Summer Camp—for Grown-Ups

For anyone with a passion for jewelry, Jewelry Camp is akin to heaven. For five days in July, hundreds of jewelry collectors, dealers, students, and fans gather on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y., to learn from some of the top jewelry experts, designers, and historians in the field. Past years have seen Christopher “Kip” Forbes speak about his family’s (now-departed) Fabergé collection, and Christopher Hartop, renowned silver expert, author, and former executive vice president of the Christie’s New York curatorial departments, describe his adventures in helping to bring up the treasures of the sunken Spanish galleon Atocha.

Joyce Jonas, director of the program since 1993, decided to organize this year’s 25th anniversary conference around a “globalization” theme after noticing that many of her potential speakers had become fascinated by exotic, international themes in jewelry. African and Middle Eastern jewelry have drawn particular interest over the past few years.

The first speaker Jonas lined up was renowned jewelry expert Dr. Geza Von Habsburg, who will be paired up with British Museum curator and Cartier expert Judy Rudoe for a joint lecture on Cartier and Fabergé.

In another lecture, Peter Shemonsky of Bonhams and Butterfields Auctioneers will focus on Mogul Indian jewelry, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. “This year we’re doing Russian jewelry, Hungarian jewelry, Scythian jewelry, Central Asian jewelry,” says Jonas. “It’s so exciting to have this depth of expertise.”

Jewelry Camp was founded by avid collectors Ruth and Dr. Joe Sataloff in 1979. Despite its first, remote location in Orono, Maine, the conference was popular from the start, and many of its early students have graduated to faculty-member status.

After a stint in Rhode Island, the conference moved to its current location, Hofstra University, in 2002. Jonas estimates this year’s attendance at between 250 and 300 people. Most attendees stay on campus in dorm rooms, although there are numerous major hotels located close to the university.

The conference is an intense experience, and though it’s held at a college, each day is considerably more rigorous than a typical undergraduate’s day. An average day at the conference runs from morning until evening and features two or three marquee presentations by select experts on their given specialty, with smaller seminars held in between. A wide variety of seminars are offered—from basic fundamentals such as “Examination Techniques” to more specific topics like this year’s “Wiener Werkstätte Jewelry”—and attendees can choose the seminars they’d like to attend before the conference begins.

Many of the faculty are regulars. Diamond dealer Michael Goldstein returns each year to share his insight and expertise in the antique diamond market, and Diana Singer gives tips on distinguishing original pieces from reproductions. Robert Weldon holds seminars exposing the world of digital gem photography, and Camilla Dietz Bergeron usually speaks on topics in her specialty, retro jewelry of the 20th century. Christie Romero, author of Warman’s Jewelry, covers a variety of topics each year, often providing timelines of jewelry history or zeroing in on a specific theme, such as Mexican silver or, this year, the 20th-century Crafts Movements in American jewelry.

Demonstration seminars also are offered, with designers providing hands-on insight into the creation process. In 2002, gem engraver Ute Klein Bernhardt brought her ancient workbench along, pointing out the wear it has endured through generations of her family’s use, while Laura Hiserote, master micro-mosaicist, invited students to set their own tiny tesserae into a piece. Hiserote will be teaching again this year, and other demonstration classes will include hands-on hallmark identification with William Whetstone and “Tool Marks of the Masters” by Gary L. Smith.

Finally, the last night of the conference is given over to one of the most anticipated events of camp—”Dealer’s Night,” where a conference room is turned into a marketplace as cases are set up and deals are made.

Jewelry Camp is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to indulge a passion for jewelry and benefit from the insights of some of the greatest experts working today. “I greet everyone at the start of the conference with ‘Hello, jewelry junkies!’ because that’s what we are,” says Jonas. “Jewelry has, in recent years, become more recognized as a part of the decorative arts, and the interest and the knowledge of the consumer has come very far. They’re much more discriminating; programs like the Antiques Roadshow have shown them a lot about what’s out there, and through the years people have absolutely developed more of an interest in history.”

For 25 years, Jewelry Camp has been fulfilling that interest. Here’s to 25 more!

The 25th Anniversary Antique and Period Jewelry and Gemstone Conference, July 17-21, 2004, Hofstra University Conference Center, Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y.; e-mail: jwlrycamp@aol.com, www.jewelrycamp.org.