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Jose Hess, Designer and Industry Leader, Dies

Feb 11, 2021 9:06 AM   By Rapaport News
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RAPAPORT... Industry leader Jose Hess died on Tuesday at the age of 87, according to the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO), the organization he headed in the late 1990s.

Hess passed away peacefully in his home in St. Augustine, Florida, CIBJO said in a statement Wednesday. He was distinguished for his life journey from Nazi Germany to the New York jewelry district via South America, as well as for his impact on the design world.

“Jose is one of a handful of people that one can truly describe as having changed our industry, and he left it a better place,” said Gaetano Cavalieri, CIBJO’s president. “Jose was compassionate and generous, with a keen sense of humanity and community. In so many ways he embodied the cosmopolitan industry of which we are all part, with a strong feeling of pride of where he came from and remarkable degree of comfort in all the places that life had taken him, from Europe to South America and then to the United States, which he loved dearly.”

He was born in 1933 into a Jewish family that left Germany in 1938 and settled in Colombia. When he arrived, an immigration official changed his name from Josef to Jose — the name by which he went for the rest of his life.

Hess started in the jewelry business at the age of 14, finding a job with a Viennese goldsmith after his parents’ illness forced him to leave school to help them. At 17, he moved to the US, where he worked in several jewelry jobs, graduated high school, and studied at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). He obtained a degree from the Mechanics Institute, part of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York.

After serving in the US military for four years, he became a full-time jeweler, working for American designer David Webb. In 1958, Hess set up his own design business. His pieces often made it to the red carpet and high-end style magazines, and won him several design awards.

He was elected president of CIBJO in 1996, taking up the position in 1997 for two consecutive two-year terms that ended in December 2000. He also served on the board of directors of the Manufacturing Jewelers and Silversmiths of America (MJSA), and as president of the Plumb Club and the 24 Karat Club of the City of New York.

Furthermore, Hess founded a number of groups to help emerging jewelers, and taught at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where he helped create a jewelry course that is still available today, CIBJO pointed out.

He is survived by Magdalena “Maggie” Hess, his wife of 33 years and a renowned designer, as well as by four children — Lawrence, Francine, Aaron and Josef — and four grandchildren.

Image: Jose Hess. (CIBJO)
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Tags: 24 Karat Club of the City Of New York, CIBJO, David Webb, fashion institute of technology, fit, Florida, Gaetano Cavalieri, Jose Hess, Maggie Hess, Manufacturing Jewelers and Silversmiths of America, MJSA, new york, Plumb Club, Rapaport News, St. Augustine, US, World Jewellery Confederation
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