Legends in Timelessness at 92Y Jewelry Center Benefit

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Michael Priest Photography
Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Back in 1979, Robert Lee Morris handmade a brass cuff bracelet on the third floor of a living room loft between Crosby and Houston streets. Its simple, stark and pure design resembles the soft rise of a Bombay structure, held down by the tension of hammered edges. To this day, the piece still fits his aesthetic to a T. As in timeless.

On December 4th, the cuff bracelet was included in a raffle at the 92Y Jewelry Center annual benefit, along with a pendant by Janna Gregonis, earrings by Paul Kim and a ring by Jean Gorospe. At Hollis Taggart Galleries in Chelsea, the event honored Morris for his legacy and involvement with the 92nd Street Y as well as longtime faculty member Klaus Bürgel.

Proceeds from the evening, held in partnership with the Accessories Council, help the nonprofit cultural and community center retain faculty, grant scholarships and provide programs such as Beads for Love and a residency program for jewelers that launched this past summer.

“One of the reasons the Jewelry Center could grow the way it does is because we are in New York City with incredible people who are willing and able to teach in our programs,” says Jonathan Wahl, 92Y Jewelry Center Director. “There is no requirement to take a class here—it is a completely open studio which is rare to be able to get access to, outside of academic situations. We are really lucky.” 

“I first met Jonathan after signing up for a tiara making class in 2001,” says Denise V. Benmosche, chair and underwriter of the event. “I thought ‘wow, if only I can make one’ but the class ended up being cancelled as we didn’t have enough people.” Under Wahl’s leadership throughout almost two decades, the 92Y Jewelry Center has grown five times in size, becoming the largest of its kind in the country.

Both honorees have, over time, developed their own unique way of working. Recently, Morris—who is best known as a metalsmith and sculptor—teamed up with MAC Cosmetics to create a limited-edition collection featuring popular lipsticks, compacts and brushes, reimagined with an artful take (think: golden and matte black packaging). “I am fascinated by the ancient, modern and futuristic worlds,” says Morris. “We are all kind of blended and I feel that my role has always been to be a liaison between today’s world, our past and where we are going—to create products that have a life spirit and never get old.” Morris has also worked with notable designers including Geoffrey Beene, Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein.

Bürgel received his MFA from the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich. For him, inspiration stems from nature and the properties of the artist’s materials, from gold, silver, palladiums, pearls and various precious and semi-previous stones. On Benmosche’s finger is a ring composed on garnets, one of Bürgel’s designs. The garnets were purchased from someone he met at a river near Skowhegan, Maine, where he was visiting a friend. “When you do something for such a long time, you go through phases. My jewelry has evolved quite a bit,” says Bürgel. These days, he’s more focused on sculpture and the form itself, using less stones and decorative elements.

“My teaching is actually just a high regard for the profession [of jewelry making] itself,” says Bürgel. “I feel like I am preserving a tradition, one that is thousands of years old. We are living in a time where people try to cut corners right and left. There isn’t another way on how to make jewelry faster—I call that Hollywood jewelry, it looks good from a distance but when you turn it around, it’s fake. I have great respect for traditional jewelers and am trying to pass that onto students.”

The 92Y Jewelry Center began in 1930 as a single class in metalworking. Today, it serves more than 1,400 students each year and offers more than 60 weekly classes and technical workshops in the Upper East Side. Long live the art of jewelry making.

Attendees of the benefit included Kathy Chazen, Christina Jotterand, Nina Barker Brogna and Michael Brogna, Marlene and Jorge Alva, Dr. Nieca Goldberg and Judith Peterson.


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