An independent jewelry appraiser and co-director of Jewelry Camp, Ed Lewand joined the Jewelry Journey podcast to discuss the latest trends in the jewelry marketplace – from what’s popular with the 40+ crowd to how millennials are more into making a statement than wearing a statement piece. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Welcome to Jewelry Journey. My guest is Ed Lewand, a professional, independent appraiser of fine and antique jewelry, and co-director of Jewelry Camp, now in its 39th year. Today, we’ll be talking about trends in the jewelry marketplace as well as getting a brief overview of this year’s Jewelry Camp, which will be held at Newark Museum on Friday, October 26, and Saturday, October 27. Ed, it’s great to have you here. Thank you so much for going on this Jewelry Journey with me.
Ed: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Sharon: It’s great to have an in-depth conversation with you. Can you tell me a little bit about how you decided to become an appraiser; how you got to jewelry? I’ve never really heard your path and I’d love to hear it.
Ed: Well, let me see, when I was in high school, I didn’t want to go college right away, so I ended up going to GIA, which is just as bad as going to college.
Sharon: GIA being…
Ed: The Gemological Institute of America. I went there to become a graduate gemologist, which took a little over six months. After that, I did go back to college, but I was still working in the jewelry industry, first as a grader at a company called IGI, then as the Director of IGI Information, and then for a few weeks I worked for GIA, after which I ended up managing jewelry stores.
I ended up being an appraiser as I didn’t like sales, but I liked helping people. As an appraiser, I was able to provide information to make people feel good about their purchase. Or, when their purchase wasn’t correct, I helped them rectify a bad situation. Eventually, I had a large group of friends. I had developed a good reputation in New York, worked with a lot of accounting firms, and I was introduced to Arthur Anderson back in the ‘90s, where we did audits on companies like Bulgary and other large names. To this day, we still do several audits for Price Waterhouse, Mahoney and KPMG in the Cayman Islands. I go around the world doing this and for a short time, I was also an expert on jewelry appraising for Internal Revenue Service.
Years ago, I went to Jewelry Camp, which was run by a lovely woman named Joyce Jonas. I worked with Joyce for probably fifteen years and when she retired, she sold me the program. I’ve kept it going, always trying to come up with interesting speakers who teach people about product, history, styles and design – not theory or methodology in appraising, but the interesting part about history, design, and how jewelry follows different courses of history. Art deco follows the art deco period in the 1920s. We see designs in jewelry that we see in buildings; it was quite interesting. Jewelry Camp’s always provided a rather interesting perspective of jewelry to its attendees.
Sharon: I‘d like to talk a little bit more about that and in the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love Jewelry Camp. When I went there the first time, I just was in rapt attention and it’s exactly what you’re talking about in terms of the history, connecting history to jewelry.
I want to talk a little bit about some trends that you had mentioned that you’re seeing in the jewelry market today. Since you are so hands-on and on the front line, you had mentioned some of them, for instance antique jewelry and that it’s becoming more popular with call it the 40+ crowd. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Ed: Yes, I think it is. People over forty keep memoirs and things about the family – their mothers and grandmothers. I do see people buying antique jewelry. It’s something that’s stood the test of time and people find it interesting, unusual and different. So, we do see people buying it.
We see more signed pieces being sold than unsigned pieces. It’s taking a little bit longer to sell the unsigned, but it’s also getting people a lot more for their money as opposed to traditional, new jewelry. We don’t see an upswing in that. As a matter of fact, over the years, diamond prices have dropped. The market itself has changed considerably, which is going to lead the next statement: now, with the onset of synthetic or man-made, man-grown diamonds, we’re starting to see those sell well over traditional mined diamonds that come out of the ground. There’s really no difference. They’re both real diamonds. Some stones are almost indiscernible from each other and it’s only through certain tests that we can tell them apart, but that’s also been a new trend.
We’ve found that a lot of people today just aren’t keeping mom’s furniture or dad’s furniture or their paintings or their jewelry. They’re selling everything. That’s one of the interesting things. We see sales are down for the jewelry business across the board. We see diamond sales are down. Prices have dropped. What I’m seeing is a whole different trend to what people are looking for.
Sharon: I want you to explain, because some people might not know what signed jewelry means. Do you want to explain that, signed versus unsigned?
Ed: Signed jewelry is pieces by Tiffany & Company, by Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier; those are signed pieces. Also, from French jewelers, certain American jewelers, certain periods of time, pieces from certain locations, such as New York and Newark, here in America. A lot of signed jewelry pieces that were made by many stainless jewelers tend to find a better home than unsigned jewelry.
Sharon: The price differential is what, 10%, 15%; what are you seeing?
Ed: It could be substantial. It could be 20% or30%. Depending on the piece and the maker, it could be several hundreds of times the value when we look at auctions and see auction results. A smallbrooch by Cartier could be $45,000 or$50,000, and if it wasn’t Cartier, it might only end up being $5,000 or $10,000.
Sharon: What about the difference in terms of the coast. A lot of times, I think I’ve heard that brooches are very popular on the west coast, but not on the east coast or vice versa. What are you seeing in terms of trends on the different ends of the United States?
Ed: Well, I’ve never really noticed that much difference. People who have money, who are buying jewelry, I’ve noticed their taste is consistent because they’re bicoastal, a lot of them. They are traveling, and they buy what they like. I mean brooches, which I always think is one of the most popular, versatile pieces of jewelry. If you look at a brooch, you could wear it on your hat; you could wear it on your lapel; you could wear it on your scarf; you can wear it in the center of your dress. But with the newer fabrics, brooches aren’t supported the same way, as people may forget about them. Unfortunately, we’ll start seeing people shying away from certain things because the fabrics don’t necessarily support a brooch because brooches can be somewhat heavy. We’re also seeing more of a trend where people will buy costume, fashion or vintage jewelry, because if they lost it, they’re not losing a $20,000 or $30,000 brooch; they’re losing a $500 or $600 brooch.
Sharon: Right and what about millennials? I guess when I see younger people, nobody’s wearing statement pieces. What kinds of trends are you seeing in that market?
Ed: The limited amount I do see, I don’t see them really buying jewelry per se. I see they’d rather not have mom’s ring; they’d rather have the money or they’re going towards something that’s environmentally friendly. They’re looking for something that makes a statement more than something that has sentimentality to it or that is real. In my opinion, they tend to go more towards fashion or costume jewelry because it’s not expensive. They’re looking at things because they’re putting their money elsewhere; they’re paying off their college loans, in some cases.
Sharon: Yes, that’s true.
Ed: They don’t necessarily have the same interest in it. I mean, because of the internet — oh, it’s beautiful, but they don’t want to own it. The only reason people are wearing watches is because of the Apple watch, things like that; otherwise, traditional watches, which just had a big upswing because of the auction of Paul Newman’s actual Daytona (watch), helped stimulate the market, but again, how long will that last? Who knows? They don’t look at the refinement. Watches were always a very popular thing with men. A lot of men wear them, but some men don’t. Some people use them to tell time now. There are still collectors, thank God, that still buy them, but it’s not as big a trend as it used to be. When we see Arnold Schwarzenegger, his Royal Oak Offshore, it becomes popular for a little while and then the trend dies down, and then it becomes popular again. Everything goes in cycles. This time though, I think the cycle is more towards a downswing and I don’t know when it’s going to come back because the newer generations aren’t as interested as they have been in the past.
Sharon: Right, exactly, it makes a lot of sense. Tell us a little bit about the cycle of Jewelry Camp. It’s morphed. It’s gone through its own cycles and is now a little more condensed in the city and it’s going to be, I’m sure, once again fabulous; but tell us a little bit about that.
Ed: Well, Jewelry Camp, like you said, maybe it’s its 40th year, but I think it’s the 39th year. It started up in Maine by a gentleman named Dr. Joe Sataloff, who loved jewelry. He started this “camp” at a college where people would come and stay in dorms. Eventually, it became very popular and Joyce Jonas purchased it and managed it for several years with me. I was her assistant and did everything in helping her manage and take care of it. We started in college dorms up in Bangor, Maine. We eventually moved to Rhode Island and then towards Long Island. Originally, Jewelry Camp was almost a week long, believe it or not.
Sharon: Wow! Wow!
Ed: I know, right? It was really a week long. It used to start on let’s say a Wednesday or Thursday and go until Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week.
Sharon: Oh gosh, that’s amazing.
Ed: And people had fun. We used to have a lobster roast. We had a lot of things going on at one time. As society changed — and a lot of this has to do with societal shifts — people’s lives got busier. They couldn’t dedicate as much time. Jewelry Camp went from a Thursday to a Sunday and eventually it just ended up being over the weekend, starting late Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday; and offering different things. It’s always been designed to bring people in to introduce them to different things within the industry, everything from diamonds to antique jewelry, to Tibetan beads, to Swedish silver and other things. We’d end up flying in some very unusual speakers who would introduce the attendees to a whole different world, to things they may or may not have seen in their lifetimes.
When I finally took it over, I geared it more towards everyday things that people would see in their lives and in their businesses and in their collecting. I try to find speakers who would tell you about how museums would pick the pieces for their collections, how they would plan certain things, how auction houses worked, how the diamond business worked, how to describe the styles, the motifs of the different periods and things. I try to make sure that it’s something where people would learn every day about things that they might see during their course of business.
Sharon: Well, that makes a lot of sense and having been an attendee, I would say that you’ve very much accomplished that. I would also say that, first, I don’t think there are very many places that you can get this information unless you’re going to sit down and study on your own. It’s much more interesting to hear from the experts. Just the fact that so many people keep coming back year after year I think is just a testament to how worthwhile it is.
Ed: This is true. The attendance has slowed over the years as interest in the jewelry industry and things have waned a little bit, but it’s a strong crowd and it still is a great place to network and meet people.
Sharon: I think that’s a good point. Networking is something that, in addition to all the information, is just a great way to meet people in the industry and other experts and learn more about what’s going on. Is there a theme this year? Who are the speakers? I know it’s going to be at Newark Museum, which I know has a very interesting collection of American jewelry.
Ed: Yes, and my new co-director is Ulysses Grant Dietz, who is the great, great grandson of President Grant. There will be some jewelry of his at Jewelry Camp or I think at the New York (Jewelry & Watch) show, but Ulysses will be the keynote speaker and start it off on Saturday morning. We then have a lovely lady from the Met in New York who will be speaking about the unique exhibitions they’re putting together, which are opening in November. Janet Zapata, historian and jewelry expert, will be speaking. A young man who is part of the newer generation will also be talking about trends in the business and a lot of people are taking that to be very, very good.
Susan Abeles from Phillips will also be speaking about auctions and how they put together pieces for the auction, how they do their research and other things that auctioneers do. It’ll give people a great insight into the business. It helps them learn how to buy. It helps them learn how to pick and select people.
Donna Bilak, who’s an art professor from Columbia University, will be talking about the different styles and periods, and the motives from those periods, so we’ll have quite an interesting selection of speakers this year to give people a rounded, wide open, very large, interesting theme. This year, it’s going to be education and, as a bonus, on Friday, in Manhattan, there’s an art jewelry show, so the people can attend that and meet the artists. There will be a special preview at one of the auction houses in New York City. It will be a hands-on preview with a wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres, which will be served Friday evening, and then everybody’s getting attached to the New York Jewelry and Watch Show hosted by the Palm Beach Group. In Manhattan, they’ll have a chance to see that on Sunday.
Sharon: That sounds great. It’s something I’m looking forward to and if this sounds like a puff piece to the audience, it’s just because I am such a fan of Jewelry Camp and have enjoyed it so much. Thanks so much.
Everyone, that wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey and if you enjoyed today’s podcast, we’d love it if you would go to iTunes or wherever you subscribe to our podcast and please rate us. Join us for our next Jewelry Journey as we continue our travels from antique to art jewelry. Thanks so much for listening.
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