Rapaport Magazine
Markets & Pricing

Renewed interest in antiques

Older styles appeal to connoisseurs and couples looking for bridal jewelry with historical value.

By Lara Ewen
Estate sales in the US were strong as customers looked to take advantage of value pricing for pre-owned pieces or sell their jewelry for trade-in or cash value. Retailers also predicted a robust holiday with more customers shopping early and locally.

Appetite for estate

Some of Bob Moeller’s clients came to him looking for estate for engagement. “There’s the young customer looking for antique bridal,” said the owner of R.F. Moeller, which has two locations in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota. Art Nouveau and Edwardian were particularly popular eras. “Estate also moves with the older customers in their 40s to 60s, who are aware of the beauty of it.”

Another customer base has been people looking for something unusual or eco-friendly, reported Tami Toms, general manager of Carreras Jewelers in Richmond, Virginia. “It’s either old people who come specifically for [estate], or young people interested because of recycling and saving the planet, or they like the history or the style,” she said. “Some people are looking for a bargain, and some people are looking for one of a kind.”

For Alison Beeghly, general manager of Beeghly & Company in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, price was probably the biggest driver. “Our part of southwestern Pennsylvania is a more conservative market, and people go to estate for value,” she said. “Then there are some people who just love older styles, whether it’s something that’s technically a period piece, or it’s from the 1990s or 1980s era.”

Sourcing troubles

Toms’s biggest challenge has been sourcing. “You don’t know what you’re going to get, and you can’t request what you’re going to get,” she said. “And fine period pieces in pristine condition are few and far between.” She has seen a lot of vintage lab-created sapphire. “Back then, they wanted the color and didn’t care if it was natural,” she explained.

Fortunately, trained jewelers don’t have a hard time determining authenticity, according to Moeller. “Diamonds were cut differently back then. If you see a modern round brilliant in a 1925 mounting, that doesn’t fly. And there was no 14-karat white gold in the 1920s.”

Moeller, who owns the domain names antiquejewelry.com and estatejewelry.com, has also found that online buying and selling makes sourcing more challenging. “But that’s generally for the lower-quality stuff,” he said. “With higher-quality pieces, no one wants to buy it off Craigslist.”

Choosing what to buy can also be tricky, said Beeghly. “We have to know what we should invest time and resources into to make it salable. We have limited case space, so are we disassembling it, or scrapping [it] out, or is it going into the recycled market?”

Beeghly also stressed the importance of being up front with customers about what they could expect to get for their jewelry. “We explain why an item sells for nowhere near what they bought it for. We say that the greatest value in this may be the emotional component, which we can’t compensate for.”

Loyalty and trust

Beeghly believes estate is a way to build relationships. “I see it as definitely extending the type of services and relationships we offer to our customers,” she stated. “People who liquidate with us tend to come back.”

For Toms, buying from customers is about trust. “Sometimes it’s a good, loyal client, and when their parents pass away, they call me and ask me to do an estate appraisal,” she said. “They feel comfortable coming to us.”

Yet it’s important to be sensitive, she added. “You don’t necessarily want a good client to see their jewelry back in your case, or know what you’re selling it for.” That’s why, like Moeller and Beeghly, she always keeps her estate and contemporary cases separate.

“There are folks who don’t like buying other people’s stuff, especially in the engagement world,” Toms said. “But if you take the gemstones and diamonds out and recut and reset them, they’re no longer estate. You can make new stuff out of them.”

A bright holiday

Estate is currently about one-third of Toms’s business, and the holidays are looking bright. “We’re going to do very well,” she predicted. “Our estate show is happening in December, and people are already asking about it, because we have a lot of estate followers.”

Beeghly is also expecting a robust Christmas. “We’re looking forward to a very successful holiday season. The hype now is to buy early and buy local.”

By the numbers
  • Holiday sales for November and December are expected to grow 8.5% to 10.5% year on year to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion, shattering previous records.

  • Brick-and-mortar holiday sales for 2021 are set to rise by 8%, a 10-year high, as shoppers return to stores. E-commerce will go up between 10% and 15%, according to estimates.

  • Swiss watch exports beat pre-pandemic levels in September, with global shipments increasing 3.1% compared to the same month of 2019 and reaching $2.05 billion.

  • Some 113 jewelry businesses exited the sector during the three months ending September 30, compared to 101 in the same period last year. The total of active US jewelry companies fell 1.9% year on year to 23,984.

  • US shoppers received more than 2 billion out-of-stock messages while searching for holiday gifts online in October.
Sources: National Retail Federation (NRF), CBRE, Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT), Adobe

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - December 2021. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Lara Ewen