Especially with the collection of Miriam Haskell jewelry coming up for auction (see a gallery of images below), people are asking me, “How do I get started buying fine jewelry?”
Here’s what I say to them, “Don’t be afraid to buy something and make a mistake.” If you don’t make a mistake, you haven’t tried hard enough. And you know what? You’re not going to make the same mistake again. Plus, the next time, you won’t be so afraid to try.
Every time I made a mistake—and believe me, I’ve made my share—this is what I would say to myself: if I had to take a degree in antique jewelry it would cost at least $100,000 in college tuition. So every time I buy something and lose money, I write it down. So far, I haven’t finished my degree.
It’s a great way of looking at it. Think about it: with each mistake, you’re not losing money, you’re earning your degree! I’m probably up to about a year of college courses just from getting out there and giving it a try. If you don’t try, you’re not going to get it, and you’re just going to go through life on the sidelines.
Here’s how you start out. Go to museums and look at the best stuff first so your eye is trained to look at great pieces. You want to judge everything against that. Then, start reading auction catalogues. There’s nothing like going to an auction, reading the catalogue, and seeing things sold.
Finally, you take the plunge. Set aside a certain amount of money, say $500. Ask yourself, “What is the best thing I can buy for $500?” It could end up being a great silver bracelet, or a nice piece of costume jewelry. From there, you move up the ladder. Maybe next you want to buy an Art Deco ring. Set a price range again, and decide what you want to focus on. Do you want it in silver or gold? Do you want colored stones or do you care more about design? There are so many different designs within Art Deco. You have to train your eye to recognize which pieces you really love and what speaks to you.
The whole jewelry world is right there, in museums, exhibitions, auctions and auction catalogues. At auctions, you can see what’s been made, what’s being bought, and what’s being sold. Where else can you do that?
Skinner’s next jewelry auction is December 7th in Boston, featuring a collection of vintage jewelry by Miriam Haskell. I hope to see you there.
Just remember: it’s okay to make a mistake. That’s the best teacher.