By Brecken Branstrator
A circa 1915 platinum ring holding two European-cut diamonds from Doyle New York’s fine jewelry sale in February. Selling antique and estate pieces such as this ring was the subject of an education session held Monday at JA New York.
New York--When faced with increasing competition from other retailers, expanding the product mix to include estate pieces can help set a jeweler apart. But that’s not as simple as it might sound for traditional jewelry stores.

At a panel at the JA New York Spring show on Monday, Jim Rosenheim of Tiny Jewel Box and Susan Abeles of Bonhams U.S. addressed the challenges of estate jewelry and how retailers can prepare their staff to sell it. The EAB Project’s Elizabeth Anne Bonanno moderated the discussion.

Rosenheim said that “vintage is a complicated kind of business,” adding that it can be a very strong draw for people who are looking to create a unique look and also gives stores margin.

Yet one of the big challenges in the marketplace currently is the fact that there’s so much that looks estate on the market that actually isn’t, including forgeries or misrepresentation.

“Find the right sellers, people whom you can trust. Make sure you have everything in writing,” he said.

One important distinction Rosenheim made is the difference in vocabulary when it comes to signed jewelry. Pieces should read, for example, “By Tiffany” if it’s a real piece but there are instances when verbiage such as “Signed Tiffany” is used.

Abeles reiterated these thoughts, noting that there are “innumerable simulated vintage pieces out there, so it’s a guessing game.”

For this reason, asking all the important questions about a piece before buying is of utmost importance--provenance, how the piece came about, how the dealer/company came into possession of the piece and anything else pertinent to its history.

Retailers also need to have an idea of what type of estate jewelry they want to deal in, what they’ll sell and how they will do that. So education, too, is necessary, Abeles said.

This means not only reading all about the time periods and history behind the periods and eras that the store wants to deal in but also being involved with what’s going on in the trade, attending shows and seminars, and following relevant conversations and sources on social media.

When it comes down to it, retailers should trust their instincts about a piece and pay attention to signs that it might not be authentic.

Abeles also said that a good way that store owners can help both clients and salespeople in the process is by creating “tear sheets” for each piece of estate jewelry, which includes the image and basic product information as well as the story behind the piece.

When asked if they were finding that younger consumers are drawn to the estate jewelry market, Rosenheim said that they are seeing the interest in the bridal category, particularly engagement rings from the 1920s or 1930s. Abeles too said that younger clients who come to them tend to buy bridal jewelry or basics such as rings, straight line bracelets or ear pendants.

But for clients in their 30s, 40s or 50s, they’re more often buying estate to fit their style.

In fact, customers today are no different in buying estate from the way they buy contemporary jewelry, Rosenheim said; they’re buying jewelry to suit their lifestyles.

If a store has clients who wear big Art Deco pieces, then a store could carry that in its estate collection. But many customers today are more casual in their everyday wear, so a store needs to know its market and choose estate pieces that match its clientele’s buying habits.

In this way, finding the right estate jewelry for clients is very similar to selecting the contemporary lines to carry. It just requires due diligence and research beforehand.

“If you’re going to go into the business, go into it with eyes wide open,” Rosenheim said.

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