Those who appreciate the history and the quality of hand-fabricated, one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry art will enjoy buying and selling estate jewelry. An estate jewelry department can be very rewarding, both professionally and economically.
If you have an estate department or wish to create one, here are six dealers who offer extensive selections of merchandise plus the expertise to help you understand the business. They also can help you establish values for the estate pieces customers bring in, some of which they may even be willing to purchase themselves.
J. & S. S. DeYoung—Boston and New York
DeYoung has been one of the premier estate jewelry houses for a century and continues its tradition today—the firm carries some of the finest pieces available anywhere. J. & S. S. DeYoung traces its roots to 1891, when Jacob DeYoung, an independent diamond broker, founded his own company. Today the firm is managed by the fifth generation of family members, Janet and Alan Levy, who are the daughter and son-in-law of Joseph Samuel, president of J. & S. S. DeYoung.
DeYoung handles all types of jewelry from all the important periods, including numerous signed pieces from the great design houses of the last 100 years. It tends to focus on jewelry with exceptional diamonds, natural-color diamonds, Kashmir and Burma sapphires, Burma rubies, Colombian emeralds, and phenomenal gems as well as natural pearls. The inventory is available to well-rated or established credit-worthy jewelers. If requested, representatives of the firm will assist jewelers with one-on-one showings for a limited number of high-end private customers.
J. & S. S. DeYoung’s expert staff is qualified to authenticate period pieces and estimate weights of all gemstones.
Samuel has this advice for jewelers who sell estate jewelry:
Make an investment in period jewelry. Outright ownership is always preferable to memo—you become more knowledgeable and more committed to developing the market.
Choose at least one staff member to promote your estate business. Send the employee to estate jewelry courses and encourage him or her to read as much as possible.
Dedicate a showcase to estate jewelry. This shows your commitment to it.
Make sure your inventory covers the important periods (Victorian, Edwardian, art deco, art nouveau, etc.). Your staff should be able to reveal the history of each to entice customers into owning a piece of that history.
Be prepared to purchase period jewelry at any time. Timing is important, and the opportunity to acquire an item to fit your inventory might not be repeated.
Ebert & Co.—Los Angeles
Former Gemological Institute of America instructor and history major Mark Ebert has been in the estate jewelry business since 1980. “In those days—in the early ’80s, when speculators were buying diamonds as investments—we were all given offers to grade diamonds for the investment firms,” he says. Instead, he took advantage of his love of history and teamed with retail estate jeweler Kevin Richter. Richter has since moved back to retail, but Ebert finds satisfaction in wholesale.
He describes the estate supplier’s function this way: “You buy a piece, you sell it, you buy another.” Along the way, you move up to bigger pieces, but Ebert also wanted to offer something no other estate dealer offers. “I figured if I treated this end of the business as a relationship with the retailer, the way other suppliers do—like manufacturers, offering terms, offering trade-arounds, all the things the retailer expects from suppliers—then I would be different from everyone else.” His success speaks for itself. Ebert is just one of two American Gem Society-registered suppliers of estate jewelry.
Most of Ebert’s pieces are termed “affordable.” He has everything from $25 charms to $50,000 one-of-a-kind pieces, but items typically bring between $350 and $3,500. Like most reputable estate dealers, Ebert has original, signed pieces. There’s “not too much in Cartier at those prices,” he says, but there is a lot from Tiffany & Co.; Black, Star & Frost; the old original Bailey, Banks and Biddle; Raymond Yard; David Webb; Van Cleef & Arpels; Mauboussin; and others.
David Atlas & Co.—Philadelphia
David Atlas is president and head buyer of this fourth-generation firm, which dates from 1898. Atlas specializes in buying and selling old mine- and European-cut diamonds from .01 ct. to more than 5 cts. He publishes a wholesale selling-price matrix for old-cut diamonds and will purchase them at 75% of those prices. Atlas buys estate jewelry from the trade and the public but sells only to dealers and retail jewelers. The company has no retail sales. Atlas also offers consignment programs of estate jewelry.
Atlas backs every piece of estate jewelry it sells with a modern twist on “memo.” Each piece has an initial “buy price”—lower than memo—that stands for three days, enough time for the retail jeweler to examine the piece and present it to a client. If it sells within three days, the jeweler pays the buy price. If not, the piece changes to the higher memo price.
Atlas & Co. values education. Six of its nine employees are GIA Graduate Gemologists, and the others are studying gem- ology. David Atlas supervises laboratory services and heads an Accredited Gemological Laboratory that has operated at the same downtown Philadelphia location for years. Atlas and two of the appraiser/buyers in the firm are senior members of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers. Michael Jordan, Edward Skinner, Jr., and David Atlas have been awarded the title of Master Gemologist Appraiser from the Accredited Gemologists Association.
MHR Estate Jewelry—New York
This firm is owned and operated by Chris Del Gatto, former diamond cutter, and Jeff Singer, former owner of L&J Singer estate jewelers. It was founded by Murray H. Rose in 1955. Del Gatto took over about five years ago.
“We’re different than most,” says Del Gatto. “We try to maximize the jeweler’s estate department, like a diamond house helps you maintain your diamond merchandise.” Del Gatto compares his firm to a high-end trunk show. “We help the retailer buy estate jewelry. If they have a piece come in, they can fax a photo and description of it, and we can try to tell them what they have. Or they can overnight a piece to us to examine. If it’s something significant, we can jump on a plane and be there the next day. We’re aggressive. We just went to Europe on a phone call because an aristocrat bought a fabulous 19th-century estate.”
If a retailer calls for an item that isn’t in stock, MHR will find it. “We advertise to buy,” says Del Gatto, “so when a retailer calls us, they can get a better price, because we’ve bought from the public, instead of buying from another dealer like me.”
Del Gatto says information is the key to selling estate jewelry. “The more knowledge given the customer, the better, whether they buy from you or not. Be open and professional—people appreciate it. Besides, most of the people who buy estate jewelry are sophisticated and educated.”
Prices typically range between $2,500 and $7,500. There are plenty of items for $50,000, as well as six-figure, one-of-a-kind pieces. His most popular items are art deco—especially signed, platinum, and geometric—and Edwardian white, filigree pieces.
(Jeff isn’t the only Singer in the estate business. Two cousins—Diana at D&E Singer and Michael at M. Singer, both in New York—are also estate jewelry experts.)
Windsor Jewelers—New York
The Windsor Jewelers Web site at www.windsorjewelers.com makes this claim: “New York’s largest estate jewelry buyers because we paid the highest prices.”
“We hold buying events in retail stores, buying estate jewelry from the public,” says Paul Lubetsky, Windsor’s owner and president. “We give the retailer 10% [of the monetary amount] of whatever we purchase.” Windsor buys advertising to promote the events, which create local excitement about estate jewelry and position the retailer as an expert in the field. Many retailers hold their own selling events shortly afterward. Retailers who have used Windsor for buying events range from small AGS stores to department stores such as Bloomingdale’s.
“Five thousand to $10,000 can pretty easily fill a showcase with good-quality estate jewelry,” notes Lubetsky. “Margins are generally keystone to triple keystone on the lower-end goods [up to $600].” Signed pieces in this price range are limited, and they tend to go quickly. Windsor has been in business for more than a decade and carries pieces that range in price from $50 to $50,000.
S. H. Silver—Menlo Park, Calif.
Steven Silver, who’s been in the estate jewelry business since 1980, is probably best known for high-end pieces—jewelry set with Kashmir sapphires, Burma rubies, fancy colored diamonds, and even “old mine” Colombian emeralds—but he carries almost everything in the estate category.
Silver owns the famous Cullinan diamond necklace, which is touring the country as part of a museum exhibit called “The Nature of Diamonds,” now in San Diego. It was made in the late Victorian, early art nouveau period (circa 1900) in celebration of the “big find”—the 3,106-ct. Cullinan rough diamond. The necklace, which Thomas Cullinan gave to his wife, Anne, contains nine blue diamonds. The largest is the 2.60-ct. Cullinan Blue.
Signed jewelry from Silver has included the big names from the East, like Cartier and Tiffany, and from the West, like Shreve & Co., as well as jewelers to the Hollywood stars, like Russer and Vedura.
Cartier 1900-1930 at Chicago’s Field Museum
A jewelry exhibit featuring the house of Cartier from the turn of the century through the art deco styles of the 1930s will be on display at the Field Museum in Chicago from Oct. 2 through Jan. 16. The exhibit was organized by the British Museum, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with loans from the Art of Cartier collection, Geneva.
These estate-jewelry dealers can help you to establish values for your customers’ pieces—and they may even be willing to purchase some of the pieces themselves.