We are delighted to have a fabulous guest post by Elisabeth Austin on the blog. She has a career in the diamond industry being around and part of many of its complicated facets. But what's more important today, we can vouch for the fact that she has a jewelry collection that would make any American heiress or new tech millionaire jealous and she did it all on a meager budget.
Lessons to learn in this article. If you aspire to have a jewelry collection that makes your girlfriends jealous, waiter's stop and stare and commands the best seat in the house - read on carefully.
Guest Post by Elisabeth Austin of Big Swinging Rock
Long before I started working for the diamond cutters in New York City, even from my earliest University years, I was a fine jewelry collector. And I was virtually alone.
I can quickly name three impediments at the start that almost guaranteed my "outlier" status among my disinterested peers, and threatened a less wondrous jewel wardrobe than those of more endowed collectors I would come to meet.
1) Geographic Location: I was born and raised in Springfield, Missouri. A city that loves its Bass Pro Shop, "fashion baubles" and hairspray. Also, a city that is a good three hours away from any recognizable jewelry brands and retailers. In my growing up years at the mall we had a Zales for jewelry shopping. A beacon which shines bright like the famous Kmart "blue light special" in my memory. To this day, my hometown is still not known as a jewelry town, despite pockets of wealth here and there.
2) Family Culture: Looking back, was it the "Bible Belt"? Or rather, a rough hand dealt? In any case, my father never bought my mother a single diamond or any other jewelry that I know of. For a major wedding anniversary, her "gift" was a John Deere Riding Lawnmower. My father thought it equitable, however, as he had indulged himself with not just one, but two backhoes which were completely unnecessary for his medical practice. I encourage you to google "backhoe", lest you surmise that the situation was more seamy than unfortunate. We had a very comfortable but sartorially modest life. Where was my Auntie Mame? Who would show me PEARLS?
3) Financial constraints: "You're on your own, kid". With my tuition and books paid for through undergraduate studies. I wasn't at the back of the pack to win any jewelry race. But I didn't have pole position, either. There was graduate school to pay for. Extra jobs would come in handy for expenses and my nascent "Jewelry "Collector" status. Most of my career has not been high paying by a long shot.
So....what are the lessons I can pass along to overcome assorted financial and cultural constraints to amass a jewelry collection that is truly "beyond"?
1) Be FASTIDIOUSLY frugal. This is a lifestyle. It aligns nicely with the "Fewer, Better Things" philosophy. I am famous among my friends for working a dollar.
Among my tenets? Don't pay for anything you don't enjoy enormously. (The "Destination Wedding" of your "on / off / on" girlfriend? That's a no go. That's "Diamond Money". Send a gift instead. Learn how to do things for yourself: food, hair, whatever.
Another tenet: If you do go out to eat then tip generously. Thriftiness looks fabulous when you're wearing amazing jewelry and you are not an a**hole.
2) Shop, touch, feel. Don't buy. Repeat often in your younger years. Browse the most expensive, most exclusive retail and jewelry meccas you can reach. Try things on. Especially the things you can't afford. Apply to work a part-time job in one of these jewelry houses or retailers. Learn what the best jewelry looks and feels like before you have any money to spend on it.
Worried that they won't like you? If you browse and learn a lot from someone, then bring them a coffee gift card. It's an excellent investment. I did this many times. Everyone was happy.
3) Get thee to the AMAZING shows. Antique and Estate Jewelry shows, held in major cities, are not full of old fuddy, duddy jewelry by any stretch. Au contraire, mon FAB frere, these shows are wall-to-wall eyeball burning, dizzying presentations of all the great jewelry that is too fabulous to melt down from multiple eras.
The coolness factor is off-the-charts for much of this jewelry and that is what you want. Secondly, google Christie's, Sotheby's, and any of the other respected auction house fine jewelry events. If you can't attend the viewing sessions in person, browse online. They are very picky about what they accept for auctions.
Learn "picky". Browse 50 times. Buy once. Once you make yourself relatively "expert" you'll be able to find some amazing opportunities locally as well. I've purchased great (mostly overlooked) pieces in my hometown jewelers' (sale and estate) cases that seemed to just be sitting and waiting for my appreciation.
4) Start with the "staples". Always prioritize the very best jewelry you can afford that you can sport Monday through Friday. Owning three top quality pieces throughout your life is much better than a box full of jewelry that is "middling". Jewelry that doesn't make your life rich every day is not as good an investment.
On a related note, I have several times made the misstep of acquiring a piece of (expensive) jewelry that was simply amazing to me. My initial reaction would be something like this ..."How did the artist do that? I've never seen anything as intricate and mesmerizing. I HAVE to own it."
And today I own a few expensive, intricate and mesmerizing pieces of jewelry that unfortunately never find the moment to be worn. Either they are too fancy, or too vulnerable for daily wear-and-tear for my comfort. I wish I had left those pieces to be acquired by a different kind of collector.
Simple sophistication: I keep the number of colors in my pieces to two at the most. The fewer colors in my jewelry, the more wearable it tends to be on any given day. I often find that one large stone looks richer than a bunch of smaller stones.
Get Neutrality: I am partial to "Neutrals" in the "Deep Luxury" category. Neutral in a finished piece of jewelry means fewer or core colors for greater wearability and I try to keep colors to two at most. That means one color family for the gemstone(s) and one color metal almost always. From my viewpoint white diamonds and yellow gold count as two colors.
I almost never weaken the effect of a bold gemstone color by mixing it with white diamonds in a piece. One or the other. As much as I love good diamonds, they can distract from the magnificence a great colored gemstone if their presence is too heavy. I also find that too many mass manufacturers try to "fancy up" a piece by adding small diamonds in very pedestrian styles and that particular strategy has weakened the presence and/or effect of tiny diamonds in collectible high jewelry.
Since I have concluded that I am a "High Karat Yellow Gold Person" it now makes up 90% of my collection each of my new pieces tends to coordinate well with the others. My favorite most wearable combination is the 18 karat or higher yellow gold with golden pearls. Simply rich and deeply luxurious. Not flashy.
Quality: Another distinction that I learned early on is that there is a world of difference between basic staples, such as a gold chain that can now be shopped online and a handmade gold chain that is not so economical but that looks and feels superior. Better quality gold staples can be found "new" with extensive searching or sometimes more easily in the estate section of a jeweler's offerings. By definition, truly "exceptional" jewelry is not easily found and that is much of the joy of the hunt and eventual ownership.
Start your collection with opportunity buys on the very best fabrication and precious metals. You will only know this by comparing and touching until you reach the pinnacle... "expert internet eyes" I have them!!
Here's a hint: Italy crafts some of the very finest gold and the best of Italian gold is in 18 karat or higher. Even better, vintage pieces are often marked "Italy" or 750 (the European designation for 18 karat gold. I have also run into some American designers that offer some wonderful handcrafted chain.
Lastly, I should touch on my niche area of professional expertise, which is larger "Diamonds".
When it comes to diamonds and your collection, your GIA graded diamond ear studs can be worked by a designer into your sophisticated dream earrings 10 years later when your taste become "solid" or your personality becomes too dimensional for "simple studs". A diamond solitaire pendant may be worked into another piece from a favorite designer or jeweler you discover later at a much lower price than buying the same, in "ready made".
Unless absolutely necessary, never sell your basic diamonds.
Instead, you can "upcycle" them. Some designers, if they will work with you, won't work with inferior diamonds. So acquire your first quality pieces with care and they will increase in wearable value your entire life.
There is so much to say, and I feel I have just "skimmed the surface" of how I evaluate a purchase. For more emerging commentary on my jewelry collecting psyche - see this article.