Rapaport Magazine
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Retail Rap

By Phyllis Schiller

What Selling in Estate Jewelry?

Van Cleef & Arpels diamond and gold Ludo Hexagone double clips, circa 1938. Photo by Antonio Virardi of Macklowe Gallery.

The 4Cs are not the only things that make a piece of diamond jewelry a sales winner. In an ongoing series, Rapaport Magazine explores the “3Ws” — what’s selling, what’s not and why — by going straight to the people who really know — jewelry retailers. Each month, we ask a sampling of retailers to comment on the important issues that are facing the industry today. Here is what they had to say when asked: “Do you have and estate jewelry department? What are your customers buying?”

DAN WIXON, OWNER
WIXON JEWELERS
BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA
   “We do have an estate department and the pieces do sell. It has grown in the past years for us. Our biggest sellers are antique filigree-style wedding rings, holding diamonds anywhere from half-a-carat to three carats, typically. We sell all of those we can get our hands on; they’re very hot. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in that type of ring.
   “These clients come in looking for the estate jewelry. They are very specific in what they want. A lot of times, they’ve been shopping for awhile. Since there isn’t a prolific amount of these rings, the way there is with modern jewelry, when they see something and the look grabs them, they buy it.”

BRENDON DAVIS, STORE MANAGER
THOMAS A. DAVIS JEWELERS
HOLLAND, MICHIGAN
   “We’ve always had an estate jewelry department, except for the late 1990s, early 2000s, when everybody wanted new. And then in 2004, people started asking about our estate section and we started it back up. We have seven showcases of estate jewelry. We have people who come in weekly looking for it. The number of people bringing in pieces to sell has declined but the number of people buying has grown.
   “Rings are the quickest movers. People are looking for engagement rings. We don’t get as many 1920s pieces any more; they’re just not in good condition. Men who are looking for a gold band will look in the estate section first. We do sell it as more dollar efficient. We don’t actively promote that we buy pieces but we have a reputation and word of mouth brings people in.”

PHILIP FAULK, OWNER
JERGER JEWELERS
THOMASVILLE, GEORGIA
   “Estate jewelry does well. People always like it. The 1920s and Art Deco pieces are usually what I sell the most. Customers are not so much interested in a particular designer or signed pieces as they are the 1920s jewelry and platinum. They love the filigree. Since the downturn in the economy, I have a lot more people coming in wanting to sell me things, all different types of things.”

ROBERT ARGO, OWNER
ARGO & LEHNE JEWELERS
COLUMBUS, OHIO
   “We’ve carried high-end estate jewelry, Tiffany quality, for as long as we’ve been in business. We’ve been finding more interest in vintage bridal. Before, customers wanted their own new, unique, custom-made rings. We still do a lot of custom bridal but there’s a growing niche of people who want vintage bridal. Until a few years ago, most of our customers for vintage were probably over forty. Now, we’re getting kids in their twenties and early thirties coming in looking at vintage bridal and other vintage pieces. Deco seems to be the most popular…Edwardian and Deco.
   “I think at least some customers appreciate that it’s not as expensive as a new piece, but what they’re saying is that they’re buying it because they don’t want to make holes in the ground or kill trees or take advantage of native populations. But part of it, I think, is the money.
   “We have a ton of people coming in to sell. In addition to buying over the counter all the time, we have week-long events that we’ve recently increased to six times a year, that are a bit like “Antiques Roadshow.” You can bring an item in and we’ll tell you about it and then if you want to sell it, you can.
   “What sells for us is the Edwardian and Deco rings and then some of the post-war items — not the Retro pieces, but the type of jewelry Audrey Hepburn or Doris Day would wear. Some of that high-end 1950s stuff is interesting to people again. In general, we haven’t seen a big trend toward midcentury. We do see interest in the really timeless, really well-crafted pieces.”

MATHEW WAHL, OWNER
FORSYTHE JEWELERS
PITTSFORD, NEW YORK
   “We do fairly well with selling estate jewelry. Customers are always looking for the vintage look. And pricewise, we buy it right and turn it around quickly. From the standpoint of our business, it fills a niche and works well.
   “We do buy from customers. I’ve been doing this for a long time and there’s a big difference in what we used to buy and what we’re seeing now. We’re buying a lot less. There are so many more people out there buying and you don’t see the quality that you used to see. But it still is coming in. You may have a customer who has something within the family and she passes it on and the next generation might not like it. All jewelry has a lifespan.”

ANDRE VORSTER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
EISEMAN JEWELS
DALLAS, TEXAS
   “Yes, we do sell estate jewelry; not a whole lot, but we do. We have some customers who like a particular era, mostly the 1930s, ’40s. And then we do some bridal estate, but not too much because it’s difficult to find rings that meet our standards. That’s a big challenge.
   “We do buy estate jewelry. We have to buy a whole estate to get a few pieces we like and that will fit our clientele and our quality control. It’s a small section of our inventory, but we are trying to increase it a little bit. Part of why we’ve seen an increase in buying over the counter is that we’re running an ad right now in the local paper stating that we are buying. Since we’ve done that, we’ve seen a pretty big upswing.”

TONY SCHAAP, MANAGING PARTNER
BRYANT & SONS, LTD.
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
   “Estate jewelry has always been a pretty steady 10 percent of our business. The pieces from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s aren’t as hot; the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s pieces are what are popular. I think there’s been a slight uptick in business.
   “In the old days, people would look at an estate piece and they either would like it or not like it. Now, they’re breaking it down to what’s the weight, the components. We do buy from customers. There is definitely more to buy out there.” 

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2013. To subscribe click here.

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