How To Start an Antique Jewelry Collection

Leah Bourne
How To Start an Antique Jewelry Collection
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We love diamonds on pretty much anything, but there is something about a spectacular piece of antique diamond encrusted jewelry from one of the masters like Van Cleef & Arpels or Cartier that really gets our heart in a flutter.
Wanting to learn about how to go about collecting antique and period jewelry we chatted with Russell Zelenetz of New York City’s Stephen Russell. If you are looking for a treasured Art Deco cuff from Cartier or an ultra rare Lacloche Frères piece, Stephen Russell should be your first stop (its kind of like visiting an informal museum where they are nice enough to let you try on pieces).
The seasoned Zelenetz and his business partner Stephen Feuerman still love what they do after being in business for almost 30 years because of the specialness of the pieces that they offer. “We’ll buy something great, we’ll get all excited, we’ll show it to a client and they buy it, and its a little disappointing,” Zelenetz shared. “You’re supposed to buy it and sell it, that’s the progression of a business, but we get a little bit attached.”
Something that has changed since Zelenetz has been in business is just how popular antique baubles have become. “It’s a fixed resource,” he says. “While you can make beautiful jewelry today, you can’t make it old. Whatever is there, is there. As it has become more popular, more and more is taken out of the market. Maybe 15 or 20 years ago when a woman who had great antique or period jewelry left it to her daughter, the daughter would say, ‘But, I’m not going to wear it, its not my style.’ And she would sell it, and it would go back into the market. Today, younger people want it, and its become so much more popular, that now when grandma leaves you that jewelry, your wearing it. So that’s more jewelry that’s taken out of circulation.”
It’s this trend that makes what is available for sale, all the more special. Here, Zelenetz shares his top tips on how to become a collector.
1. The Best of the Best. “Buy the best of what you can afford,” Zelenetz advises. “It doesn’t matter if your budget is $10,000 or $100,000, buy the best $10,000 piece that you can find. If it’s supposed to be an example of Art Deco, buy a little ring, but buy a great example. Because great is always great.”
2. Have Eyes and Ears Everywhere. Zelenetz shares of how he buys pieces for his collection: “Dealers, traveling the countryside, we now have a network of people and when they find things in the small cities outside of Paris or London they’ll call us. But we still have got to get out there. I went to visit my son at camp in Maine one year, stopped in a jewelry store up there that I knew, and I found a great piece of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Here I was in my shorts and flip flops. That’s part of the beauty of it.”
3. Let Your Collection Evolve With You. “Sometimes, if your lifestyle changes you’ll sell that diamond necklace and buy a piece of Fouquet, something more esoteric, because now your lifestyle is a little different, because your not going out formally,” Zelenetz says. “Or maybe vice a versa—maybe when you were younger you didn’t need formal jewelry, but as you collect more and understand more, you’ll go towards maybe a bigger diamond, maybe a colored diamond.”
4. Invest In What You Love. “About six months ago we bought back, not an entire collection, but a big portion of a client’s collection, thing’s that they’d bought from us over the years,” Zelenetz says. “They were thrilled because the value had escalated….Its not often that you can buy something, wear it and enjoy it for ten or fifteen years, and then when you are done with it, you still get your money back. That’s a great aspect of buying and collecting jewelry.”
5. Buy From Trusted Sources. “Buy from somebody who knows what they are doing,” Zelenetz advises above all. “The stories about people finding things in a flea market , it happens, but not so often…If you buy well, over time it is going to go up in value.”
6. Name To Know. Besides the usual suspects, Zelenetz says to know the name Suzanne Belperron. “Right now things by Suzanne Belperron are very hot,” he says. “For years it was thought that all of her designs had been destroyed…However about five or six years ago there was a gentleman in Paris who is in the furniture business, and he was called in to buy the contents of an apartment…he opened the cabinet and it turned out be Suzanne Belperron’s and he found her diary, her client list, her sales log and that’s where all of the stuff was stashed, so she didn’t destroy it. It was pretty exciting for the industry. We’ve always collected Belperron but she’s been brought to the forefront a little bit with that.”
Click through the gallery above to take a look at some of the incredible antique pieces in the Stephen Russell collection, and visit stephenrussell.com for more information.

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Janesich platinum and diamond Art Deco necklace circa 1930 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

Lacloche Frères magnificent platinum and diamond Art Deco cuff bracelet circa 1930 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

Boucheron platinum and diamond bandeau circa 1910 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

A rare Boucheron platinum and diamond Art Deco bracelet circa 1925 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

An extremely rare Art Deco fancy steel grey diamond ring circa 1925 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

Henri Lavabre for Cartier platinum and diamond art deco cuff bracelet circa 1930 from the Stephen Russell Collection.

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