Whether you’re a seasoned vintage jewellery enthusiast hunting for a special treasure or simply browsing for fun, here’s the Vogue guide to truffling out rare treasures.
A bit of everything: Portobello and Grays
Portobello Road market is a truly charming setting and a tourist favourite. From signed Cartier Art Deco jewels to highly covetable and almost-impossible-to-find costume jewellery pieces, arrive early to snap up the rarest finds. “In the olden days, some dealers used to be here as early as six in the morning, and I, like all other keen buyers, had to bring a torch with me,” says Francesca Ruggiero, the founder of jewellery brand, Kiaia. “Today, many of these antique jewellers also sell via the various online platforms and Instagram, but nothing beats the thrill of unearthing a rare gem in real life.”
Another beloved stalwart of the London vintage jewellery scene is the legendary Grays antique market, a bustling hub of over 80 antique stores housed in an Edwardian red-brick building tucked behind South Molton Street – a stone’s throw from luxury behemoth Selfridges. From Roman intaglios to jewellery made for the court of the Romanovs and celestial Georgian pieces, you can find anything you can think of, but founder Bennie Gray advises researching thoroughly before buying. “Understanding different eras, styles and materials will make whatever piece you find more meaningful,” he says.
The specialists: Bentley & Skinner and Eleuteri
Unquestionably, the epicentre of vintage jewellery in London is Mayfair, where a plethora of antique dealers, like the over 150-year-old S.J. Phillips and Fabergé-purveyor Wartski live.
“If I’m on the hunt for a period tiara, a fine Edwardian necklace, a bold revival jewel, a great brooch or a beautiful antique engagement ring, Bentley & Skinner is my go-to address”, says Josephine Odet, founder of The Jewellery Insider, a business specialising in buying gems and jewellery on behalf of clients. Holder of two royal warrants, Bentley & Skinner boasts the most impressive collection of tiaras from the mid-19th century to mid-20th century, but there are also super rare pieces from Ancient Egypt, the Hellenistic era, the Renaissance and signed pieces by Carlo Giuliano, Fabergé and Cartier. What’s more, Bentley & Skinner makes its collection available to rent – a service in high demand among brides, guests of black- and white-tie events and foreign residents who often travel and party in London.
Nestled in the picturesque Burlington Arcade off Piccadilly, Hancock is a reliable source for the finest and rarest antique diamonds and gemstones, as well as for the one-of-a-kind jewels from the last 200 years up to the ’60s and ’70s. “Look for quality in craftsmanship – turn the piece over and see how well it has been made,” advises managing director, Guy Burton. And you can undoubtedly trust Burton’s eye, which spotted some fine earrings set with old mine-cut diamonds, a 5.63-carat Aasscher-cut diamond ring, and a rare “Tissu Milanais” gold bracelet by the goldsmith prodigy Georges Lenfant, among many other rare finds. Business at Hancock is booming and, as of next year, it will relocate to a four-floor building on St James’s Street in Mayfair.
The latest vintage jewellery dealer to set up shop in Mayfair is Eleuteri, located next to Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street. Born as a lavish café in Rome with a side hustle selling antiquities, Eleuteri has become one of the most trusted global addresses for vintage jewellery with outposts in New York, St Moritz and Doha, among others. A slew of celebrities, from Sophia Loren to Kris Jenner, have reportedly shopped Eleuteri’s jewels from the likes of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. “Our specialty, however, is Bulgari, as we have a large collection, especially from the Monete range, and we often lend pieces for museum exhibitions,” says Wagner Eleuteri, a third-generation member of the family-run business. Eleuteri’s top tip for buying a piece that stands the test of time? “Buy quality first, trust your style and don’t think only about yourself, but the next generation,” he says.
By appointment only
Aside from brick-and-mortar antique shops, there is still a lot of jewellery tucked away in appointment-only salons. At the recent Lapada fair, antique dealer Sandra Cronan displayed a unique Boucheron necklace in the so-called “question mark” style, while Spicer Warin presented a dragonfly-shaped brooch set with diamonds and sapphires with a provenance tied to Napoleon Bonaparte. If you’re searching for a conversation piece, make an appointment with Symbolic & Chase, which stocks rare items from any era as well as jewellery made by artists.
A glance at the prices fetched by fashion jewellery at auctions proves that good design and makers retain as much value as precious materials. Chanel’s faux pearl pieces and Maltese crosses, now on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the Manifesto exhibition, are as in-demand as diamond-studded Cartier Art Deco pieces.
Fashion jewellery is scattered all over London’s vintage stores such as Felt, which specialises in jewellery of all kinds and is located in Chelsea, or the Designer Exchange – a dependable source of high-end fashion. Luxury Promise on Cavendish Square behind Oxford Street has probably the most extensive collection of Chanel fashion jewellery, which includes a much-coveted Byzantine-style cuff made by the Maison Gripoix, but also has plenty of eye-catching accessories by Yves Saint Laurent and Dior.
Happy treasure hunting!
This article was originally published on British Vogue.
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- Bennie Gray
- Bentley & Skinner
- Cartier Art Deco
- Designer Exchange
- Francesca Ruggiero
- Grays Antique Market
- Guy Burton
- Josephine Odet
- Lapada Fair
- Luxury Promise
- Manifesto Exhibition
- Portobello Road Market
- Sandra Cronan
- Spicer Warin
- Symbolic & Chase
- The Jewellery Insider
- Victoria & Albert Museum
- Wagner Eleuteri