The Fascinating Journey of a Master Jeweler: Part 2

by admin

“It felt like a dream, like pure magic,” recalls Cynthia Bach, the wife of Jim Matthews, as she describes their move from Abilene, Texas to Los Angeles. This move was prompted by Jim being appointed as the Director of Fabrication and Design at Van Cleef & Arpels. The timing of their relocation in 1989 couldn’t have been better.

Shortly after their arrival, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) held an exhibition titled “A Jeweler’s Art: Masterpieces from Van Cleef & Arpels,” introducing the city’s jewelry enthusiasts to the renowned French label. This landmark exhibition was one of the earliest retrospectives on 20th-century jewelry design, marking the beginning of a new era in jewelry history.

Jim’s new workplace was the bustling Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on 300 North Rodeo Drive, which had a workshop on the second floor. Every day, Jim would arrive in his pickup truck, dressed in an Armani suit and cowboy boots, and park in his designated special spot. “Jim’s Texas drawl and southern charm made him adored by everyone, and he thrived in this environment,” remembers Cynthia.

The Rodeo Drive Experience…

In 1989, the jewelry landscape was quite different from today. Big jewelry names were not yet global mega brands with boutiques spread across the world. Van Cleef & Arpels had only three locations: Paris, New York, and Beverly Hills. Each location produced unique designs, following the Van Cleef & Arpels signature motifs. Once a design received approval from the headquarters in New York or Paris, Jim supervised the jewelers who crafted it in the workshop.

In those days, esteemed jewelers in Los Angeles, including Van Cleef & Arpels, also functioned as local artisans who not only created custom pieces but also handled repairs and alterations. Jim would often come down from the workshop to oversee jobs for VIP clients such as movie stars, royalty, and socialites like Betsy Bloomingdale and former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Van Cleef & Arpels also catered to rock legends. Before Bruce Springsteen tied the knot with Patti Scialfa in 1991, he commissioned a handcrafted platinum wedding band from Van Cleef & Arpels. Cynthia explains, “Jim carved the ring out of a solid block of platinum. It was not cast or anything like that.”

A New Chapter Begins with Cynthia Bach…

After three glorious years at Van Cleef & Arpels, the company underwent a reorganization. The workshop in Beverly Hills was closed, and all the staff was let go.

This turn of events became Cynthia’s call to action. She had long dreamed of becoming a jewelry designer and had been diligently studying at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and immersing herself in extensive research on heraldry at the library.

Cynthia took decisive action. “Jim lost his job on a Monday, and by Thursday, I was at the Neiman Marcus headquarters in Dallas,” she recalls. She approached Steve Magner, the executive vice president of the jewelry department, and asked for an immediate meeting. Cynthia explained that she wanted to show him her crown rings. Confused, he asked, “For your head?” Once Cynthia clarified that they were rings, he invited her to his office.

In the early 1990s, designer jewelry was not widely available at retailers like Neiman Marcus. Their collections were limited to brands like Henry Dunay and Jean Mahie, along with private label items such as tennis bracelets or gold bangles sourced from manufacturers.

So, Cynthia’s idea was quite groundbreaking, but Steve Magner was impressed with her crown rings. “He offered me $6,000 to continue working on more designs, and I immediately accepted,” Cynthia recalls.

The Cynthia Bach collection gained momentum rapidly and was stocked in several Neiman Marcus stores. Cynthia built a clientele who passionately embraced her romantic designs, inspired by historical styles and enriched by Jim’s intricate craftsmanship.

The Cynthia Bach collection also found its way into Hollywood. Countless red carpet moments featured Cynthia Bach jewels. Selma Hayek adorned herself with a diamond and platinum crown at the White House Correspondents dinner, and the piece later embarked on a tour with the 1997 “The Nature of Diamonds” exhibition curated by the American Museum of Natural History. Halle Berry triumphantly wore a custom-made black diamond and platinum choker, earrings, and bracelet by Cynthia Bach when she won the Best Actress Golden Globe.

At the 2017 Oscars, LaTanya Richards Jackson, wife of actor Samuel L. Jackson, showcased a 20.23-carat emerald and platinum ring by Cynthia Bach. Samuel L. Jackson himself is also a fan and posted an Instagram picture in 2015 wearing his crown ring, captioning it, “I don’t wear jewelry that often, but I Love my Platinum & Diamond Crown ring by @cynthiabach.”

Over the years, Cynthia and Jim have collaborated on countless collections, a partnership that continues to this day. The crown motif became their signature, appearing in intricate rings and brooches. Lyrical peacock feathers adorned rings that elegantly climbed the fingers, wide bracelets, and pendant earrings. They also created the Gitane collection, paying homage to Jim’s expertise in gold work.

Once Cynthia finalizes her designs, Jim meticulously carves them in wax, adding intricate details. Jim’s mastery of techniques such as engraving, filigree, and milligrain brings their creations to life. “If there’s a smooth surface, I’ll make it textured somehow,” Jim explains. “We don’t believe in smooth surfaces,” Cynthia adds. “We don’t do straight lines.”

“It’s one brain, one mind,” Cynthia describes the collaborative work she and Jim do together. “Either I have an idea, or he has an idea. I start with a sketch, and then he adds his touch.”

At the beginning of this story, I mentioned how Taffin designer James de Givenchy stresses the importance of having a craftsman who understands one’s signature style to truly complete a piece of jewelry. The collaboration between Jim and Cynthia exemplifies this notion. Their partnership and shared craftsmanship are exceptionally rare in the history of jewelry.


As one can imagine, a creative mind like Jim’s is not confined to a single medium. During the pandemic, his fascination with gemstone colors extended beyond jewelry into wood carving, resulting in a whimsical installation in the couple’s garage that could easily grace an art gallery. This is just one example of how Jim has applied his craft outside the realm of jewelry.

I hope that this unexpected tale of Jim Matthews, the master craftsman, has given you a glimpse into the magic that takes place behind the scenes in the world of jewelry, thanks to the talented individuals who bring it to life.

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