Wearable Wonders by Lawrence Vrba
Lawrence, (Larry) Vrba has been creating jewelry for over 50 years and is “responsible” for some of the most successful Miriam Haskell Jewelry collections in the 1970’s. Vrba’s pieces are usually of a notable size, four inches or more, and if you’re a frequent Broadway and Metropolitan Opera goer, you’re probably very familiar with his jewelry designs.
Vrba is known for his huge collection of vintage beads and rhinestones, which he combines with poured glass petal flowers, elaborate enamel ethnic patterns and antique-like metal wirework. His creations are often referred to as jeweled sculptures. Each and every Vrba piece is still made by hand. Lawrence Vrba jewelry is also rather rare, as it has never been mass produced or made outside the US.
Lawrence Vrba and Miriam Haskell Jewelry
Vrba moved from his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, to New York City in mid 1969. Looking for work and, according to him, being a big fan of Miriam Haskell jewelry, the future jewelry maker went to the Haskell offices several times asking for a job. On one of such persistent tries Vrba ran into the then-owner of Haskell Jewelry, Sandy Moss, who decided to hire Vrba as a counter.
Within two months, Vrba was a designer making jewelry each Friday, a position he held for about 18 months. At that time Bob Clark, the brand’s head designer, decided to go his own way and partner with William De Lillo (worked for Tiffany, Harry Winston before partnering with Clark. Later moved to Paris to work for Ricci and Elsa Schiaparelli). Young Larry Vrba left Miriam Haskell Jewelry and went with Clark.
The partnership didn’t last long and Vrba moved on to Castlecliff Jewelry where he worked till 1972. While at Castlecliff Jewelry, Lawrence designed a very successful jewelry collection of pre-Columbian inspired look. Beads were melted to form the signature centers of this line. Made with glass in the first season, the second season saw some more expensive natural stones as well. Castlecliff created their jewelry on 17th Street in Manhattan and their showroom was at 5th Avenue across the street from B. Altman.
About the same time at Haskell, another head designer left and Vrba came back to channel his talent and creativity as the Haskell’s head designer, a position he held till 1981.
Egyptian Artifacts Influence
In one of the later interviews Vrba admitted that in the nine years designing jewelry for Haskell, his favorite collection by far was the Egyptian line. Vrba was traveling in Europe and came across Egyptian-themed stampings that instantly sparked the jewelry maker's curiosity and became an inspiration for one of the most loved collections in Miriam Haskell Jewelry history.
Egyptian scarab motif brooches designed by Vrba in his first two years as the Haskell’s head designer became an instant hit and were extremely well-received. Thousands of these brooches were made and stayed in the line for two years. Two years was considered a very long time back then since most custom jewelry pieces from that era were only sold for one season.
Embarking on a New Venture: Lawrence Vrba Own Brand
In 1983 Vrba launched his own jewelry line, creating three-dimensional, colorful and mini-sculpture-like statement pieces. He made use of traditional techniques and applied them to unusual materials to bring costume jewelry to a whole new level of casual chic. For example, he would use real sea shell (that has been polished down to the mother-of-pearl) and then would artificially graduate its hue, add glass beads and rhinestones to create brooches with floral motifs, instantly elevating the look of a costume jewelry to something you might want to pass on to your daughter.
Since Lawrence Vrba Jewelry launch, Broadway producers started coming to him to design jewelry for their hit shows, such as Hairspray, Wicked, Exit the King, "Blythe Spirit" with Angela Lansbury and the revival of "Lend Me a Tenor".
Vrba now works in his own studio in Brooklyn creating unique jewelry on a nearly daily basis. There are two dedicated artisans who work alongside Vrba, including Chris March, known in the New York jewelry making arena for his excellent soldering and wire manipulation skills.
As one of the most prominent contemporary jewelry makers, his jewelry designs remain in high demand even 50 years later. Perhaps, this is because Vrba never really stopped working on mastering his craft, searching for new textures and materials, and because he still enjoys what he does.