His signature cable-twist bracelet capped with semi-precious stones turned New York jeweler David Yurman into a household name. An artist at heart, he apprenticed for sculptors and eventually dropped out of New York University to travel and indulge his creative side. He met his wife and future business partner, Sybil Kleinrock, during that time. She's a painter, and together they created an international brand. In 2003 their son Evan, now in his early 30s, joined the company. A horse lover, Mr. Yurman, 71, has incorporated the thoroughbred theme into his award-winning designs.
How did you come to love horses and horseback riding?
My dad rode. He rode when he was in his teens in the Bronx and continued to ride. I got connected by learning to ride English when I was probably 9 years old. It was pretty frightening. I wasn't ready for it, and he wasn't much of a teacher. He'd say, "Just hang on. Keep up." [Laughs.] I would say, "Oh my gosh, he's running away." [He'd say,] "No worries. There is an ocean between here and there."
So I learned and I liked it. I liked the cowboy moment. I still like the cowboy moment. I still wear cowboy boots and cowboy shirts. I actually own three -- oh, my gosh -- three Western quarter horses. My dad got me into it, but actually my sister really did because she was two years older and she was riding. I was just so jealous of her being able get up early and go ride with my dad, and I couldn't go.
What did he do for a living?
He designed. He owned a company called Foremost Trimmings. It was in the garment center, like 38th Street at Seventh and Eighth avenues, right in the heart of the garment center. He would say, "I fashioned up some belts for Marimekko" or for Leslie Fay. He did the dye lots and would match these macrame weaves and natural materials. His fingers would be blue or red or yellow from the dye for months [laughs]. He was the owner and top salesperson, but when he was selling they would say, "No, we want this or change the buckle, dah dah dah." So he would merchandise the changes.
Did your father encourage the moves you made to go out on your own?
I don't think I was successful per se -- I was a semi-struggling artist doing gallery shows and belt buckles and doing senior apprentice jobs with sculptors working and casting, and then I was doing my own sculpture. The pivotal moment was in the mid '70s or the very early '80s when I decided OK, I am going to get serious and only make jewelry. He didn't live to see the successes. My mom did. But you know how moms are. They want to know if you are healthy, did you eat? There were pictures of me as a child and my marriage but no award pictures around.
Have you ever designed your own spurs?
It's curious. A man I ride with in Switzerland suggested we do this. He is an engineer, and I could make them for sure. He said we could do them out of stainless, which is probably the way to go. They might have gold inlays. I don't know, so we did a kind of a cable version. I've got a custom pair that I wear, and I did make them.
Do you consider yourself to be disciplined?
I'm kind of a maverick disciplined. I am not your normal kind of disciplined. Don't think you'll see me here at 8 o'clock or 9 [in the morning]. Probably around 10:30, 11, I will roll in. If there is a meeting, I am there. I can range between 15 minutes to maybe a half-hour late. But, yeah, I keep all the meetings and read all the notes. Yeah, I'm pretty disciplined.
Was there ever a time you lost confidence in your talent or your dream?
No [laughing], no, I don't know why I think that's funny. Sometimes I get depressed and don't want to come to work, but I never lose confidence in what my abilities are and what I'm doing and what the dream is. It's almost like it's bigger than me. It's almost like it's a religion. It takes me along. It's almost like it is not my talent, it is just what I do.
So, have you ever designed something that was so effortless it seemed to come from somewhere else?
Yes, yes. A lot. More than not actually, but then there is a lot of work. Design is so much detail and so many things that change in the process. I once mapped out 15 touches before I finished. We are trying to get it down to nine. My son thinks it should be three. He is more of a design director. He is very bright, he is very funny. So we have some lunches and some laughs, but we don't normally work together. He worked for nine years on the men's collection, so now we are working together on the main collection, which is 80 percent of our business. It's interesting how it's working, dynamic.
Your career path was more circuitous. Do you believe in destiny or that sort of thing?
I don't believe in destiny, per se, but I do believe there are things that happen that are beyond the consciousness. Sometimes it almost feels like it's mapped out. I don't really think it is, but there are so many things that happen that I don't understand why they happen that I'm just along for the ride. So if I'm along for the ride, something [laughing] is or there is some energy that is moving this along. I think it is more like fish that swarm and move in unison.
It's a great ride.
Well, if you are doing what you love to do, I don't think anything could be more satisfying.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613. Follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/pasheridan.