A Sneak Peek of Vancouver’s New David Yurman Outpost
We sit-down with the jewellery designer to talk marriage, welding and Camus.
November 17, 2016
In the 1970s, David Yurman famously graduated from sculptor to jewellery designer when he crafted a bronze necklace as a one-off gift for his wife, Sybil. A gallerist fell in love with it and promptly placed several orders, all of which quickly sold out. And thus with that one piece—the Dante—the Yurmans’ jewellery empire was launched.
Today, there are over 46 flagships around the world and countless more David Yurman retailers, and the brand recently hung its latest shingle in the newly retrofitted Holt Renfrew. At more than 1,200 square feet, it’s the largest shop-in-shop for the brand with an expansive repertoire that includes heritage pieces, the wedding collection, men’s jewellery and that famous cable design that serves as a signature leitmotif through it all.
Our Q&A with David Yurman
On sowing the seeds of passion:
I was ADD and dyslexic…we didn’t know what it was then, so I was often sitting in a corner with a dunce hat since I couldn’t pay attention. Concentrating on little shapes and forms after taking up [direct] welding was something I learned to do well and so I made these little alphabet shapes and took them to the cafeteria to sell. But the principal called me out and told me I couldn’t conduct business there…but I guess I was selling little jewellery pieces back then!
When you’re busy making plans, life has other plans for you—I damaged my knee in university, which meant I had to leave since there would be no sports scholarship. I always had to work—my family had no money so I washed dishes and worked in a bookstore. I read Camus’s existential work and Kerouac…I followed the beat movement and just wanted to be vibrantly involved in the antiestablishment.
I didn’t think of myself as an artist because I didn’t like the title, but I became a sandal maker (although I wasn’t a particularly good sandal maker). I was just a maker of things because it gave me freedom since it was clear I wasn’t going to be an accountant. Being dyslexic, I switched the numbers around—I was terrible—but I needed to satisfy my parents. I took my bar mitzvah money and moved to Venice, California, where I bought a motorcycle, washed dishes, listened to and wrote beat poetry.
On the David Yurman design process today:
It’s collaborative. No one person designs everything: I direct it, [my wife and artist] Sybil critiques it, [my son] Evan looks at the overall picture—it’s a little messy like democracy, but democracy produces a more humane society than having a dictator.
On the iconic Cable design:
We won a trademark on the Cable some 15 years ago, but it was later overturned on the idea that if you can’t describe it in words, you can’t own it. It was going to cost $1.5 million to contest it, so we decided to just let the market take care of itself—when you own it, you have to protect it. We decided that originality will win out; craftsmanship will win out. I really believe, unless you screw it up, you can remain number one.
On working with wife and longtime business partner, Sybil Yurman:
Over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce within the first 10 years—I don’t know if that’s couples who work together. Does that group have less divorce than the rest? It’s not easy—I’ll tell you that, but it’s much more rewarding. It’s less about the fantasy and more of a balance as there’s no perfect marriage, but we like each other and we’re equal. We share points of view even though we don’t always agree. We’re respectful.
What we don’t do enough of is divide up the labour though. In business, structure is your friend and communication is your best friend. Same as a marriage. Communicate! We do yoga and meditation….we communicate a lot and set boundaries. We’re not always good at it but we try. We collaborate on just about on everything and together we made one smart child and we do a lot together. There isn’t always more freedom with collaboration but the more you confer, the easier the next moment is going to go—this much I’ve learned.
On the type of woman who wears David Yurman:
The best answer I have is [my wife] Sybil. It’s not to say she’s my muse—she’s my partner in life and partner in design.
Whether a woman buys something for $500 or $50,000 is immaterial as the pieces aren’t really trend-oriented. I want the jewellery to still be around in 30 years … I like to say they’re ‘timeful’ because they’ve still got time in them.
On other inspirational jewellery designers:
I like Stephen Webster—I admire his grit, his sense of humour and his ability to stay in the game. Stephen Hemmerle is also one of the great jewellers of our time—I’ve met him a few times as he’s part of the jewellery community.
If he weren’t a jewellery designer:
I have a passion for riding western quarter horses…I’ve got three horses, more, actually, but those are the three that I ride. I compete occasionally at the intermediate level. I love to do reining—it’s like dressage for cowboys.