When it comes to antiques, Matthew Imberman likes to keep it in the family. As the co-president of Kentshire Galleries with his sister, Carrie, he is the third generation to lead the New York City-based dealer of period and estate jewelry. He joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to talk about the history of the brand, why style is more important than value, and how Kentshire is adapting to the coronavirus pandemic and new ways of shopping. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is Matthew Imberman, co-president with his sister, Carrie, of Kentshire Galleries. They are the third generation of family to lead Kentshire. Today, Matthew will tell us what it’s like to take on the legacy of a family business and its vision for the future. Matthew, I’m so glad to have you.
Matthew: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
Sharon: Delighted to have you. You come from a family who has been in the antique and jewelry business for several generations, but you also had a career before this. Can you tell us about your jewelry journey?
Matthew: Yes, certainly. I’d back up to college. I went to the University of Pennsylvania and there was a strong drive for business, obviously, with Wharton being a business school. I wasn’t in that, and I remember as I was ending my studies—I had majored in art history and classics—my mother, who is one of the two women who started the jewelry side of the business, the other being my aunt, Ellen Israel—my mother is Marcie Imberman—my mother said, “O.K, what are you thinking of doing for work?” I had, in the back of my mind, not imagined I would go into business with my parents, but if you grow up and your parents were doctors, you say, “Oh, I see a way to be a doctor. This looks like a nice place.” That scaled over to what I did. I was in art history and classics, both because I was passionate about classics and history and there was always a visual bent to my curiosity. There was something about art history that scratched an itch that pure history didn’t. So, she said, “I’ll find someone who works at some kind of financial company. Maybe you want to go intern,” and I thought, “No, that’s just not going to be for me.” I had been doing a museum show as part of my thesis and I said, “I’m going to go work at a museum,” and naively enough I thought, “Let me become a curator. That’s what you do, right? You’re finishing up college.”
I was lucky enough to score a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art working on their website as a graphic designer and editor in what was the beginning of a real museum website for the Met, a large institution. I think that was at the forefront of pushing a large institution to take world-renowned visual material, an amazing collection of art, ethnographic material, all these things, and translate it to something online. I helped them, not in any glamorous way; I basically built web pages working as a graphic designer and editor and a technology person. But I got exposed to the ways that material can be presented in an accessible way, how photography of images works, about copy editing, all these things.
I was there for about two years, but I quickly realized, “O.K., let me look at who I want to become.” I looked at people in different curatorial roles and I thought, “Well, I’m probably not patient enough to wait for them to die, and I’m probably not evil enough to murder to them. I don’t know if I have the desire to stick around and wait this long,” but it wasn’t so much about impatience. It was more that the Met is a fantastically large place, and I saw that you had to be career person there. I was also interested in contemporary art. I was interested in the commerce side of things, too, having grown up in a family that dealt in art and antiques and contemporary art. The Chelsea scene was in full swing, so I got a job working at Friedrich Petzel, which is a very fine gallery. It’s now expanded to a couple of locations. I was called gallery manager—I don’t know if the title still exists—but in that world, it basically meant I was the first line of defense for anyone coming through the door and anything else that anyone can throw at you. I was doing everything from shadowing the director and owner as clients came around to them; I was answering phones; I rebuilt their website because that was a skill I had; I did their online advertising. At that time, they were advertising in Art News or Art Forum. I can’t remember now. So, being a jack of all trades.
After a couple of years, I burnt out of that world. I still love contemporary art and it’s an area I’m passionate about, but then I got into it and realized, like any other art world, this is high commerce. The way they operated was on a different scale. I felt like, personality-wise, the fit wasn’t for me, partially because while I like a lot of different areas of history, I am an old soul and there is a great element of nostalgia, so this constant push for what’s new didn’t excite me. It didn’t resonate with me deep down. I had also now worked for a couple of different people. I was in my mid-twenties, so that’s not to say I had great experience, but I saw that what I really wanted to do the most was work for myself. That’s something I figured out, and I think that is part and parcel of growing up in a family that ran their own businesses. You become comfortable at figuring out how you want to call the shots and impossible at taking direction. So, I made my father and uncle, who ran the antique furniture side of the business, a proposition and said, “I want to go back and get my master’s in art history. I think it’ll be a value-add for the business.” I thought it would be interesting to have a different kind of educational expertise in the business, which dovetailed with the hands-on expertise they had built being one of the forerunners of high-style, blue-chip English and European design in America. I also said, “Maybe there’s a new perspective I can bring in. It doesn’t have to be this period look that you guys cultivated in the 80s and 90s. People are being more playful. They’re not interested in living in this English countryside setting. I see people integrating. When I look at clients’ contemporary art, they’re hanging a contemporary piece over an amazing Georgia-built server. There’s an opportunity for us to be more eclectic in our approach.”
I came into the business then, and everything was together. We had a jewelry side of the business and a furniture side of the business, but we worked in close concert. While I certainly grew up around jewelry, with my mother and aunt always going on buying trips and having it around, being around the material in a more commercial setting came with being in the business. One of the things I did was keep their website running, and I redid the website a couple of times, but I was always working in and around jewelry. What I realized is all of the specific academic knowledge I had in English furniture and art history, it translated really well to jewelry, because nothing happens in a vacuum. At the same time people were redesigning their houses in different periods of time throughout the last couple of centuries, their clothing was changing; their jewelry was changing. They were reinterpreting pieces they had or updating their collections. I realized that I may not have the specific knowledge about the stones, the makers, the exact history of how this stuff develops, but their stylistic themes I understood. There are elements of craftsmanship and how things are made when you’re talking preindustrial times or early industrial times, ways you look for tool marks, things that translated. It was exciting to see it in miniature, because, obviously, with furniture it’s a much larger scale. To see how intricately these pieces worked, I realized that part of my connection to visual culture is about this hand element, how things are made by people by hand and how fascinating it is that people can take something from their mind and translate it into a physical object—when you’re not just talking about something that’s painted, but something that’s sculpted using a variety of different materials and metals and techniques, and technology changes how these designs are finalized as we start to discover new materials.
I was excited by it, but I was firmly on the furniture side of things. The business as a whole opened a new gallery on Madison Avenue in the 60s. I’m going to fudge the timeline, but I want to say it was about 2007, and it was a real unification of the two materials in the same space, because we had never really had one gallery develop both forms. In Bergdorf’s, we have been there for over 30 years now and we’re known there for jewelry, although we used to do furniture there in the beginning. In downtown we had a lovely gallery with the furniture. It’s where the office space for the jewelry was and we would see collectors there, but the bulk of the commercial aspect was at Bergdorf’s. When we opened the space on Madison and unified the two sides of the business, I got to work more in concert with them. I was in a position to help out with jewelry sales. If my sister or staff was busy, I stepped more into that role as I was there naturally. Like anything else, you can spend all your life studying things in books, but with objects of high design and things like this, handling it is always going to be the best education—just being around it and seeing more of it every day, seeing what my aunt, mother and sister were buying, seeing what clients were buying. It allowed me a greater frontline study of what was happening. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m a pretty quick study of how people interact, and that side of it excited me. Our family are great talkers, so sales came pretty naturally. I felt comfortable with it.
When we were winding down the furniture side of the business, which was about five years ago, the tastes in English furniture had changed; the way people were decorating their homes had changed. My father and uncle had created this amazing business, and to take it over, I realized I would need some element of real estate. I knew I wasn’t going to have money coming in from it to support it the way we did it, and I said, “I don’t see a future in the business,” and it was painful. I loved, and I still love, antique English furniture, antique furniture in general, but as my father and uncle were getting to an age of retirement and I realized I wouldn’t be in a place to run the business the way they had.
No one in that field was having an easy time of it, and it was a natural time to reevaluate. They had a building they were fortunate enough to buy in the 70s, when New York was experiencing some trouble. I knew that was going to be their vehicle for retirement, so to speak, so I wouldn’t have that available to run the business. That was a big part of how the business was perceived on the furniture side of it, having this very ornately designed space. My sister and I got to talking and she said, “Look, you’ve been in and around the jewelry. You’ve always liked it. You’ve been curious. Come try being my partner. Let’s do the jewelry part of it together. It should be easier to do. You’re not dealing with shippers and restorers in the same capacity. Let’s see how it goes,” and it felt like a totally natural transition. My sister and I had always worked well together. We also understood, working in a multigenerational family business, the areas where we might need to do things differently, and the areas where we could draw on the great pedigree and good fortune of having generations before us that had built up such a strong business and created so much goodwill. So, we said let’s do that. Everyone was retiring and it was a natural time.
We came in, and our first job was transitioning out of the Madison space. When we took away the furniture gallery, we realized it didn’t make sense to have a purpose-built jewelry store in an area of Madison that was seeing some decline of traffic. Our space in Bergdorf’s was doing well, so we thought, “Let’s reinvent that.” We made a new purpose-built boutique in Bergdorf’s as our first foray in establishing the business, right on the seventh floor next to the restaurant, which is actually where we started off in Bergdorf’s many years ago. We hit the ground running, and I knew from the beginning I didn’t have the level of expertise my sister did or that I wanted to have in the jewelry show. I spent a lot of time trying to observe, learn, read and handle the material, and it’s a continuing education. For anyone who’s interested in any kind of business or personal area of interest, the learning always continues. I don’t feel that will ever stop, because scholarship changes; tastes change; all these things change. We’ve been fortunate to have our space in Bergdorf’s and to have a lovely private office in Rockefeller Center, just a little north of the bulk of the wholesale jewelry world. I’ve enjoyed doing something partially different and learning something not 100% new, but something that’s not what I spent a lot of time studying. We’ve done all these art fairs together. The clients are people I know and appreciate, and I’m continually meeting new, interesting ones. That brings us up to today.
Sharon: How did being on the seventh floor of Bergdorf’s come about? You’ve been there a long time.
Matthew: The history of that is, where the restaurant is now overlooking Central Park, that was where we used to be when we first came into the store. My aunt and uncle and mother and father were friends with the family that owned the store—not friends, but they were interested in what we were doing because we were a little different. We were selling interesting and curious objects, so we opened a concession on the seventh floor. We had small knick-knacks, little furniture things, decorating objects, the seventh floor being the home floor. When they noted we were doing more jewelry, we had our own space on the first floor, a smaller counter. At one point, when men still wore cufflinks and tie clips and things, we had a small counter in the men’s store as well. That changed over the years. We stopped our focus on small objects and knick-knackery as we transitioned to high-style design, so we gave up the space on the seventh floor and took a bigger space for the jewelry on the first floor. We were there for a long time.
When Bergdorf’s came to us while my sister and I were transitioning the leadership of the business, they were starting to redesign where the jewelry was going to be. It used to be right in the center where the elevator banks are. They built this lovely, purposeful area just off of 57th Street on the first floor for jewelry, and they came to us and said, “We’re happy to give you a space here. Let us know how it looks.” Looking at the design, while it’s very lovely, space is at a premium. They were taking what was a larger jewelry area and shrinking it down to a smaller area where we would have been going from a private, set-back place of good size to just one counter. We realized pretty quickly this isn’t going to work for what we do. Also, to be mixed in with all the other counters was going to be confusing, because we’re one of the few people in Bergdorf’s, except for Jayne and Bella Furriers, that runs their own business there. The material is all consigned or purchased by Bergdorf’s from other vendors, and then Bergdorf’s staff operates the business part of it and sells it and does all of that. We still operate our little store within a store, and it’s partially because antique and estate jewelry is very different from contemporary jewelry in terms of so many things: the market for it, the sourcing of it, the knowledge your staff needs to have to do repairs, all of these things. We’ve had this nice, mutually beneficial operating agreement with them, but we realized it wasn’t going to work in the setting, mixed in with all of this other contemporary jewelry. Just on a size scale, we couldn’t show enough to make it worthwhile.
They said, “Look, we’re happy to move you into any other part of the store,” and when we started to look at options, we realized this space that was available next to the restaurant probably made the most sense. Anyone who’s in retail will tell you that anytime you go off the ground floor, there’s a great risk. We understand that. We also know from being in the store for over 30 years that the restaurant— obviously, it hasn’t been there for 30 years, but since it’s been there, it has been a huge draw for people coming through. In a funny way, there’s also the bathroom on the seventh floor.
Sharon: Yeah, being near the restrooms is always important.
Matthew: Being near the restrooms might be more important than being near the restaurant, but we thought, “This is a space that’s even bigger than what we had.” We had the option to do it as we wanted and make it this little jewel box. It has natural light coming in, so it felt very welcoming. Being right down the hall from the restaurant and the restrooms meant we were guaranteed a certain amount of foot traffic. We found it was really successful, especially during any store’s pressing time, which is the holiday season, which now starts in mid-August and goes through January. The amount of tourists and families coming though, and in our world, the amount of men who go to the restaurant to sit with their partners, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, whatever, sometimes that can facilitate things. Although, I will say that our history as a jewelry company and our focus is that we were started by women; we’re buying jewelry for women that buy their own jewelry for the most part, so we don’t harp too much on the male side of the equation. I try to take a soft approach. I’m remiss in speaking to my sister because, especially when we’re talking about material that’s designed almost exclusively for women, it still strikes me as odd that what you find at the forefront of so many of these businesses is that the ownership is men. When my mother and aunt came into this, there weren’t a lot of women doing what they did, having their store, selling their own jewelry in New York the way they were. That’s not to say they were the only and first, but certainly compared to the number of men doing it, it was notable. We still wear that as a badge of pride, and I think it’s an important thing to note.
Sharon: That’s interesting, yes. I’m not in the business and I’m not an expert. I don’t know how much jewelry is bought by men, I guess for gifts, but the women I know buy their own stuff. You may drag somebody to a counter and say, “Oh, isn’t that nice,” but you’re going to come back and say, “I want to get that.”
Matthew: Yeah, we tend to agree. That’s mostly what we see, but that’s also how we’ve geared our business. I think there’s a little bit of a divide there. There are people who sell more heirloom-style jewelry, meaning things that are so wonderfully rarified that they may not actually be worn that much; they’re owned for the pride of collectorship. Then there’s stone-driven jewelry, where it’s looking at the color, cut, clarity, rarity of the stone itself. I find in the stone world, at least with my colleagues who are in this stone-based or gem-based jewelry world as opposed to design or historical merit jewelry, is that it tends to have a lot of guys involved. There’s a certain number of guys who say, “Oh, it costs X amount of money.” It’s similar to ways that you collect sports cars. That’s not to say men can’t be wonderfully nuanced collectors, but I tend to see that be the case when it comes to stones. If we have a couple come in, the questions the guys will first ask are, “How much will this appreciate in value?” or, “What’s the quality of the stone?” Everyone becomes an armchair expert on stones all of a sudden when they’re buying them. For us, we’ve always taken the position that we buy based on our eye. There are trends that happen in jewelry, and like anyone else we might be susceptible to things here and there, but by and large where I think our business has thrived is that there is a strong viewpoint that every generation has brought to what we buy. There is a strong appreciation for craftsmanship and rarity and quality and customer service. I’m personally not that interested, and I know my sister isn’t interested, in who the designer is or the exact quality of the stones. What drives us is incredible style, and we have a very specific aesthetic viewpoint. For what it’s worth, that’s how we survive.
Sharon: That’s interesting. That’s the way I look at jewelry, because even though I’ve studied stones, I don’t know that much about them. I feel, well, a stone is a stone. What’s the design around it?
Your mission statement on your website talks about the fact that you look for pieces that are unusually outstanding, whether they’re costume or precious metal. What pieces do you have now? What have you seen come in lately that you think is unusually outstanding, and why is that?
Matthew: That’s a good question. It really runs the gamut. I think we take delight in finding happiness in humble items and in extraordinarily rare and extravagant items. We get as excited about a small bloodstone fob as we do about an incredible art deco Cartier necklace. We might get slightly more excited about the sale of one just because of the money involved. Some pieces that have come in recently, one of which I don’t have pictures at the moment but which I hope to have soon, is an incredibly beautiful shell cameo necklace from the early 19th century. I’m particularly passionate about neoclassical design. When I did my thesis in grad school, it was on an English neoclassical designer, Jim Stewart. There’s something about the way that every time period gloms back onto Greco-Roman motifs and reinterprets them for their time. What they do with them and how these stories and myths are so enduring is captivating for me. It’s a very pretty enamel and gold-surrounded shall cameo necklace. It’s done as a graduated-style plaque. When you find something like this, that’s old and has survived in an amazing condition and is wrought so finely, you can see how many generations of people were struck by it and cared for it. You can see the history in the preservation of the piece, because you can see how much people appreciated it. Its workmanship is gorgeous. It’s such fine, fine quality.
Staying in the antique, we also have a wonderful antique gold torque necklace by Mikkelsen; they were a Danish maker. They made this incredible suite of jewelry for Princess Alexandria when she was marrying Prince Albert of Wales in the 1860s. They presented with her this suite of jewelry inspired by Viking jewelry motifs, Northern European ancient forms wrought in gold in the workmanship of the day. My sister is the one who purchased this piece and found the original slides of this suite of jewelry. It’s so exciting when you find a piece and find the original illustrations that were presented, and then you can track down—the V&A has a collection of these things—this transmission of history. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a very beautiful, modern necklace in its way, too.
To take a ten-thousand-foot picture of how we look at things, we love things that are antique and period, but there’s always an idea that what we’re looking at is something that could be worn today, that could be almost modern, and that’s because nothing’s new under the sun. The amount of people who come in and aren’t great initiates into the history of jewelry will look at some of our pieces that are art deco or even older, Victorian, and they’ll say, “Is that 80s?” or “That looks so modern.” We have to say no, it’s the other way around. If you look at modern contemporary jewelry, so much of it is obviously paying homage, direct debt, to what came before, while everyone wants to think that everything is new and contemporary. When I look at jewelry now, I think, “Well, that’s just deco.” We’re still living in the hangover of art deco, so there is certainly an element of that. I’m trying to think of other pieces. I like multipurpose jewelry. My family has an expression, jewelry is a breath mint and a candy mint—
Sharon: Say that again, jewelry is what?
Matthew: It’s a breath mint and a candy mint, meaning it can serve more than one purpose. It’s a Swiss Army knife. We have a beautiful bracelet watch by Dessau. It’s dead-ahead retro and it looks wonderful, curves and scale. It’s aquamarine and sapphire, which is something I always think of for that time period, and it’s got a beautiful Jaeger watch that’s hidden in a cylindrical catch where the bracelet closes, where the clasp is, and it weavers out. I’ll send you some pictures. It’s a beautiful sculptural bracelet. It’s such a wonderful design, and then it’s got this little secret of the watch that comes out, so it just tickles you in a way. I like things that have little secrets.
Sharon: With a surprise, yes. How are you seeing the market change? Are you selling more online? What are you doing to attract younger buyers? It’s such a challenge.
Matthew: Yeah, it is. We were one of the first galleries to make a big push online, and I’m talking a long time ago now. My cousin’s husband, at the time, was working in websites in the late 90s, early 2000s, when companies were starting to make a push. They built this website. We’ve always had our catalogue online, and a big part of it has been so we could show interior designers. They could look at our stuff wherever.
Part of my background was in the web, working for the Met and doing their contemporary art gallery’s website. I’ve continued to try to stay apace with this. When we took over the business, when my sister and I purchased it formally, one of the things we did was launch an e-commerce website where it was simply click-to-buy. We really made an effort to have all of our inventory, at least fine jewelry, online. The costume is challenging in that it moves so quickly. By the time we photograph it, it’s out of date already.
We made an effort to have our fine, our engagement and bridal, and the two contemporary makers we work with up there. It started off slowly, with people mostly looking at it and calling us. Increasingly, we saw people buying smaller things online, in the $1,000 to $5,000 price point, but there were definitely some phone calls and hand-holding involved, and it kept on like that. We started to do more aggressive Instagram and email marketing in the last five years, and what we’ve noticed is that our clients who know us, who would normally call us up with certain pieces, now they’ll just add it to cart and have it sent out. Part of where we, I think, do very well with our clients is we understand what they’re looking for, and we’re able to find pieces and send them to them.
When we establish a client and we’ve worked with them before, we’re happy to send a piece out to them on approval. We’re not asking people to buy something and be stuck with it. We understand it’s a great investment of time and devotion. We’ve tried to make it where people can feel like they’re still being protected online. I think the challenge that any seller of luxury goods, but especially in jewelry, faces is that there is a certain amount of exposure with all the scams that happen online, and it can be nerve-wracking to send your pieces out into the ether not knowing who somebody is. We had to play catch-up to feel comfortable knowing and ascertaining who the client is we’re selling to, and for them to feel comfortable with who they’re buying from. Just because we’re a physical store and we’re in Bergdorf’s, we understand there’s competition and that people have their own worries about what happens. It’s been a learning process for everyone.
We noticed this was successful for us even before the current climate, but Covid has us all reassessing what we’re doing. We were exploring how to make it a bigger part of our business, and part of that is because of the second part of your question, how we attract younger people. Younger people who grew up with the internet are so used to shopping online for a variety of things, whether it’s experiences or vacations or expensive things, even cars, all of these things. They don’t have to bridge the gap that some of our longer-established clients do to feel comfortable accessing our site and checking out and all the things that come with growing up with computers. But also they’re maybe not as used to going into a brick-and-mortar store or having a phone call. So, we’ve been happy because it’s important in keeping our business productive, but we’re also happy in terms of the work we already put into web. During the pandemic our retail store has been closed, but we’ve been able to run a successful business online and we are reaching new clients. It’s not just the clients we know, but through our Instagram and social media marketing and email campaigns, which we’re looking to ramp up even now, people are finding us. I can’t say we’re selling the same level we sell out of our store, but it’s really surprising and refreshing.
In terms of dealing with younger clients, I think every business that’s not selling something geared towards younger clients, and with our business, obviously, the price point is prohibitive. Not every young person is capitalized to come in and buy what we sell, but we are always looking to groom the next generation of clients. With people making fortunes at a younger age now because of technology and that being still more of a young person’s game, we feel there’s responsibility to educate our clients. I think there should be no assumption they understand why they should buy antique or estate jewelry. When you go into the world of online shopping, the world’s your oyster, so we’re trying to show people we have a specific aesthetic viewpoint. We have a great amount of expertise and history in what we do, and I think it matters showing people that we’re not just one of the thousands of dealers on Instagram that can send you a picture of stuff. Not to malign that—I have friends who do that and they do a wonderful job—but when it comes to having a business, part of what you’re doing is buying something from somebody, and it’s after-sale service that can matter for antique and estate jewelry to a great extent. This stuff, it needs to be cared for for a lifetime. Sometimes it needs restoration or repair, and we’re set up to do that with a group of experts and restorers we’ve worked with for years. We’re keeping clients because of the fact that we’re not just selling a piece and saying good luck. We are interested in making a client, not selling a piece. We wind up married to every piece we sell, because we need to make sure that if something happens we can provide service. When clients come back to us and say, “I bought this. My lifestyle’s changed. I’m not wearing it anymore,” we need to be able to help them move on that, whether that means buying it back or brokering a sale to someone else or any number of ways that might be done.
So, with younger clients, we’re aiming to educate them and say, “Look, you can buy something lovely today that’s contemporary but based on an old design, but it’s not proven. It doesn’t have a track record in terms of its value. These are pieces we sell that have a greater world around them.” There’s greater rarity. Anytime you have rarity, especially with precious materials and design being involved, it can boost how it holds its value and what its inherent value is. This also explains why you should care about antique and estate jewelry. There are people who are never going to, and that’s totally O.K. We’re not selling material that is going to be mass market, but it’s for people who are interested in having their own style and showing people they have their own viewpoint. I think there is a great number of young people who are interested in fashion and having things that aren’t what everyone else has. They’re not the Alhambra necklaces of the world. They’re interested in showing their own taste and viewpoint, whether it’s on Instagram or in any of the ways people are using the internet now. That’s what we’ve been doing since we started, and that’s where we’re passionate and strong. We always say when people are buying from us, it’s not that you’re buying vintage jewelry; you’re buying Kentshire. We’re a brand, and part of why we have a strong loyalty of clients and why we have great friends in the celebrity and fashion styling world is because they recognize this synergy of wanting to have something that speaks to your own inherent, idiosyncratic style that you’re not going to see on everyone else. It’s not something where you’re going to open a magazine and say, “Oh, everyone’s got that.” It’s almost anti-trend that way, because we’re looking for people who want to be their own voice in the greater sea of style and luxury.
Sharon: That’s interesting, yes. When somebody says it’s unique or one of a kind, they’ve sold me at least 50% of the time. Where do you want to take the business from here? What are you and Carrie thinking of?
Matthew: Right now we’re hoping that Bergdorf’s gets back open, just because we miss seeing our clients there and we want our staff to be productive. It’s such a great New York institution. While I think retail brick-and-mortar in general is going to be a challenge, Bergdorf’s is Bergdorf’s. Even though Neiman’s, the parent company, may have some issues here and there, I know they’re going to emerge strong. Bergdorf’s is always going to have a home, because there really isn’t a place like it in the U.S.A. to that extent. There are wonderful other places, not to play the part of dashing New York snob, but Bergdorf’s is its own kind of place. There’s something about it. I miss being there. I never thought I’d say that, because it’s obviously a job, and you can get tired of any kind of work you do, but we love what we do and being there is part of our habit. I have some plans for Bergdorf’s and how we’re going to change things there, ways we can bring younger clients into Bergdorf’s to show them not just what we do, but what the store is about and what our synergy is there.
Obviously, a big goal of ours is to get our material out to people in an environment where people may not be shopping in person as much, and going forward it may change people’s habits and how they shop online. We’re currently retooling our website again to make it even more interesting and to do more storytelling, because so much of our work is about storytelling, and I don’t necessarily mean the history. I think people always have this idea that when you buy a piece of jewelry you’re going to know the provenance of the family who owned it. Most jewelry is deaccessioned privately. You don’t always get its whole history, but we can tell stories visually, showing people how you can use it, how these things can be combined, how different periods can play with each other and the excitement of the sheer workmanship itself. Doing that kind of stuff and making a bigger impression to the world of online advertising and social media, that’s something we’re currently working on with an agency.
What we’re also doing, though, is looking to bring a much more private touch to it. When we get into the art fairs we’ve done for years and we’re with our clients one on one, people see the material in person and they’re able to handle it and talk with us and ask questions. My sister and I are ramping up to do—and some of it is going to be limited by what the state and city rules are based on Covid—but we’re trying to do targeted trunk shows where we’re working with collectors in a smaller environment, whether that’s at a lovely home of a friend of ours, or in one of their stores or in a fashion boutique. We’ve done these before, but we’re trying to be more thoughtful about honing the business a bit, knowing where the bases are where we have good collectors, who would be well-served by us visiting them on a smaller scale and doing small events, sit-down dinners, having some fun with it. But we’re also learning about the markets we haven’t been going to as much, where we need to make introductions, so we’re taking our dog and pony show on the road, for lack of a better phrase.
Really the meat and bones of the business itself is to continue to find beautiful and rare objects that will endure. At the risk of adding on more to our plate, one of the areas will be doing a small line of our own jewelry. That will take some time to get up and running. My sister has been trained in design and has made some incredible designs herself, and I’ve been not-so-silently nudging her. She’s receptive to it, but like any business owners, we have a lot to handle, especially when we’re doing everything ourselves. We’re looking to bring that in, and there are some things we think merit being put out under our name, which we’ve never tried doing before. It’s exciting and scary putting out something under your own name, especially when you’re known for selling lovely jewelry, but this seems like a natural time.
Sharon: That’s interesting. I could see how that would be very exciting. Matthew, thank you so much for being here today. I have a lot more questions. Maybe another time or the next time I’m in New York I can stop by.
Matthew: I would be happy for it. I would look forward to it. Thank you so much for having me on here. It’s been lovely.
Sharon: It’s been delightful. Thank you for taking the time. To everybody listening, that’s it for the Jewelry Journey today. Thank you very much for listening. Don’t forget we’re going to have images from Kentshire posted on the website along with the show notes. Please join us for the next episode of the Jewelry Journey Podcast, when we’ll have another jewelry industry professional sharing their experience. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Thank you so much.
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