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Macklowe Gallery Move Gives It Room to Grow

Dec 19, 2017 4:12 AM   By Phyllis Schiller
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Macklowe Gallery’s move to a more spacious venue in November was “a no-brainer,” according to second-generation president Benjamin Macklowe. The New York City gallery now has “more opportunity to tell our entire story, including jewelry, Art Nouveau pieces and the artwork of Louis Comfort Tiffany,” he says.

Founded by Lloyd and Barbara Macklowe in 1971 — Benjamin joined in 1994 — the family-owned business displays a carefully curated array of decorative art and adornments from various periods. After spending more than 40 years on New York’s Madison Avenue, it has upgraded from 20 feet of frontage to 135 feet on the corner of Park Avenue and 57th Street, where it fits comfortably with new neighbors that include upscale auction houses.

State of the estate market

In today’s marketplace, Macklowe says, his competition for the luxury dollar is “everybody,” from Sotheby’s and Christie’s to other estate dealers and high-end modern jewelry. But there is also a “great opportunity” to fill a void left by art and antiques dealers who have gone out of business or retired within the past 10 years. The key, he says, is “paying close attention to what our clients are telling us.”

Understanding customers is a priority Macklowe embraces wholeheartedly, considering it his job to surprise and delight clients with the quality and variety of what he sells. “We could have a circa-1730 memento mori ring, a 1970s David Webb and everything in between.”

Part of the challenge today, he acknowledges, is dealing with a societal shift to a more casual lifestyle and more socially conscious buyers. There’s no single formula for finding the right merchandise mix, he notes. “Estate jewelry is the most ecological jewelry you can buy — any manufacturing was done in the past. And that’s certainly a conversation I’ve had with people sensitive to that idea. But ultimately, whether you’re a millennial, a Gen X-er or a baby boomer, the most important part about owning a piece of jewelry is the joy that it imparts to you.”

The art of selling

“We’ve always catered to collectors,” explains Macklowe, “and collectors tend to be looking for idiosyncratic things. We have clients who only buy Art Nouveau jewelry. While Art Deco is evergreen, people are living less formal lifestyles now, making some of the diamond-intensive jewelry of the Art Deco period harder to wear today. So we’re doing quite a bit with Art Nouveau.”

Another popular category is what he calls “strong women’s jewelry” — decorative, wearable pieces with distinctive design. These are self-purchases, from $5,000 to $25,000, by women who “want jewelry that goes well with their sense of style but is something they won’t see everyone else wearing.” The gallery also caters to people “looking to buy very unusual pieces with historical importance,” he says.

Ultimately, what he is selling is his taste and sense of value. High on his list is the jewelry of René Lalique, whom he describes as a “once-in-every-500-years genius.” The gallery has also developed a specialty in the jewelry of Marcus & Company, as well as “everything produced by Tiffany,” from lamps and glass to jewelry.

“We own everything we sell,” Macklowe states. “My mother and father always operated on the principle that if you’re not happy to own it for stock, you shouldn’t buy it.”

Right from the source

What has changed, he continues, is sourcing jewelry. “We still purchase a lot in the trade, and because of our position on the street level and the effort that we make to be found on the internet, we get a lot of purchasing opportunities directly from individuals who contact us.”

He also keeps abreast of purchase opportunities at various auctions around the world. “I ask myself, ‘Who are my clients, why do they care about what I do, and how can I make them care more and therefore spend more time with us and purchase more from us and tell their friends more about us?’ I think that extra attention to our customer is what has been the key to our success.”

This article was first published in the December 2017 issue of Rapaport Magazine.
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Tags: Benjamin Macklowe, Macklowe Gallery, Madison avenue, new york, New York City, Phyllis Schiller, Rapaport Magazine
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