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This Stash of Vintage Italian Coral Is a Goldmine for Young Designers

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It started with a call from the team at Prounis. The founder of the Greek jewelry line, Jean Prounis, was in need of some coral, which prompted New York–based private jeweler Estelle Newman (aka @harryanddaughterjewels) to go hunting through her dad’s stash to find some.

As I reported not too long ago, said “stash” is actually a kind of Aladdin’s cave of loose gemstones and other jewelry treasures Newman’s father, Harry, amassed during his decades-long career as a jeweler in New York City’s Diamond District.

“I took a few pieces of coral with me when I met with [Jean], and she loved them and wanted to see more, and that got me to really take stock of what I had,” says Newman. “I know my father had an obsession with coral, so I went scouring through the stash, setting things aside. My father really never organized anything—there was a piece here, a piece there, and as I went through everything I realized I had an awful lot of it. And that it was Italian, or at least acquired during his many business trips to Milan—he was there regularly and never purchased coral anywhere else.”

A sampling of what she found, after opening up all the little faded envelopes, tissue-wrapped parcels, and display boxes, below:

Estelle Newman coral specimens
“I had so many angel skin cabs, I just put them in a bowl,” says Newman. Other finds: carved coral roses and a gazillion beads.

“Because the Tucson Gem Show didn’t happen this year, a lot of New York jewelry people have been having to buy over Zoom,” says Newman, who has worked with designers such as Elizabeth Potts of the Moonstoned and Brent Neale, and is also open to working with stone dealers if they have strong relationships with young designers. “So this is a great opportunity for me to show people material in person, and a great opportunity for the designer to spend time with the product. I like the face-to-face appointments.” (Newman, who is 70, has received the COVID-19 vaccine and is willing to travel to meet her clients.)

“When [my father] accumulated stones, it was with the goal of designing beautiful pieces,” she says.

Partnering with the next generation’s most promising voices—and facilitating their work—has become a way for the jeweler to prolong her father’s legacy. The transactions are emotionally rewarding for her, and let her take on the role of a kind of supplier-meets-benefactor (or fairy godmother, if you like).

Newman’s hoard of coral will have unique appeal to a certain type of studio designer. The abundance is key in that there’s enough material to produce several runs of a collection. There is also the fact that nearly all the coral pieces are in excellent condition, because they were previously just languishing in storage, having never been set in jewelry before.

Since coral is highly regulated, and complicated from a sustainability perspective, vintage coral harvested from the Mediterranean 50 or more years ago can be especially attractive to eco-conscious designers.

Estelle Newman coral strawberries
A bushel of strawberries (and some tiny buddhas in top row). “The people who want to use coral in their jewelry know what they’re buying,” says Newman. “If you turn the pieces over, there’s a variance, and that’s how you know it’s natural.”

“I’m not doing this to pay my mortgage,” Newman says. “It gives me such joy to be able to see a young designer see something that’s been sitting in a box somewhere and bring it to life. If I can sell 10 little pieces, it’s 10 less that my kids have to deal with one day.”

Newman posted some of her coral finds on Instagram over the weekend and is already receiving queries from designers based everywhere from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to the south of France.

Estelle Newman carved coral
Some of the figural carvings have caught the attention of a jewelry design team that does custom work for the likes of Beyoncé. Newman says the possibility of a tiara was discussed.
Estelle Newman coral hibiscus
“The hibiscus carvings are probably some of the rarest specimens I have,” says Newman, who is planning to save some for herself. She has an existing coral necklace that she would like to add the hibiscus blossoms to, à la this drool-worthy masterpiece by Suzanne Belperron.

“I don’t need to sit around and play canasta with my friends. This is what I do between going on dates—that’s my real job,” says Newman with a laugh. “The jewelry industry has been so wonderful and I’ve gotten to meet so many young people. My kids are always telling me, ‘Grandpa would be so proud.’ The way I work, it’s a unique thing, but I’m happy to do it.”

Top: Coral, coral everywhere! “In the trade, the supply is very limited, especially the unusual carved pieces,” says Estelle Newman (aka @harryanddaughterjewels on Instagram). Her wish is to help an emerging designer put together a collection for summer, and she’ll be pricing her material in a way that will make the undertaking possible.  

Follow me on Instagram: @aelliott718

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By: Amy Elliott

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