Whether you’re looking for a delicate Art Deco engagement ring or a lavish antique diamond necklace, shopping for precious vintage jewelry can be as daunting as it is alluring.
On a recent blustery morning in New York, a group of high-end vintage jewelry experts gathered to discuss what potential buyers should look for (including whether pieces should be signed or inscribed with a name). brand) and the types of parts that are particularly good value for money at the moment.
They included executives from three auction houses – Quig Bruning, head of jewelry for the Americas at Sotheby’s; Sara Payne Thomeier, who holds a similar role at Phillips; and Angelina Chen, senior jewelry specialist at Christie’s – and two independent dealers, Dana Kiyomura, owner of Keyamour, a vintage jewelry retailer in Midtown Manhattan; and Peter Schaffer, owner of Fifth Avenue boutique A La Vieille Russie, which has sold vintage jewelry since 1851. Their conversation has been edited and condensed.
“The vintage market is the hottest it’s ever been,” Ms. Chen said. “It’s on fire, basically.”
What trends do you notice?
QUIG BRUNING Everyone is looking for signature jewelry. Cartier, Van Cleef – those are obviously the big two, they always have been. But it’s beyond that: it’s Bulgari, it’s Mauboussin, it’s Boucheron. It’s even the smallest manufacturers: it’s Raymond Yard. If it’s signed and vintage, there’s a huge market for it.
DANA KIYOMURA I find antique diamond jewelry, especially rings, to be very, very popular. I think there’s been a lot of marketing around interesting diamond cuts – Cushions and Asschers – that the general public picks up.
Mr. BRUNIR We had a ring in a sale in June: it was at the beginning of the 20th century. There were a few discolored, or slightly embedded SI grade diamonds, and a big fat old pear shape. There were some very pretty stones. These stones are probably worth around $150,000, and it cost a lot more because, according to Dana, they are nice cuts. It’s an old ring, and people have gone crazy for it.
Are people becoming more confident wearing unconventional cuts and more original pieces?
PETER SCHAFFER I think so. I think people like the unusual, anyway.
SARA PAYNE THOMEIER I think that’s really becoming more central in the cultural conversation, and that applies to jewelry as much as anything else. There is a true celebration of the individual, that wearing the uniform of what jewelry is supposed to be for you is no longer interesting for people. They want to find their personality. They want to share their voice, so something that’s unique, something that has a different take on a classic maybe, I think really gets people moving.
Are there any surprises in what is selling well?
ANGELINA CHEN Those zodiac pendants that no one wanted to touch 10 or 20 years ago are all the rage, and Van Cleef has revived them in its modern line. There is always a cycle for everything.
Mr. BRUNIR Taste is definitely cyclical. What’s really interesting right now, in particular, is that it seems like almost everything is speeding up at the same time: deco is hot, 40s is hot, 70s/80s is going crazy, but even contemporary jewelers do very well. well – whether it’s Hemmerle or whoever. So it’s just this weird moment where you don’t have two waves that are out of orbit, they all jump at the same time.
MRS. THOMEIER I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but River Necklaces with any colored gemstone.
Mr. SCHAFFER Oh yes, absolutely. Even in rock crystal or paste.
Why do you think people, including Anna Wintour, love this Rivière – “river of gemstones” style?
MRS. THOMEIER It’s such a cool look. You can wear it with a t-shirt, you can pair it with a dress, and you can buy them in a variety of colors at a huge price difference.
Mr. BRUNIR Honestly, I would have said the exact same thing. It’s at all price points, from $2,000 for the very, very simple to $10 million for one with massive boulders. It’s something that everyone enjoys.
What about unsigned jewelry, pieces that are not marked by a designer or brand?
MRS. SHEN It’s always easy with a signed piece, but at the end of the day, there is jewelry that isn’t signed that is so beautifully made that people will have that confidence to buy it because it’s a great piece of jewelry.
Mr. SCHAFFER We had a necklace and we were convinced it was Cartier, the customer was absolutely convinced it was Cartier, and there was no mark on it. He kept saying, “Can you drop Cartier off?” and I said, “I can’t, unless you want me to charge you five times the price.”
Is there one type of item that you, in general, consider to be particularly cheap right now?
Mr. BRUNIR I think it is beautiful unsigned vintage jewelry.
MRS. KIYOMURA Yes.
Mr. BRUNIR As Peter said, you might have a nice vintage necklace that doesn’t have any marks on it, or maybe a random French hallmark – those are extremely underpriced.
MRS. KIYOMURA My answer is always Victorian and Georgian jewelry. There is great design in Victorian jewelry and it’s not that expensive. The market hasn’t picked it up as much, and I think you can get what you pay for, in the sense that the design is so good, it can stand out, it can be a statement and it’s not that expensive .
Have buyers of vintage jewelry changed?
Mr. BRUNIR He has become much younger for us. It was a huge sigh of relief. Five or six years ago, we all sat around thinking, “What are we going to do? because our demographics were all getting older and getting older. We have increased by about 40% in the under 40s, year over year. And a lot of that is digital, which we’re all moving towards.
MRS. KIYOMURA I have a lot of young women who are regular customers – they’ve chosen a niche, they’ve found what they like and the aesthetic, and they keep coming back for another chain, another pendant, another locket or a charm. It’s their money; they spend their own money.
MRS. SHEN It’s true. Young women earn good and solid salaries. I think what we do plays into their way of life and their beliefs, and into sustainability. The fact that it’s not brand new – it’s been worn with love before and it’s this whole cycle that they’re a part of – I think that’s part of what they love too.
Other than buying from a reliable source, what advice would you give to someone shopping for vintage jewelry online?
MRS. THOMEIER Just be the most annoying customer you can be. Ask for photos, ask for videos, call and ask again, talk to someone who knows. Check the measurements. Take something from your house that you could cut into this shape – you can put it on your wrist and see how it will feel.
Is there a price sweet spot for vintage?
Mr. BRUNIR It depends on the sale. We have different levels of sale. With our online sales, our sweet spot is probably around $25,000; for our larger live auctions, it’s probably in the $200,000 range, more or less. It really depends on the type of sale, but also on the makeup of the sale.
MRS. SHEN Each sale is organized in such a way that there is something for everyone, like a retail store. You can walk in and buy something for $10,000 and I’m sure you’ll find something for a million dollars too.
MRS. THOMEIER My mom used to tell me all the time when I was a kid that there’s a lid for every jar, sometimes you just have to put them together. I think this is the case with jewelry.
If someone wants to spend $10,000 on vintage jewelry, what would you advise them to buy?
Mr. SCHAFFER For $10,000 you buy what hits you in the solar plexus, not what any of us tell you to buy. You buy what you want – that should be the right way to look at $10,000.
MRS. SHEN Yes! I agree. You buy what you will wear the most.
Mr. BRUNIR If you like it, buy it.
Mr. SCHAFFER Exactly. It is the most important thing in jewelry.