A NEW SHINE FOR VINTAGE JEWELRY
Byline: Marcy Medina
LOS ANGELES — Blame it on Hilary Swank’s Asprey & Garrard necklace or Charlize Theron’s Fred Leighton clips at last year’s Oscars, but vintage and estate diamonds are now de rigueur on the red carpet.
Their success has also helped costume pieces from eras past, and many are beginning to steal some of the fine jewelry limelight.
Southern California’s Santa Monica Antiques Fair and Rose Bowl flea market have always been good sources for vintage costume jewelry, but there are several Los Angeles stores and dealers that sell them as well.
Homework, a new shop in Hollywood specializing in home accessories, has a surprising collection of one-of-a-kind Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry from 1940 to 1970, as well as 19th-century Chinese hair pins made from Kingfisher feathers, Baltic sea coral and turquoise. Laser Rosenberg, Homework’s owner, used to have a personal jewelry collection before he opened the store, and now handpicks pieces from dealers and vendors abroad.
“I don’t like machine-made things,” he said.
Referring to a vintage Navajo necklace, Rosenberg noted that each of the silver links is hand-cast. Some celebrity customers agree that the more unique a piece is, the better. Rosenberg recently sold a Navajo necklace to Anne Heche, and Cameron Diaz’s hair stylist recently purchased three hair pins for Diaz to wear in an upcoming period film. “Californians in particular love something that has been previously owned,” he said, adding “This is a flea-market culture. We lead a lifestyle that’s so new that people love to play with history.”
The current trend toward vintage fashion and new clothes inspired by previous decades has also boosted the popularity of vintage accessories. At the famed Doyle auction in New York last November, prices paid for some pieces were four times their estimated value.
Elizabeth Mason, owner of Paper Bag Princess in West Hollywood, said names such as Bakelite, Chanel, Kenneth Jay Lane and Miriam Haskell are among the most sought-after styles now, along with anything with glass flowers. A self-described queen of accessories, Mason has one of the biggest Chanel costume jewelry collections in Los Angeles and actresses including Faye Dunaway often turn to her to unload their gently used items.
“I think we’ve come through this minimal stage, and ladies are starting to bring the costume look back out,” she said. “Also, the Eighties are so popular right now, and that whole decade was about showy [costume] jewelry.”
Mason recently bought out collections of Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel, with “a box too heavy to lift, and I can’t tell you how much of it I’ve sold,” she noted.
“The Japanese are buying anything with a gaudy influence,” Mason added. “It’s about money and affluence and glamour. Everything has come so full circle.”
Mason culls auctions, private estates and the Internet for her store, as well as the flea markets.
“Every Sunday morning, I’m out the door at 5 a.m.,” she said. “L.A. is such a disposable society, which is why I’m selling clothing, accessories and furniture.”
Though the Internet auction site eBay has had an effect on dealers, with many jewelry owners selling their pieces directly, Mason said many owners of vintage costume jewelry are not as inclined to put it up on the Web.
“When you don’t need the money, a lot of people sell their clothes and donate the money to charity,” she noted. “You can’t give everything to the maid.”
Mason often sells the same pieces a few times over, because once a celebrity is photographed in a piece, they wouldn’t wear it again. She said the whole trend is “really driven by the celebrity factor because, let’s face it, they’re our role models.”
Some of Mason’s hottest sellers are big, colorful poured-glass pieces by Kenneth Jay Lane, delicate crystal beaded pieces by Miriam Haskell and drop earrings by Coppola e Toppo, who designed jewelry for Pucci in the late Fifties and early Sixties.
For those who prefer to procure their jewelry on a one-on-one basis, Connie Perente, who has been a dealer of vintage costume jewelry for 30 years, has a private, by-appointment showroom in West Hollywood.
“Trends go in cycles,” Perente said. “TV shows rekindle an interest in certain things and also help you to see why things cost as much as they do.”
For Perente, the advent of e-commerce has brought new sellers and buyers to the market.
“I find that now the thing that’s really popular again is colorful stuff, rich multi-color pieces and iridescent stones,” she said. “For the longest time, you couldn’t sell that stuff. I continued to buy it because I loved it.”
In addition to perennially popular Bakelite pieces, she also does a brisk business with Shriner of New York, whose crystal rhinestone pieces feature their trademark stones set upside-down with the points facing up.
She said older pieces, even though they may not contain precious stones, can cost thousands of dollars, but for the most part, they are affordable.
“Even really little girls are buying it,” she said. “It’s the thrill of the hunt.”
Even Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, which sells 80 percent vintage clothing, said his jewelry sales have picked up in the last three months.
“Jewelry parallels what happens in fashion,” Silver said, adding the most popular items are currently Kenneth Jay Lane’s, Ivan Burke pins, anything Gucci and Hermes (“our bread and butter”) and Coppola e Toppo (“Think anything big and rococo”).