Oscar Heyman
Interview by Barry Samaha

Timelessness is an inherent part of jewelry. From elegant necklaces to striking sets of earrings, jewelry has seldom—if ever—failed to attract the attention of women throughout the centuries. The best dazzle, spark conversation, and most important, are built to last, garnering greater appreciation with each passing year. Understanding this ethos, perhaps more than most, is Oscar Heyman, one of the few established fine jewelry brands born, bred, and based in the United States.

It was in New York in 1912 when Oscar, Nathan and Harry Heyman founded a jewelry company, the aptly named Oscar Heyman & Brothers. Two of the siblings had previously clocked hours at Fabergé and Cartier, learning the skills of the trade—taking fine metals and precious gemstones and forming artful pieces that were not only beautiful to look at, but were beautifully made. It was their deft hands and construction savvy that made the family-owned company the best-kept secret of the jewelry industry for the first half of the 20th century. 

The firm, at the time, operated primarily as a private-label business. It was the proverbial man behind the curtain, the real maker of extraordinary pieces bearing the name of some of the leading jewelry houses. Oscar Heyman & Brothers became known as the “Jewelers’ Jeweler”—a moniker acquired at the 1939 World’s Fair. 

Then, in 1961, an amendment was made to the National Gold and Silver Marking Act, requiring that all companies issuing quality guarantees stamp their trademark onto the jewelry. Oscar Heyman & Brothers, in a measured way, began to grow its name recognition outside the trade. Still, it was not until the late 1980s, when the company made and marketed its own collections that luxury connoisseurs began to take notice. 

Now 108 years later, Tom Heyman, the grandson and grandnephew of the eponymous founders, is unfurling the curtains, shedding a light on what makes his family’s company a cut above the rest.  

How does it feel being part of such a remarkable, illustrious family?

It is a great honor to carry on the legacy that my great uncles and grandfather started. I am proud to say that we are still a family-run business operating in New York City and using the same uncompromised quality and craftsmanship that launched the Oscar Heyman brand.  

The brand’s history is steeped in being the “Jewelers’ Jeweler” creating special pieces for other houses. What design elements are intrinsic to Oscar Heyman per se?

Because everything is made in house, we control the quality—from the moment we acquire the stone all the way through the design process to the final production. What is most intrinsic about Oscar Heyman is our unsurpassed craftsmanship.

What are Oscar Heyman’s milestones, the pieces it has created for other brands and the ones it has created under its own moniker?

Oscar Heyman has over 100 years of jewelry production, coupled with our dedication to the highest level of manufacturing. Throughout our history, we have worked with some of the most prestigious jewelry houses in the world, including Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels. One of our best-known pieces is the legendary Taylor-Burton Diamond necklace. We designed and created the necklace all in one week for Cartier so that Taylor could wear it at Princess Grace of Monaco’s Scorpion Ball birthday party.

How has Oscar Heyman set itself apart from other heritage jewelry brands in the market over the decades? What is Oscar Heyman best known for? 

Oscar Heyman is best known for our exquisite craftsmanship and use of phenomenal stones. We are using rare stones in fine jewelry such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, as well as cat’s eyes chrysoberyl, star sapphires, Paraiba tourmalines, opals, and spinels. We are also known for being the longest family- run jewelry business that is still operating and manufacturing in New York. [We utilize] simple, clean, bold designs to showcase extraordinarily beautiful gemstones.

How would you describe the Oscar Heyman woman? 

The Oscar Heyman woman is someone that is sophisticated, unique, and is not looking for labels. She is looking for something that is one-of-a-kind and of the utmost quality.

How are you looking to attract her attention year over year?

Because of our incredible reputation and quality of jewelry, there is always a woman that is looking for the finest in jewelry. We have not compromised our quality in over 100 years. She will always come back to us.

How often do you create new collections and pieces?

Oscar Heyman builds on previous pieces. We do not have collections because we create jewelry that is timeless and is not based on a particular theme or season. We continually create new designs or use previous designs from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, etc. as inspiration for our new pieces.

Where does the brand source its gems and materials?

We source from all over the world in places such as Sri Lanka, Bangkok, Columbia, Jaipur and Australia. We like to refer to our sourcing as grocery shopping and treasure hunting.

What is the methodology of designing a new piece or collection? 

We always start with the gemstone. The stone is what really leads our design process. We consider the cut, the color and type of stone.  

What is the step-by-step process?

We acquire new stones, then we marinate ideas on how it can be worn—whether it can be used in a necklace, bracelet, earrings or a ring. We may look at older designs for inspiration. The entire process is collaborative: The sales, sourcing, and design teams all work together. We then start laying the jewelry out on trays and then begin sketching potential designs. In the end, we choose a design that best showcases the stone.

Why is it important to produce everything at your Madison Avenue showroom in New York?

It is extremely important to control the entire process so that we are overseeing every point of production—from sourcing, to design, to the final production. To produce the one-of-a-kind creations that Oscar Heyman is known for, we must pay attention to all the fine details, the proportion, and relationship between all the stones and metalwork. This is very personal for us, as our name will be engraved in every piece. We are not a big corporation with assembly-line production somewhere overseas. We make this jewelry, we stand behind it, and we insist that detail is perfect. We are creating heirloom pieces for collectors that will be cherished for decades.

What are the biggest hurdles the brand has faced since its inception, and how has it overcome them?

The biggest hurdles throughout the company’s history have been world economic crises such as the Great Depression and the Great Recession. While many other prestigious jewelry companies were unable to survive, we were able to buckle down and adapt without compromising our quality.  

Oscar Heyman has outfitted several A-list stars throughout the generations. Why is it important to dress celebrities for glitzy occasions?

Because of the celebrity followers and exposure, we are able to get the Oscar Heyman name out to a whole new audience. When these women and men are wearing our jewelry on one of the momentous nights in his or her life, we are thrilled to be part of these celebrities feeling beautiful both inside and out.

How else are you looking to develop the brand’s awareness? 

We are developing our brand’s awareness through a multi-tier approach. We continue to advertise in leading national publications, communicate with our customers through our social media channels, and increase our publicity efforts. In addition, we work very closely with our retail partners to create memorable events for our clients. We curate collections of fine jewelry on an individual basis. By curating collections for our clients, we can build meaningful personal relationships for their families.

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