National Jeweler Network

Retail Profiles

About Retail: Dealing in antique jewelry

By Brecken Branstrator

April 14, 2014


Two generations of the Josephson family run Raymond Lee Jewelers, which has its main showroom in Boca Raton, Fla.

Click through this slideshow to see more photos of the store and the rare Patek Philippe watches that are favorites at Raymond Lee Jewelers.

New York--When it comes to ensuring a business endures, it sometimes can take a fresh pair of eyes to see what changes should be made and what can stay the same.

And for a family-run store, that new perspective often enters the picture when the next generation is ready to take the helm.

Jeff Josephson opened Raymond Lee Jewelers, which has its main showroom in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1983 after he moved his family from Scotland to the United States to start his own business. His son Lee has been working at the store full time for nearly a decade, starting right after he graduated from high school. His daughter Erin is also part of the family business, working as a buyer and helping handle the finances.

In Raymond Lee’s early days, the store put more of a focus on designer and branded jewelry, with less emphasis on the acquisition and sale of antique and estate jewelry.

“I didn’t like that model because it wasn’t exciting,” Lee Josephson told National Jeweler. “I saw a new way that I wanted the store to start moving toward.”

As he and his sister began to take more prominent roles at the store, they realized they wanted to change the way the store did business, and began making antique and estate jewelry a bigger part of what they offered. With the exception of some of the diamond engagement rings, most of the jeweler’s selections now fall into that category.

“It keeps it interesting, because you’re not seeing the same pieces over and over again, and you’re offering things that the other stores aren’t,” he says.

One of the obstacles Josephson sees when he’s selling antique or previously owned jewelry can be the disconnect that comes when trying to explain the value of a piece to a customer in order to justify the cost. Customers who don’t have as much knowledge about antiques do not always understand why the pieces are priced as they are.

“What I would consider value, they may not see that. So it becomes more about how much they love it and what it might mean to them more than anything else,” he says.

When asked about pieces that stick out in his mind, Josephson speaks of two rare Patek Philippe watches that are currently in the store’s possession--a "Nautilus" 5719/1G, which the store is selling for $258,995, and a "Twenty-4" 4910/51g-001, listed at $124,995.

Both watches are 18-karat white gold and completely covered in diamonds, and both still have their original Patek Philippe box and papers.

“They may be considered gaudy by some people, but there are customers who like that kind of thing. And they’re rare, so I’m one of a few to have one of these for sale, which is so cool,” Josephson says.

In fact, for Raymond Lee Jewelers, the pricier pieces currently seem to be selling the best.

“We are finding that the more interesting the piece and the higher the price point, the better a seller it is. In this marketplace, people who have the money are willing to spend it as long as it’s a good value. I don’t buy pieces because they are cool or trendy at all. I want pieces that will give me a return on my investment,” he says. “By targeting higher-end, rare items you can cater to both retail clients who are coming into the store locally as well as other jewelry stores who may be looking for something specific.”

Opening the store up to buying and selling to other jewelers is another change the second generation of Josephsons made. 

They do a fair amount of business this way, Lee Josephson says, with more and more businesses calling to locate something specific. Raymond Lee Jewelers generally sends from one to three packages on loan to other jewelers every day.

They also buy pieces from other stores looking to sell and will buy merchandise that is being liquidated as well as take back any pieces originally purchased from Raymond Lee for full price.

But even as they change to try to find a niche in the marketplace, Josephson says they still face increasing competition in antique and especially estate jewelry, noting that he’s seeing more and more retailers adding pre-owned selections to their inventory.

The company will continue to focus on the pieces with the best story and value to separate themselves from the pack. 

“It’s a very complicated business because you really have to know what you’re doing or you could end up with a piece you’ve paid way too much for or that you won’t be able to sell again,” he says. “It’s definitely not easy. I feel like I work 24 hours a day. If you want to be somebody in this business, you have to put in the time.”