“Mr Yard’s impeccable taste helped set the standard for American jewellery during the twentieth century.” David Rockefeller was far from alone in this belief, Yard’s client list read like a who’s who of America’s wealthiest and most prominent families and his knowledge, charm and warmth were widely appreciated by all who knew him.
Raymond Yard opened the doors to his eponymous jewellery house in 1922 at the age of 37, working from a discreet private salon on Fifth Avenue, New York. After twenty five years working for the jeweller Marcus & Co. during which time he had risen from 13 year old messenger boy to general manager, he resigned and went into business by himself. This decision was in no small part influenced by the encouragement of several of his regular clients, not least John D. Rockefeller Jr., who not only patronised the new business immediately but also recommended Yard to family and friends.
Yard’s early jewels were relatively modest with a focus on exceptional craftsmanship and fine quality gems, mostly in simple geometric styles. He favoured largely monochromatic pieces, made in platinum and often set only with diamonds although sometimes these were combined with a single colour of gemstone. These jewels were carefully chosen by Yard from various external suppliers and at this time made up the entirety of his stock. The majority of Yard’s revenue however came not from these ready made bracelets, brooches and earrings but from the bespoke commissions he received from clients such as the Woolworths, Flaglers, Vanderbilts and Fairbanks. Soon after opening he sold a $15,000 drop shaped pearl which was subsequently made into a pendant set with numerous diamonds and that was followed a year later by another single pearl for $30,000. Fine natural pearls were a passion of Yard’s and he quickly developed a reputation for them, even going so far as to write and publish a booklet called ‘The Care of Pearls’ to encourage clients to take care of these precious but easily damaged gems.
These types of high value purchases allowed Yard to build his stock jewellery into a more lavish offering with which to tempt his ever expanding circle of discerning clients. Soon, he was supplying workshops with gemstones to be made into his own designs and as the years progressed he developed a discernible style. In December 1928 he created the first in a series of whimsical rabbit brooches that, to this day, are synonymous with the firm. Gem-set, anthropomorphised rabbits were depicted in a range of guises, fishing, golfing and even in a wedding dress, however by far the most popular were the suited waiters carrying a variety of cocktails, ice buckets, bottles and glasses, no two of which were ever made quite the same.
The 1930’s dawned and whilst many of Yard’s competitors suffered in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash, his vastly wealthy clients remained largely unscathed and so therefore did Yard. This was a particularly successful decade for the company and it grew significantly, moving to larger premises and employing many more staff. He became known for fine coloured gems, in particular Burma rubies and Kashmir sapphires, together with a fondness for fancy cut diamonds which he would use liberally in his designs. Mixing traditional round brilliant cut diamonds with baguettes, marquises, trilliants and pear shapes became a Yard trademark and produced a wonderful combination of bright sparkle and icy angles, all set in the finest platinum mounts. The introduction of the House brooch in 1932 heralded another design classic that would remain in production for over thirty years, such was its huge popularity. Single story gem-set houses with pitched roofs and a large overhanging tree became immediately identifiable as a Yard jewel and, over time, clients began to bring in photos of their own homes for the firm to immortalise in gold and gemstones.
The 1940’s brought with them a change in style at Yard necessitated by the constraints in platinum usage and the difficulty in importing fine gems during the war. Yellow gold became more prominent and gems such as moonstones, multi-coloured sapphires, citrines and amethysts were showcased in sculpted jewels featuring large areas of polished metal in curvilinear designs.
The return of peace also saw the return of platinum and diamonds to Yard jewellery and as the 1940’s segued into the 50’s, rubies, sapphires and diamonds once again took centre stage. It is during this time that Yard produced a significant number of glamourous necklace designs, executed in platinum and set throughout with a profusion of diamonds (often in his favoured fancy cuts) sometimes in combination with coloured gems. Designs focused on swags and fringes with floral motifs and ribbon-like rows of diamonds tying it all together. Brooches and ear clips were still fashionable forms of jewellery and sprays of similarly shaped coloured gems woven together with diamond ribbons were a popular design.
That is not to say however that gold fell out of favour, far from it, and it was during the 1950’s that the firm began to import gold jewellery mounts from Paris in an attempt to offer the very latest in French designs to an increasingly fashion conscious clientele. Georges Verger was one notable supplier who sent 18ct yellow gold mounts to Yard in New York who would then supply the necessary gems and have them set by one of the many workshops he used.
Raymond Yard retired in 1958 after more than 60 years in the jewellery business, 36 of which had been spent heading up his own firm. He passed the company to three of his employees Glen McQuaker, Robert Gibson and Donald Bartow who continued in the Yard tradition by focusing on stunning gemstones and beautiful design with a characteristic nod to the whimsical here and there. In 1963 they employed Yard’s first dedicated designer, Marcel Greefs, who had previously worked for Flato and remained with the firm until his retirement in 1978; he was succeeded by Andrew D’Alessandro. Gibson’s son, Robert M. Gibson, joined his father in the business in 1985 after Bartow and McQuaker had both retired and within four years he was in sole control of the firm, a position he still holds today.