NEW YORK — The life of Raymond C. Yard (1898-1964) demonstrates the power of a heavy-hitting early endorsement. Born to a railroad conductor and a stay-at-home mother, he began his career in the jewelry trade as a door attendant and errand boy for Marcus & Co at age 13, one of the top jewelry firms in New York City. Yard went from earning three dollars a week to becoming one of its top salesmen. In 1922, at the urging of one of Marcus’ most affluent patrons, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., he decided to hang his own shingle on Manhattan’s iconic Fifth Avenue. Rockefeller promised to bring Yard business and he kept his word, not only having the young man design jewelry for his wedding but recommending him to his friends. The jeweler was soon courted by movie stars and high society clients, many of whom commissioned statement pieces from him.
Yard used the finest diamonds and gemstones in stylish settings for his Art Deco designs, clearly favoring platinum. In his era, platinum became a popular material for jewelry, and Kashmir sapphires and other choice gemstones were readily available.
Among his most prominent loyal customers was the actress Joan Crawford, who often wore her own jewelry in movies. She commissioned Yard to create a citrine and gold jewelry suite, centered on a 357-carat citrine brooch, which she wore in the 1941 movie When Ladies Meet. In May 2022, that suite brought $200,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Heritage Auctions.
The Crawford suite was made in 14K gold — a departure for the platinum-loving Yard but an ideal accompaniment for the citrine. He gained a reputation for inventiveness, and would take his time seeking out just the right stones; those who commissioned a piece from him had to wait patiently for months while Yard gathered the perfect raw materials.
A fine example of the fruits of his labors is a diamond, platinum and chrysoberyl brooch that made $57,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2018 at Abell Auction. The piece, which appears to be in the form of a bow, features a trio of cat’s eye chrysoberyls, with the center stone weighing 23 carats. The brooch was originally commissioned for Byron De Witt Miller of F.W. Woolworth & Co., circa 1948-49, according to Heritage Auctions’ catalog notes.
As Marilyn Monroe famously sang, diamonds are a girl’s best friend, and vintage platinum diamond pieces are among the most collectible of Yard’s designs, typically bringing six-figure sums. A pair of platinum and diamond dangling drop earrings attained $360,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Joshua Kodner. Its five-carat heart-shape diamonds elevated the jewelry to the level of wearable art.
Yard paired diamonds with sapphires in pieces ranging from rings to bracelets to bejeweled accessories. A pair of Raymond Yard platinum, Kashmir sapphire and diamond dress clips sold for $72,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020 at Grogan & Company. Dress clips came into their own in the 1920s and were typically worn in pairs on either side of a neckline or on a dress’s straps. Each of the floral spay clips featured rows of diamonds radiating out from a central sapphire weighing about two carats.
Besides crafting timeless jewelry, Raymond Yard is also lauded for his whimsical designs, including a late 1920s-early 1930s line of animal brooches that depict the creatures as waiters. Natty-dressed rabbits and chickens fashioned from articulated gemstones held trays of cocktails and carried buckets of champagne. According to some sources, Yard began making these as an artistic form of protest against Prohibition.
Whether they are mere glittering delights or carriers of a political message, the waiter brooches were beloved in their time and are highly collectible today. A circa-1930 platinum Rabbit Waiter brooch, which earned $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2017 at New Orleans Auction Galleries, is embellished with enamels, diamonds, sapphires and rubies. “The first rabbit brooch appeared in December 1928 and depicted a rabbit in profile wearing a jacket and a top hat, carrying a cane and flower bouquet,” states the auction catalog lot notes. Yard made a whole series of rabbit waiters from 1929 to 1931, and no two were exactly alike.
In 1958, Yard retired, passing the reins to his protege. The firm, now located in Greenwich, Connecticut, is still going strong and marked its centennial this year. Raymond Yard’s jewelry continues to be celebrated for its bold designs and striking color combinations. Tastemakers in the Art Deco era as well as current jewelry collectors admire these sought-after pieces, which are imbued with an enduring, undeniable elegance.