my husbands’ wanted to buy that necklace off my neck for his girlfriend. He was a sweetie pie, so I sold it to him.

By the end of next week, I had sold all of the remade jewelry, and I thought that something fundamentally important had happened. It was as if the skies had parted and God had pointed his finger at me and said, “You have found your calling. Now go be fruitful and multiply… your jewelry”.

And that’s what I did. I jumped into jewelry design feet first, real estate be damned. I knew nothing about the business, but that didn’t matter to me. I had discovered my calling.