A Trailblazer Winds Down

Designer-name jewelry. Fine jewelry trunk shows. Jewelry boutiques. High-profile promotions. Classic floral jewelry.

Peter Lindeman – one of the first brand-name designers – has done it all. Now, this veteran craftsman is pondering a new challenge: How does an artist say good-bye to his public while preserving his work and his name for posterity?

“After all,” he says, “when I’m gone, there may still be ‘Peter Lindeman’ jewelry but no more original Peter Lindeman creations.”

Classics. For more than four decades, Lindeman has been consistent in his designs – classic styling that is timeless and unique. “These will never be out of style,” he says.

They certainly have stayed in demand. As early as the 1960s, individual pieces retailed for as much as $10,000 to $20,000. Even his least expensive items, which retailed for $75 three decades ago, today would sell for close to $900.

Throughout his career, Lindeman has specialized in creations from nature, especially animals and flowers, both of which are enjoying a resurgence in popularity in jewelry design.

His equestrian-themed jewelry – in more than 250 different designs – has sold consistently for decades, while his pins depicting birds, cats, sea creatures, elephants, and turtles have graced many lapels and blouses for years.

Lindeman has also created a variety of unique collections, such as jewelry combining polished diamonds with rough-cut diamonds. A recent one-of-a-kind example – inspired by the film Jurassic Park – is an 18k pin in the shape of a dinosaur skeleton with rough-cut diamonds. Other long-popular creations include his “bee” designs, a diamond-eye tiger pin that becomes a necklace when a chain is added to its long tail, and alligator jewelry, which sold well for years at the University of Florida, home of the “ ’Gators.” The zodiac also has figured in several pieces. Among them are his “Turnit” ring, which had initials on one side and a zodiac sign on the other, and his zodiac calendar, one of which was bought by Elvis Presley.

Lindeman’s work has garnered a variety of awards over the years, including those from cultured pearl and diamond competitions. By the mid-1970s, he was so well known that De Beers asked him to create an 18k tennis racket pin/pendant (with diamonds on the rim), which he presented to Chris Evert after she won the women’s singles in the U.S. Open tournament.

Making his mark. Born in Berlin, the son of a jeweler, Lindeman moved to Uruguay in South America with his family while he was still a child. There, starting at age 12, he learned his craft at his father’s jewelry bench. In 1947, the 17-year-old jeweler’s apprentice emigrated by himself to the United States, arriving in New York City, where he worked for several jewelers (and learned English, his third language). In 1955, he went into business for himself, creating jewelry that reflected his own unique style.

In a break with tradition – there were virtually no independent “wholesale designers” – he began promoting his designs under his own name in the late 1950s.

He began by putting his own quality hallmark – an elongated teardrop with an “L” in it – on the back of every piece of jewelry he made. It represented, he said then, his commitment to the “quality, style, and superior craftsmanship [that] are the essential elements of fine jewelry that has lasting value.” The phrase “Designed by Peter Lindeman” with the teardrop and L next to it became part of all his advertising.

He began selling his jewelry under his own name directly to New York’s fine jewelry stores, “being ambitious and creative,” as he puts it. True, there already were well-known jewelry designers, but they worked for famed retailers like Cartier or Tiffany. Lindeman was one of very first independent designers to market his own brand and to do it successfully.

Going “outside.” What made him a success was actively promoting his upscale designs to stores outside of New York City. In so doing, he became the first designer to popularize his jewelry in towns and cities away from the major jewelry centers across America.

People living in “rural areas of Connecticut, Oregon, or Colorado, or upstate New York, had as much a need” for high-fashion jewelry as affluent urban dwellers, Lindeman believed. Yet, ironically, many of these jewelers in the late 1950s and ’60s either couldn’t get such jewelry or thought it was “too high-style” for them. Instead, they sent their upscale customers to the major cities to buy it, recalls Lindeman. “I came and said, ‘Why do that when you can sell it yourself?’ ” He offered his stylish lines to attract those affluent clients who might otherwise travel to Chicago or New York to see designer pieces.

That led to the first trunk shows for expensive designer jewelry. He also worked with selected jewelers to create the first in-store “boutiques” outside of New York, to showcase expensive fine jewelry, especially his own collections.

“If you have special merchandise, you must have a special area in which to house it,” he explained to one reporter then. “You cannot put a high-fashion pin next to a staple circle pin.”

Network. To help jewelers sell his designs, Lindeman would send a representative or go himself to advise them on the “fashion-selling approach,” provide nationally publicized original creations for special in-store events, and supply artwork and material for local newspaper advertising.

The opening of a boutique or a visit by “world famous designer Peter Lindeman” – as newspaper publicity invariably called him – was heavily promoted locally, and his jewelry was made the center of much public attention.

In one day, especially in those years, “I could sell 10 times as much as I would have in a year in the city,” he recalls.

Soon a network of jewelry retailers across America – such as Simon’s Jewelers in New Hampshire, B.D. Howe’s & Sons in California, Goldwaters in Arizona, or Rich’s Inc. in Atlanta – were carrying and promoting Peter Lindeman jewelry.

Bringing his upscale brand of jewelry to towns and small cities helped make him famous nationally as a designer. It also persuaded affluent consumers to rely more on their local jewelers for designer pieces (rather than always going to the big-city retailers). That in turn boosted those stores’ sales and image.

Winding down. Now, after five decades in the jewelry trade, Lindeman is winding down his business. His lease on his office at 17 W. 45th St. ends Dec. 31, 1999. He is operating with a skeleton crew and accepts only what he calls “special orders from special clients.” His firm, which once made tens of thousands of items annually, now makes a couple hundred.

Instead, he has turned his attention to maximizing the value of his work for himself, his heirs, his public – and posterity.

“I have a lot of pride in what I have created, like any artist. Instead of liquidating my inventory, which would only bring in the price of the metal and stones, I would rather see people buy my work and enjoy it.”

He is toying with the idea of franchising or selling his “Peter Lindeman” jewelry name. “I would like to find someone to continue the business, perpetuate my classic designs after I leave, and see that my customers get service and aren’t left in the lurch,” he says.

If someone does, he or she will get a bonanza of designs. Lindeman has molds of almost every piece of jewelry he has created, even back to his early New York days. They number more than 7,000 and are kept crammed tightly together in metal file cabinets in his New York jewelry workshop not far from Rockefeller Center.

He may also donate some of his artistic one-of-kind creations to a gallery or museum.

Topping Lindeman’s list of ways to preserve his work and name, though, is a “farewell tour,” which would last several months and may start as early as this fall. He plans to retrace the steps of his earlier years and revisit stores across America that have been his clients and promoted his designer jewelry for decades. He has been talking for months now “with all my old customers about coming to their communities to make personal appearances, their plans for [in-store] parties for me with select customers,” and the sale of the remaining one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces of original “Jewelry by Peter Lindeman” to what he calls “Peter Lindeman collectors.”

It is a tour to which he looks forward with pleasure and nostalgia.

“I would like to end my career by recapturing that high note” of earlier years, he says.