Saturday, January 31, 2009
I just wrote about my feather "lure" from the 1980s, and thinking about jewelry I've had over the years sparked my memories of the early years of being a collector and jewelry dealer.
Back in the day, I was always on the hunt for great jewels...no early morning yoga or long runs before the sun came up. Nope...if I was up before dawn, it was for a flea market, antique show, or to check out the estate and yard sales. It was the late 1980s, and it seems that barely a week went by back then that I didn't find at least one or two fabulous finds. Treasures such as Roseville vases, antique wide brimmed hats, and even a Steiff stuffed giraffe (which I still have) for a $1.
One day, I was driving to open my shop from my first home, a Sears Craftsman's bungalo in southeast Atlanta's historic Grant Park. This required me to drive through a pretty sketchy section of town, which was filled with old pawn shops, abandoned strip malls, and junk stores. Most of these junk stores were truly just junk...not the "junque" that I was looking for, so I rarely stopped. This particular day, however, I felt compelled to go into a store I was passing. I'm not sure why...all that was outside were old broken lamps and repaired vacuum cleaners. But I stopped anyway.
So I walked inside to find a cramped dusty shop filled with typical junk store stuff....appliances, FTD milk glass vases, bad 70s art, chrome and glass furniture that hadn't yet had its resurgence. The shop had a big spaceheater that was cranked up to about a bazillion degrees, and an elderly black couple were watching The Jeffersons on an old console TV. It was so hot and loud that I was ready to just turn around and leave, but then I saw It..the Glass Jewelry Showcase. I walked over to the showcase. I began peering inside...past the strands of broken faux pearls, past the goldtone contemporary earrings, past the costume rings. I had very little hope..though I DID have some hope...until the elderly lady said, "Oh, an antique dealer just came in yesterday and bought all our good jewelry." Bubble bursted, I prepared to say thanks and walk out...then I saw it.
Among the dusty junk jewelry was a bangle bracelet. It was tarnished with little diamond shaped purple stones and little clear stones. It was missing a purple stone. Somehow, though, it caught my eye and prompted me to ask how much. "Three dollars," the woman replied. I thought for a moment...."hmmm, it's missing a stone, I'll offer $2." So I made my offer, which was promptly denied. Again, on the verge of walking out, I studied the bracelet for another moment...it was hinged, and it seem well made for an old brass and glass bracelet. Then the true test of value hit me...at $3, it was still cheaper than a Wendy's sandwich (I ate those back then!). So, I figured, what the heck...I coughed up the 3 bucks and left. The bracelet got thrown into a "fixer-upper" project box and somewhat forgotten.
A few weeks, maybe months later, while playing "show and tell" with a friend, looking at jewelry that I'd bought fairly recently, I came across the bracelet. For the first time, I actually really looked at it...the open backs behind each stone, the high quality of the setting, the nice construction...and then I opened it, also for the first time. Instantly, my friend asked, "what does "14" mean?" WHAT?? FOURTEEN? Uhh...well, here I was, jewelry dealer/buyer/collector extroidanaire and I had failed to even look for a mark. I had assumed that gold didn't tarnish and hadn't even bothered to check.
My bracelet turned out to be an authentic art deco period piece, circa 1920s-30s, 14K, diamonds and amethysts. My first real find! I kept it for a while and eventually found a jeweler to cut an amethyst to replace the missing one....for $50...due to the diamond shape and custom cutting, it was a bit pricey, but well worth it. I "test drove" that bracelet several times over the next year, enjoying it immensely. Eventually though, I decided to "recycle it on...and I offered it for sale in my shop. A dealer soon came in and bought it...for $900!
Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the bracelet, but I will always remember the thrill of the hunt and of finding great treasures like this bracelet. It's been over 20 years since that fateful day, and while every so often, something wonderful comes my way, I doubt I'll ever find another art deco bracelet even close to that one again.
Now, I can only hope I can disprove that last statement!