My life in the jewelry world began with a one week summer course on antique jewelry at the University of Maine. Before that, I had my own little antiques business out of my house. I was selling silver, furniture, little rugs, and other small things, but I hurt my back lifting. So I went to the doctor, and he said, “What did you do?” I explained my antiques business, and he said, “Don’t pick up anything heavier than a diamond.”
I took him up on his word. I signed up for the fine jewelry course, and learned the different periods, like Art Deco and Art Nouveau, so I could start to familiarize myself and identify antique jewelry. Just at the end they started to teach about the value of jewelry. During the course, it dawned on me: the history of antiques and the history of styles translates to every form—paintings, furniture, jewelry—they’re the same periods and the same aesthetic, for the most part.
I was fascinated enough to start working in a jewelry store, where I spent six months learning more about materials like gold, silver, and diamonds. After all of this, I went to Bob Skinner with a proposal to start an antique jewelry auction department. He asked if I was a gemologist. I said, “No, I just took this week long course and I’m smart and honest.” He said, “You have the job.” I almost fainted.
What followed next was intense tutoring from gem dealers, jewelry store owners, and actual gemologists, all on my own time. Gem dealers taught me how to judge the quality of the gem. The most important tool for looking at colored stones is a little flashlight. You light it from behind, and it will show you everything that’s inside.
Jewelry store owners taught me what if costs to manufacture a piece of jewelry. The gold may be worth $200, but by the time you get it to market, it will end up between $600 and $800.
Another thing I learned was how to test gold. Using different acids, you can test the karats. It seems simple, but if something has been plated, it tests higher. You train your eye, and after a while you learn all these little intricacies.
It’s been 30 years since I started the fine jewelry department at Skinner. If you’re hoping to enter the field of antiques or estate jewelry, or if you just want to become a more sophisticated buyer, I hope my story helps you better understand your path. My final words of advice: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes when you buy. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough!