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Raymond C. Yard

Raymond C. Yard (Est. 1922-) Judith Price, director of the National Jewelry Institute and author of Masterpieces of American Jewelry (2004) described Raymond Yard (1885-1964) as “…the bejeweled version of Walt Disney. In the 1930’s, he created a collection of anthropomorphic bunny figures” that were platinum, diamond, and enamel brooches of rabbits pursuing human activities like fishing, serving drinks, acting as golf caddies, and becoming brides. Today, these pieces, among other Raymond Yard creations and designs, are highly valued and sought-after by collectors.

Raymond Yard’s rags to riches story began when he landed a job – at thirteen years old – at the well-established firm of Marcus & Co. in New York. First as a ‘door boy’ (what we call today a “greeter”), then as a messenger, the young Yard began rising through the ranks. He learned important aspects of the industry from production to sales. He also came to understand and value the highest standards of gem material and craftsmanship.

Over the course of his more than two decade employment at Marcus, Yard became the most requested salesman on the floor. He eventually gained the patronage of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who encouraged Yard to set out on his own. In 1922 Yard opened his shop at 522 Fifth Avenue and immediately had a strong following thanks to Rockefeller’s promotion of Yard to New York’s wealthy elite.

Initially, Yard’s business primarily focused on custom made pieces and was known for its ability to source the highest caliber of materials its clients demanded. Stock pieces were executed by trusted outside manufacturers while Yard supplied the stones and designs. His creations display the understated elegance of impeccable workmanship combined with the finest of materials. Raymond Yard prided himself on his knowledge of gems and was considered one of the foremost experts on pearls.

Yard’s first solo commission was the Rockefeller wedding and it set the course for Yard’s continued success. New York’s wealthiest families were devoted Yard clients and included members of the Woolworth, Flagler, DuPont, Harriman, and Vanderbilt families. Movies stars like Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks were also devoted Yard clients.

Yard’s perfectionism won the dedication and patience of clients who would wait for Yard to find the perfect stone to complete a custom jewel. Yard’s formal, traditional designs used the best stones in balanced combinations of cuts and sizes. Known for mixing gems with different styles of cutting, Yard began to design jewelry using round brilliants with straight baguettes. He eventually expanded those ideas with shields, trapezoids, and other shapes that not only gave his pieces a special appearance, but also created shimmer.

Along with creating new, original pieces, Yard was also known for repurposing old pieces of jewelry into re-designed creations. He made a stunning bracelet for Joan Crawford using previous jewelry gifts including a Yard bracelet and earrings set plus an engagement ring she received from husband Douglas Fairbanks.

Yard’s early jewels were relatively modest with exceptional craftsmanship and fine quality gems, mostly in simple geometric styles. He favored largely monochromatic pieces, made in platinum and often set only with diamonds although sometimes combined with gemstones in a single color. These jewels were carefully chosen by Yard from various external suppliers and, in the early years, made up the entirety of his stock.

Soon after opening he sold a $15,000 drop shaped pearl which was subsequently made into a pendant set with numerous diamonds. That was followed a year later when he sold another single pearl for $30,000. Fine natural pearls were among Yard’s passions and he quickly developed a reputation for them, even writing and publishing a booklet called “The Care of Pearls” that encouraged clients to care for these precious but easily damaged gems.

Early high value purchases provided the resources for Yard to build his stock jewelry into more lavish offerings that attracted an ever expanding circle of clients. Soon, he was supplying workshops with gemstones to be made into his own designs that, as the years progressed, developed into his personal style.

In late 1928, Yard created the first in a series of whimsical rabbit brooches that, to this day, are synonymous with the firm. Gem-set rabbits were depicted but, by far, the most popular creations were suited waiters carrying a variety of cocktails, ice buckets, bottles, glasses; no two of which were ever quite the same.

In a Departures, March 2010 article, contributor Mahvour Lord wrote, “If social connections were Yard’s only suit, the story would stop here, but in fact he was a fine jeweler in his own right—known for procuring the finest-quality gems and best platinum-smiths on the market and] also became a master-craftsman. Anytime you find a really beautiful Art Deco bracelet or a combination of top stones, it signifies it as a Yard piece. Yard was the American counterpoint to Cartier in the twenties.”

At the onset of the Great Depression of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, many of Yard’s competitors suffered, but his many wealthy clients remained largely unscathed as did Yard. The 30’s was a particularly successful decade for his company. It grew moving to larger premises and employing many more staff.

Yard became known for fine colored gems, in particular Burma rubies and Kashmir sapphires that, together with fancy cut diamonds, he liberally used in his designs.

Mixing traditional round brilliant cut diamonds with baguettes, marquises, trilliants, and pear shapes became a Yard trademark that generated wonderful combinations 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. Single story, gem-set houses with pitched roofs and a large overhanging tree became immediately identifiable as a Yard jewel. Over time, clients began to bring in photos of their own homes for the firm to immortalize in gold and gemstones. The most elaborate of these was an astonishing reproduction of Cee Zee Guest’s lavish Villa Artemis in Palm Beach.

The 1940’s brought a stylistic change at Yard caused by the constraints in platinum usage and the difficulty importing fine gems during World War II. Yellow gold became more prominent and gems such as moonstones, multi-colored sapphires, citrines and amethysts were showcased in sculpted jewels featuring large areas of polished metal in curvilinear designs.

When the war ended, platinum and diamonds returned to Yard jewelry and as the 1940’s ended and the 1950s began, rubies, sapphires and diamonds again regained their prominence. It is during this time that Yard produced a significant number of glamourous necklace designs. These were executed in platinum and set throughout with a profusion of diamonds sometimes in combination with colored gems.

Designs focused on swags and fringes with floral motifs and ribbon-like rows of diamonds tying it all together. Brooches and ear clips remained fashionable and sprays of similarly shaped colored gems woven together with diamond ribbons were also popular designs.

During this period, Yard’s attention shifted from the design influences of Cartier to the newly prominent firm of Van Cleef & Arpels. The most noticeable example of this was the small group of Southern Belles that were produced in direct reference to Van Cleef & Arpel’s iconic ballerina brooches.

When Yard retired in 1958, the Herald Tribune noted that “his career could factually be described as fabulous.” Subsequently, the firm was taken over by his protégé Robert Gibson, who successfully continued the Yard tradition by creating the highest quality jewelry and earning the respect of his clientele, many of whom were second and third generation customers.

Yard had met Gibson in 1937 at the Winged Foot Golf Club, where Gibson was a 17-year-old caddy. Just as Yard had risen through the ranks of Marcus & Co. learning all aspects of the industry, so did Gibson, who became President of Yard upon the founder’s retirement.

Throughout the 1950s and 60’s, the Yard firm created many brooches with more naturalistic themes. Baskets of flowers, leaves, bees and bird brooches among others were the rage. On the other end of the design spectrum, stylized starburst forms were also popular capturing a more modern, abstract feel. Yellow gold continued in popularity and a greater emphasis on texture was evident. Present-day pieces harken back to the earlier, more classical design period including the iconic rabbits and house brooches.

Among notable Yard pieces were bracelets, earrings, and rings. The first of the Yard bracelet designs were the classic straight-line bracelets of the 20’s. Manufactured in platinum with box set diamonds and caliber cut colored stones, these developed into more intricate pieces with open links, more complex designs and much wider styles. The more detailed pieces feature the classic Yard style of mixing various step and brilliant-cuts.

In the style in the 20’s, the earliest Yard earrings were long drop pendant styles of platinum and diamonds often featuring a carved stone or pearl in the drop. In the early 1930s, the clip-on earring back was patented and opened a new style of earring that primarily rested on the ear.

Yard designed a distinctive ear-clip style that curved up the lobe. These “up-lobe” earrings quickly became Yard’s dominant style and were typically composed of a large colored stone surrounded by diamonds that curved up the contour of the ear.

At the end of the war, short moonstone drop earrings in yellow gold emerged as well as another new, very popular clip model made of platinum with colored stones and diamonds. This style was designed as a bouquet of flowers oriented either upright or downwards, and typically set with rubies or sapphires.

In the 1950’s many of the earrings Yard produced were in the popular snowflake design, centering a larger center stone encircled by stone accents. Many of these earrings looked like smaller versions of their brooches and could often double as a pair of dress clips.

The era also saw the continued modification of the “up-lobe” design that became more elaborate as a double-ribbon loop that extended both above and below the central stone. While most designs were executed in platinum, yellow gold ear clips continued to be made throughout this period with their diamonds mounted in platinum.

The 1960’s and 70’s continued the design trends of the 50’s but with drop earrings making a larger comeback. Current day designs reflect a preference for the more elaborate drop earring designs of the 20’s.

Yard rings of the 1920’s were made of beautifully engraved and pierced platinum surrounding a center stone set off by smaller round diamonds. By the end of that decade, this style changed. The signature look now featured a center stone with shoulders of clearly articulated step and round cut diamonds in a geometric and modern style. The predominant metal was platinum and the stones were impeccable. Cocktail rings were introduced in the 1930s and a simpler side mounting using bullet or baguette cut diamonds were introduced.

During the war years, Yard launched a line of relatively inexpensive diamond rings featuring a diamond center stone, of under a carat, with two small side diamond accents. Yellow gold rings of the period featured a variety of large sized colored stones, including moonstone, citrine and amethysts set in bold, tailored settings. Joan Crawford’s step-cut amethyst ring of approximately seventy-five carats is a famous example of this style.

By the end of the 50’s, cluster rings were in vogue and by the 1960’s, the most characteristic of Yard’s ring styles featured a center stone surrounded by either round or marquise cut diamonds. The cluster style continued throughout the 70’s with a greater emphasis on metalwork, such as in the use of wire shanks. Contemporary rings by Yard reference the firm’s earlier signature style of highlighting larger center stones with well-proportioned shoulders of step and mixed cut diamonds.

After Robert Gibson took over upon Yard’s retirement, he successfully continued the Yard tradition. In 1963 he employed Yard’s first dedicated designer, Marcel Greefs, who 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 and within four years was in sole control of the firm, a position he holds today. Under Bob Gibson’s leadership, the Yard tradition continues and pays tribute to the firm’s distinguished past by reviving some the firms’ most successful designs that serve as inspiration for today’s Yard jewelry. In doing so, Gibson has preserved the typical “Yard look” in contemporary pieces, making their discriminating lineage immediately apparent to any jewelry connoisseur.

It is not uncommon for Yard pieces to show up at fine auction houses and exceed the catalog estimate. In October 1996 the pearl necklace made for Rockefeller sold at Sotheby’s New York for $464,500 when the estimate had been $250,000-$350,000. Also at Sotheby’s in April 1997, a 1927 diamond, emerald, and ruby pendant-watch, with a catalog estimate of $35,000-$45,000, went for $51,750; while a 1925 diamond and emerald pendant jabot clip, listed for $15,000-$20,000, sold for $27,600.

From his early youth at Marcus and Co. to his retirement in 1958, Raymond Yard’s life work of producing the finest jewels brought phenomenal success and respect in and out of the industry. Collectors of fine estate jewelry have recognized the magnificence of Yard’s work creating pieces for some of the most famous personalities in American history.

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