The State of Estate


July 1998

Managing:Estate Jewelry

The State of Estate

There are several ways to make the most of period jewelry sales

The Gemological Institute of America held its annual GemFest Basel at the Basel Fair in April, introducing the topic of estate and period jewelry.

The session began with jewelry historian Elise Misiorowski's presentation titled "An Historical Overview: Recognizing the Impact and Value of Estate and Period Jewelry." Misiorowski's presentation tracked jewelry history from the Edwardian period to the 1950s. She noted trends that are repeating, including interest in white metal and white gems such as diamonds and pearls; changeable jewelry, popular during the Great Depression and World War II; woven, fabric-like gold; and big looks in citrine and amethyst.

A panel then discussed "Selling History: the Business of Estate and Period Jewelry." Five estate and period jewelry experts shared their views on the following key issues.

Creating Jewelry Collectors
Panelist Joseph Samuel Jr., president of J.&S.S. DeYoung Inc., Boston and New York City, suggested jewelers create collectors to increase their period jewelry businesses. "Encourage people to develop a theme, such as how flowers have been treated throughout different periods in jewelry history," Samuel suggested. Other ideas included giving a vitrine to collectors to encourage display of their treasures and a desire for more.

Panelists and audience members discussed the need for more retail-oriented education in estate jewelry. Such training should include sales associates in addition to owners and managers. Audience members voiced the need for brief, simple information on jewelry history instead of the longer, dense books now on the market. Several suggested GIA develop estate jewelry training courses.

What's in a Name?
Panelists agreed the term "second-hand jewelry," while ethically safest, is not as image-oriented as "estate" or "period" jewelry. There also were complaints about auction houses selling used and new jewelry and a concern that many consumers may not realize the differences.

Signed vs. Unsigned
All panelists stressed that jewelers should look out for finds in unsigned jewelry. The market for signed pieces is so tight and so auction-oriented, unsigned pieces may be jewelers' only hope of success in estate and period jewelry sales, they said. The lust for signed pieces and the desire to buy them at auction has much to do with a loss of contact between consumers and jewelers. A signed piece auctioned by big trusted "brands" such as Christie's or Sotheby's makes today's estate buyer feel more comfortable. Increased education and brand building by local jewelers could reverse this trend.

Panelists suggested jewelers obtain old auction catalogs, research provenance of old pieces and attend as many auctions as they can to learn about appropriate pricing of estate jewelry.

Panel members, in addition to Joseph Samuel, included David Bennett, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe and chairman of Sotheby's Switzerland; Andrew Cohen, owner of Andrew Cohen Inc., New York City; Thomas Färber, an estate and gemstone dealer from Geneva, Switzerland; and David Firestone, president of Firestone and Parson Inc., Boston, MA. GIA President William E. Boyajian, moderated the panel.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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