What you’ll learn in this episode:
- The surprising connection between dollhouses and jewelry
- Why vintage barware is so collectible
- How the internet has warped some buyers’ perception of antique pricing
- Why you should always get a receipt when buying vintage
- How sellers can choose trustworthy platforms to sell their goods
About Erik Yang
Erik Yang is the founder of The Lush Life Antiques, which offers a selection of vintage designer jewelry, both signed and unsigned. His primary focus is on American and European costumes, Mexican silver, Native American Indian, Bakelite, modernist and contemporary designer jewelry. Each piece is carefully hand-selected for its design, quality, and construction. In his 25 years as a jewelry dealer, Erik has segued from exhibiting at shows to selling exclusively online.
The most valuable thing Erik Yang has isn’t his collection of vintage jewelry and antiques—it’s his expertise. As founder of The Lush Life Antiques, Erik has built a reputation as a trusted dealer for his integrity and in-depth knowledge of jewelry and antiques across several periods. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about how to find trustworthy vintage stores and dealers; how the internet has shaped antique pricing expectations; and why you should always get a receipt. Read the episode transcript here.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. If you haven’t heard part one, please go to TheJewelryJourney.com. Today my guest is Erik Yang, founder and owner of The Lush Life Antiques. Welcome back.
We talked a little bit about the importance of a dealer’s reputation. What makes one dealer more trustworthy over another? I would rather have somebody say, “I don’t know,” if I ask them, “What is this from? or “What is this made of?” as opposed to giving me some story.
Erik: Right. There are a lot of people that don’t know, and there are a lot of people that use that as a disclosure: “use your opinion, “buyer beware,” but they know. A lot of people pass off their mistakes to other people that are unsuspecting. A lot of collectors give their mistakes to dealers who don’t really know and say, “Here, I’m divesting. Please sell this for me at the market. I don’t need this. You keep the difference.” That happens all the time. They tend to use people that don’t have the knowledge base, but the collector has the knowledge base. Maybe this is getting into a little more complicated discussion, but dealing with a reputable dealer is difficult.
We had this discussion when you were here for that exhibit. I think when you’re dealing with somebody who has been in business for quite a long time, is very known in the industry, is a published author, someone you can Google and they’ll have multiple hits for interviews or articles or this or that, someone who is respected, I think those are the type of people you can deal with safely. I always joke that I’ll buy something from somebody I know very well, when they’ve been in business for 30-something years, and I’ll ask them, “Can I have a receipt?” There are people that do the market every month, and they don’t know how to write a receipt, let alone have a receipt book with their business name and their contact information on it.
When I receive a receipt and it just says, “Necklace, $30,” with nothing on it, I can make that myself. Someone like that, who is that casual about their business, if you have an issue with something, if you buy something from them, you have no recourse aside from going up to them and saying, “I bought this necklace from you for $100 and it turns out it’s not gold. I would like my money back.” Well, you don’t have a proper receipt, and they’re probably going to say, “I don’t know. It’s been too long. I can’t do anything.” That’s quite common. If someone has their letterhead on it, their business name, their contact information with the information of the item, they will stand by that product because not only is there a liability with it, but they tend to be a lot more established and reputable in their business. At least that’s my opinion.
I’m helping with an estate right now, and they’re donating some of the pieces to the local museum. I didn’t know when I first looked at one of the items that it actually had the receipt of purchase. The curator asked me for assistance with this piece. I looked at the letterhead and I knew the store; I knew the owner of the store. It had a very detailed description of the item and the price that was paid. I said, “Let me contact this person and get some information for you.” I did, and they said, “We definitely sold this item, but it was sold so long ago—it’s been almost 10 years—that we don’t have the paperwork on it. We don’t recall X, Y, Z about the piece, but we are happy for you to send it to us at our expense. We will review it. We will give you a revised receipt of information for whatever purposes you need, and we’ll send it back to you.” That’s reputable, and that’s why that person has a very established business. It’s all about reputation. I was quite impressed with how they handled that. It was much more than I thought they would do. They went out of their way more than they had to. But if somebody doesn’t have any kind of brick and mortar, and they just show up at a flea market one weekend, you’d better be careful with what you’re buying.
Sharon: It’s interesting you say that about the receipt. I hadn’t thought about the information on the receipt and the letterhead. It’s not that difficult to make something like that, but most people don’t go into a lot of detail it seems.
Erik: No. I have my receipt book with my business name on it, and I try to give as much information. I ask them what they want, usually; “What do you need on the receipt?” because some people do buy things for investment, but most of my clients are buying some earrings to wear for an event and they could care less who made it. That’s just how it is. There are different levels of collectors. Now, if it’s something like a Van Cleef & Arpels diamond bracelet, they want something a little more specific, especially if it’s expensive.
By doing that, by putting that down next to your name, you have a liability. They can come back to you and say, “You sold this to me as this and it’s not.” I had this recently, and I’m glad I got it on paper. I bought a brooch that they sold to me as 14-karat gold with sapphires. It looked 100% correct and it tested for 14-karat, but it wasn’t 14-karat; it was just extremely heavily plated. You had to file into it a little bit to get to the core metal, but it was brass, basically, with a very heavy gold plating. They did not want to stand by their product, and it’s a very well-known store locally. I said, “I have your receipt saying this,” and they said, “Well, we’ll give you store credit.” I said, “Well, I bought it yesterday. The credit hasn’t even gone through,” and I basically forced them to give me the money back. I wasn’t happy with that, and I haven’t gone back. That’s a good example of someone who has a very established business that’s been around for over 30 years locally that didn’t stand by their product. I didn’t pursue it. I could have, but I’m not the type of person to leave bad Yelp reviews. It was just an unpleasant experience. When people have asked me about that particular store, I’ve told them, “You better be careful.” I didn’t mention specifically what the scenario was. I said, “Just be careful with them. I know you shop there. Be very careful with your purchases.” That’s all you can say.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I’ll have to think more about it and be more aware. I do tend to buy things a little quickly without looking at all the detail.
What did you do during Covid? You operate online. You don’t go to shows. How do you sell?
Erik: People ask me that all the time, and I say I sell wherever I can. I’m in transition right now for a number of reasons, but at the time Covid was happening, I think I was in three stores. I’m down to two now. I originally had five locations in Dallas. Slowly the stores have closed or I pulled out for various reasons, bad management of the stores. I never had my own brick and mortar. I always sublease spaces. During Covid, though, a lot of stores here closed completely. We also had some issues with rioting here. I won’t get into politics or current events, but there was rioting happening in New York and Beverly Hills, and that’s when Bergdorf Goodman and all of Rodeo Drive was covered up. They just boarded up everything. Two of my stores were in prime areas that were targets for that, so at that time, I pulled all of my merchandise. That was during Covid. I pulled all of my merchandise out of the stores by request of the store owners because they were scared for their own items; they didn’t want to be worrying over possible theft of my things as well. I left costume or things that don’t have an intrinsic value, but anything that was silver or anything that was meltable that could be pawned, I did take out. All of my Native American pieces ended up getting boxed up and taken out during Covid.
Still, our stores were managing on Instagram and Facebook posts. We did curbside pick-up just like the grocery stores do, but these were big stores, and they’re trying to sell for everybody in the store. I’m just one vendor. So, I took everything more online, and that’s where I’ve been stuck for the last couple of years, which is fine. I’m back in the stores. We’re fine now, but Covid was very brutal for a lot of people. A lot of local stores, especially the antique stores and the vintage stores, just didn’t survive for obvious reasons. It’s hard to experience a lot of things. You have to try things on, and it’s a little difficult to do everything online.
Sharon: Are you focusing more online? Now you have several outlets online, it seems.
Erik: I am doing online. I’m trying to be more active with Instagram. They’re dragging me into the 21st century. I’ve always used social media for different things, but not necessarily for selling. I have pretty big displays in both of my local shops, and I’m continuing online. I’m primarily selling on eBay at the moment. I am rebuilding a website which I had before. I let it go by the wayside. I’m trying to remarket it a bit for many reasons, but primarily I have some significant collections in right now that I’ve been hired to liquidate, and they’re almost too good to go. I hate to say it, but they’re too good for eBay. They need to go on a higher venue. I’ll get to it. I’m still processing all the low-end pieces from these two collections right now. So, it’s going to be a while. It takes time.
Sharon: Wow! We’ll keep our eyes on everything because it’s hard to find you.
Erik: I know. I’ve joked that if I ever had a brick-and-mortar store, all the Yelp reviews would say, “Wow, he’s got great stuff, but he’s never open.”
Sharon: You’re on eBay under what name, The Lush Life?
Erik: The Lush Life on eBay. I’ve been on eBay since 1999. I took a huge hiatus for a long time. I had problems with eBay very early on, and I had a temper tantrum and said, “Enough with them. I’m going to go and open my own website.” I did, and I exclusively did that for at least 10, 12 years. Then I started doing shows, and then shows died. Then I started doing shows again, and then I’m back on eBay. So, it seems like I’ve come full circle. Nothing’s really changed. You have to change with the times. There are other options. I’ve looked at doing Ruby Lane and other things, but I’ll figure it out.
Sharon: But you are on Instagram as @arkieboy33.
Sharon: Do you find that you sell through Instagram? Do people call you?
Erik: I have a little bit, not much because I wasn’t active with it. I know there are a lot of people doing a lot of business, and there are a lot of people that are exclusively selling on Instagram. For now, it is a valid forum, but what’s next? If you think about it, Myspace wasn’t that long ago. What is that? There are a lot of different venues I hear about, and I don’t know what they are. I’m familiar with TikTok and all of those, but there are a lot of other things. There are all kinds of apps now as well. I know I would not mesh well with something like Poshmark or Mercari or any of those, so I’ll just stick with eBay; it’s been around a long time.
Sharon: It sounds like you have it mastered. You’ve figured it out, at least.
Erik: The thing with eBay or that particular selling forum, as well as Ruby Lane and the more established platforms, is that the market for specific things right now is in Asia, and they are able to buy through those forums. It’s a little sketchy when you start having international sales and you assume the responsibility. On eBay, you can use their shipping program, so it costs more for them as the buyer, but there’s less responsibility as a seller. When I’ve had things go missing it’s been because of eBay, and I’ve been taken care of on my end, as has the buyer. There is a level of safety or security that I like. There’s something very stressful about sending very expensive items to someone you’ve never met, have never spoken to on the phone. Even though you have a credit card authorization, or you’ve run a credit card and you’ve captured the funds, it can be reversed. That’s a scary thing.
Sharon: Yeah, that’s interesting. Erick, you’ve covered a lot of territory. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
Erik: Thank you for having me again.
Sharon: It’s been great.
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