After 85 years in the jewelry business, Raymond C. Yard remains something of a hidden gem.
The firm operates out of a tiny 300-square-foot alcove, likely smaller than most of its clients’ closets, tucked behind a gilded brass gate in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel. What it lacks in square footage, it makes up for in reputation and history — loyal customers have included American icons with names like Rockefeller and Woolworth — all chronicled in “Yard: The Life and Magnificent Jewelry of Raymond C. Yard,” a new book by Natasha Kuzmanovic with a forward by David Rockefeller, published by Vendome Press.
Although the Carlyle space is a far cry from Fifth Avenue jewelry behemoths like Tiffany & Co. and Cartier, Yard remains an example of an old-school, all-American firm. Its founder, a New Jersey native, got his start in 1898 as a door boy at Marcus & Co. and eventually worked his way up to general manager, all the while developing relationships with some of the firm’s most illustrious clients, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., who encouraged Yard to go into business on his own. In 1922, Yard, who retired in 1958, opened a private upstairs salon in Fifth Avenue’s Harriman Bank Building and brought much of Marcus’ tony clientele with him.
Some of Yard’s first pieces — classic and Art Deco styles, almost always set in platinum — were commissioned by Max Fleischmann, Harry Harkness Flagler and Rockefeller, who in 1924 ordered an 85-carat emerald and diamond bracelet that cost $81,000.
In the book, Kuzmanovic details many of the extravagant pieces commissioned by each family, as well as those made for Joan Crawford and her first husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., who picked up her engagement ring, a 2.5-carat square-cut diamond ring, at Yard on their wedding day in 1929. The couple remained Yard customers even after their divorce four years later and Crawford wore some of her own Yard pieces onscreen, such as a citrine necklace in 1941’s “When Ladies Meet” and a sapphire bracelet in 1955’s “Queen Bee.”
Those pieces and virtually every other item designed and sold by Yard — now operated by Robert Gibson Jr., whose father took the helm upon Yard’s retirement — in its 85-year history are meticulously recorded in bound volumes kept safely in a vault in the jeweler’s Carlyle outpost.
“The hand sketches, gem weights, stock numbers and the original purchaser and price were all logged,” said Gibson, demonstrating the firm’s painstaking attention to detail by showing how a new Deco-style diamond bracelet perfectly matches its original Thirties sketch “to a 10th of a millimeter.” Gibson added that while Yard offers a new collection and custom pieces, customers are free to browse the volumes and re-create vintage styles like those once owned by Crawford or a Rockefeller.