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Old friends

Dealers are looking forward to attending the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show in person this year.

By Phyllis Schiller

Image: Excalibur Jewelry

Doing business during the Covid-19 years has meant there “was such a long drought of not seeing people you’re used to seeing,” says Pat Saling, president of the Pat Saling Jewel Collection in New York. This year, however, it’s back to live events, and she’s taking full advantage: She has so far exhibited at the Original Miami Beach Antique Show, the Palm Beach Antique Show, and GemGenève, and she’s heading to the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show this month.

“I would go to Europe five times a year, and I haven’t been there for over two years now,” she relates. “So it was very nice seeing the people who did come to Miami that I haven’t seen for a while.” While there were fewer participants than usual at that Florida event, she deemed it a good show. “I bought a few things and sold a lot of things.”

Steven Fearnley, too, is happy to step back from the virtual world and attend in-person gatherings. “I like seeing and talking to people,” says the owner of JS Fearnley in Atlanta, Georgia. “I am looking forward to going to Vegas and working my best deal there.”

Great expectations

Fearnley, who says he “does shows and dealer-to-dealer business,” went from “doing about 15 shows a year to just a few, because of the nature of the beast with Covid-19.” The events he has attended this year — Miami and Palm Beach — he rates highly. “Both were a little lighter on foot traffic than usual, but those who came were there to buy, so both shows were very good for me.” He has positive hopes for an equally good experience in Vegas.

Vintage- and antique-jewelry dealer Kurt Rothner has attended four live events since the onset of the pandemic. The founder of the Los Angeles-based Excalibur Jewelry says he is “really excited about the upcoming Las Vegas show” and is “hopeful international dealers are slated to join.”

Rothner exhibited at the Las Vegas show in 2021 and at both Miami Beach and the Atlanta Jewelry Show this year. The results exceeded his expectations; Miami, in fact, “was double the best show Excalibur has had in over 40 years,” he reports. While he was originally optimistic that Las Vegas would be just as phenomenal, the Russia-Ukraine war and rising inflation have tempered his outlook somewhat. “I feel it will not quite live up to post-Miami expectations, but I still believe we will have a solid show.”

What catches the eye

Rather than a specific category, Saling prioritizes what she classifies as “beautiful jewelry. I’ve spent the first 20 years of my life running Fred Leighton, and then 20 years ago, I went out on my own, so I’ve seen a lot of great jewelry and handled and sold a lot of great jewelry. I’m sure there are trends out there, but I watch for beautiful jewelry. That’s what sells.”

One thing that’s always in demand, she adds, is signed jewelry. “It’s unfortunate that that’s become the first question everybody asks now. When I started in the business, people responded to the beauty of the piece, and then somewhere down the line, you would tell them it was signed.”

Fearnley will be “bringing signed color” to the show, among other offerings. In terms of era, he has found the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s to be popular, “and even the 1940s Retro style. Signed iconic looks such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are in demand. But the reality is, they are so sought-after that it’s just very hard to buy.”

Rothner expects the strong show trends to include gold and diamonds. “Yellow gold will be as consistently strong as ever, with high demand as usual for diamonds, especially bridal, and with very strong interest in high-end fine color. Our mix is largely dependent on what is purchased from estates, so that determines what we will be bringing.”

Low supply, high prices

The shortage of “diamond, manufactured, and fine estate” goods is a hot industry topic, according to Rothner, who also believes the current high gold prices “could become problematic.”

Saling hasn’t seen a lot of quality merchandise around and notes “strong pricing for anything good.” Her inventory, she says, “is fairly specific — 19th- and 20th-century jewelry, a lot of it signed, Boivin and Belperron and makers like Cartier, Van Cleef, and Lacloche — and that makes it even more difficult. The sense I get from anybody I talk to is that it’s just hard to find goods. And the prices at auction houses have become almost impossible for the trade to touch for certain genres.”

While Fearnley feels auctions are a source that “has virtually dried up in the US,” he considers trade shows like the Vegas one a “viable source” for merchandise. “I think we’re going to see a certain sector of dealers willing to pay more than they’ve ever paid for certain things because they can’t get it at any of the other avenues they’ve been used to using.”

The scarcity of goods and the steep pricing are “ongoing complaints among dealers,” he adds, “and no one is happy about it. But the flipside is that a lot of my acquaintances with quality retail shops and quality clientele are having the best years they have ever had. It’s always this case in our business. When it’s hard to buy, it’s easier to sell, and when it’s hard to sell, it’s easier to buy.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - June 2022. To subscribe click here.

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