By Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — As one of the most established names in the jewelry business, David Yurman is often approached by companies looking to license its name and take the brand into new categories — but don’t expect to see David Yurman sheets or underwear anytime soon.
As they have from the company’s start nearly 25 years ago, the husband-and-wife team of David and Sybil Yurman have built their brand slowly, gradually adding new categories, more marketing programs and additional distribution.
“We are not an overnight success,” said Sybil, who is president and chief marketing officer, while David holds the titles of designer and chief executive officer. “Our company has had a natural evolution, and we have gotten better at defining our business.”
And while many companies have sold out or consolidated in recent years, the Yurmans at this point said they don’t even entertain the possibility of selling their company.
“This is what we love to do,” Sybil noted. “A lot of companies have contacted us but we never talk to them.”
This year, however, is emerging as a pivotal time for the Yurman firm, which now racks up between $450 million and $500 million in retail sales and is expecting low-double-digit growth this year. The company is evolving in a number of areas, and the Yurmans feel they have the potential to be at least an $800 million company within the next five years.
Among its new initiatives, Yurman is finalizing plans for its second retail location, in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., boosting its investment in watches and opening more in-store shops in a number of large chains. In addition, Yurman has just begun a new business of kids and baby jewelry and gifts, and is beginning to make exclusive products for some stores.
The Yurmans are also readying a new 60,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in TriBeCa, which is slated to open next spring.
Founded in 1979, David, who was a sculptor, and Sybil, then a painter, began the business at a time when there were relatively few branded designer jewelry lines. While many new designers and brands have emerged in the last decade, few have achieved Yurman’s widespread distribution and marketing muscle.
The brand is now sold in about 425 stores, evenly split between specialty chains, such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, and independent retailers, and has found broad appeal with jewelry that is stylish but doesn’t break the bank. Many styles carry what has become Yurman’s signature cable look, although the line has evolved to include new materials and stones, and the Yurmans now refer to their style as “relaxed luxury.” Retail prices start at about $150 for some gift items and range up to $55,000 for special pieces, with the bulk of the line selling for between $700 to $1,200.
Among the Yurmans’ key looks this season are oversized rings and pendants with stones such as turquoise, amethyst, carnelian and smoky quartz. A new line of chains, charms and lockets was also recently introduced. Overall, the firm produces about 125 new designs each season, David noted.
Lisa Kazor, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for fine jewelry at Neiman’s, said Yurman is among the company’s top jewelry vendors.
“There is a consistent quality about the brand that consumers identify with,” she said. “At the same time, Yurman in the last year has brought more newness to the table. He has evolved into the next generation of design with his collection, with jewelry that has an artisan feel and reflects what is happening in fashion.”
Nancy Mann, chief executive officer of Mann’s Jewelers in Rochester, N.Y., said: “With no question, David Yurman is the most recognized jewelry brand from a consumer standpoint. I think the company’s strength comes from a combination of marketing and design. Everything works together, so it is easy for customers to make purchases and add them on to other Yurman pieces they already have.”
The new kids jewelry business, Cable Kids, which made its debut this May, features products similar in styling to the core Yurman products. Cable Kids includes bracelets, necklaces, earrings, rings and pendants, some of which have birthstones, while the baby-gift line features products such as rattles, teething rings, hair combs and brushes. The products retail from about $125 to $750.
A new vice president of sales has been hired to oversee this business, which is expected to bring in about $4 million in sales in its first year, Sybil Yurman said.
“Many of the people who buy David Yurman products are collectors, and also our jewelry is often shared among family members,” she said. “We have had a lot of requests for children’s products.”
Watches are another key area of growth. Yurman entered the watch business in 1999, and the line has been expanded to include a wide range of men’s and women’s styles, including styles in 18-karat gold and diamonds as well as those with dual time zones.
The company views timepieces, which have given it a larger entry into men’s offerings, as a significant growth opportunity and the category is expected to account for sales of about $20 million this year. One reason the company sees potential is because the watch line is currently more exclusive than the jewelry line. It is now in about 200 doors, although distribution is being expanded in the coming year.
Watches are also key to the firm’s international expansion, said David Yurman. Currently, the company does not have a significant presence overseas, and the watches, which are Swiss made, have more potential to be distributed overseas.
Meanwhile, the new company-owned store, which will be Yurman’s second, is scheduled to open in September. It will feature a new design and will have more updated visuals than the Madison Avenue location, which opened in 1999. The new shop will be about 1,200 square feet.
“We don’t want too many stores but we are looking to open a few more within the next two years,” David Yurman said.
In addition to opening its own stores, Yurman is also rolling out more in-store shops, with plans to open about eight more this year. There are currently about 25 of these, in stores such as Neiman’s and Saks, and at a handful of independent jewelers.
“This is something we are still building,” Sybil said. “We have a very important and symbiotic relationship with our stores and we don’t want to cancel that out.”
David said the in-store shops are designed to show the company’s products in an appealing environment.
“We purposely try and keep the presentation very clean, authentic and uncluttered,” he said. “The cases contain about 30 percent less jewelry than a usual display.”
On the marketing front, Yurman is continuing this fall with its lifestyle ad campaign, which was initiated last year and ushered in a new image for the company.
“Before, our advertising was based on product, and now it is more about who wears it and how they wear it,” said David. “For this season, the campaign is a little more soulful and more intimate.”
In 2001, the firm spent about $10 million in advertising, and this year plans to spend the same amount on overall marketing. It will invest about 15 percent less on actual advertising, and target more in-store events, direct mail and other promotional activities.
Model Amber Valetta is again central to the campaign, although the cast has been expanded and among those featured are singer Bijou Phillips, as well as the Yurman’s dog, Sushi, who makes a cameo. The black-and-white ads, which were shot in Hollywood and Malibu Beach, Calif., are close-ups and feature models with soulful expressions.
On a more personal note, the Yurmans have also stepped up their charitable efforts. The David and Sybil Yurman Humanitarian Foundation was founded last year as a way for them to organize their donations. Earlier this year, the duo were among the guests honored at a dinner for Friends in Deed, a charity that offers support to people living with life-threatening illnesses.
“We don’t have one charity that we focus on, but our efforts are concentrated on children, art and health,” David said. “We are right now establishing a board.”
While the Yurmans are active in charities and other issues, the main focus of their lives is clear.
“Our company is run from design on up,” David said. “And the business really exists to support our passion for design.”
Sybil added: “We are the brand. It is not some nameless company that is doing this. Everything comes back to the fact that David and I are living designers.””