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The Vintage Lover’s Guide to Curating Jewelry

The new Heritage by Ariel Gordon range inspires a new generation of collectors

Words by ANUSH J. BENLIYAN

 

For the last 10 years, Bay Area-based fine jeweler Ariel Gordon Maffei has designed delicate pieces (from hand-engraved signet rings to conflict-free birthstone necklaces) with the intent of creating modern family heirlooms, all crafted at her Downtown Los Angeles studio. Now, to fete her eponymous brand’s milestone, she has debuted Heritage by Ariel Gordon, a curated collection comprising over 200 vintage pieces she personally sourced from historic local estates, forgotten Hollywood costume departments and flea markets. Among the trove of finds: late-Victorian buckle rings, midcentury zodiac and initial charms, turn-of-the-century watch chains and more.

 

The Heritage collection will roll out over the next seven months in six covetable series: the celestial-themed Lucy in the Sky range (out Sept. 26); Flora and Fauna (out Oct.10); Golden Girls, comprising gold chains, letter charms, signet rings and other personalized classics (out Oct. 30); the romantic and heart-heavy Tokens of Affection (out Feb. 6); the Charm School talisman range (out Feb. 26); and lastly, On the Lanai, a colorful selection of pieces featuring coral, turquoise, pearls, diamonds and cameos (out March 18).

We sat with Gordon Maffei and Geller & Company’s Laurie Geller — a GIA-certified third-generation estate jewelry dealer in L.A. who authenticated and vetted each Heritage piece — to discuss how to wear vintage pieces, the ins and outs of treasure hunting and the forecast of jewelry trends. Here, we share their expert insight and some of the things we learned.

The difference between estate, vintage and antique jewelry.
“Estate is just a blanket term for previously owned, whereas vintage is usually 1980s and older,” says Geller. “For it to be considered antique, it has to be a minimum of 100 years old. So now we’re going to start seeing art deco being called antique.”

 

Where to shop.
Of course, reliable brands like Ariel Gordon do the legwork for you, from curating the jewelry to authenticating it. But if you want to venture out on your own and hunt for pieces yourself, there are some tried-and-true go-to troves that you can explore. “You can start at flea markets, whether that’s a local flea market or a bigger one like Alameda [Point Antiques Faire], Rose Bowl [Flea Market], or Long Beach [Antique Market]. I’ve gotten some great pieces from all of those,” Gordon Maffei says. “Pawn shops can have great finds, too,” she adds, as well as private dealers, auctions, jewelry shows and estate sales. “You can get a great deal at estate sales because they’re not in the industry, they’re just looking to move through pieces.” Another great source: Geller’s LA Coterie Jewels pop-ups, the next one of which is set for Dec. 7 in Los Angeles.

 

How to tell if it’s authentic.
“You have to be very careful, because people kind of just place the names, and sometimes you’re looking at something that’s vintage-inspired,” warns Geller. “So when I’m buying something I’m always touching, feeling, looking at it super close, because you want to make sure it is what it is. You’ll feel how heavy it is, see the detailing, and find clues, [such as] the kind of stone setting, or the way stones are cut, or [the fact that] certain metals didn’t come until certain years.” Check for hallmarks: stamps that can indicate karats, country of origin or makers. And don’t be afraid to get a second opinion from a professional. “Laurie [for instance] is GIA-certified, so she’s able to look at something — and she has all of her tools and tricks — and she’s able to help authenticate and verify things,” Gordon Maffei says.

 

Curating a collection and incorporating it into your wardrobe.
Some versatile styles that are having a moment right now include old watch chains that are being converted into necklaces, or vintage men’s pinky rings being worn by women. But as we know, trends come and go, so when shopping for vintage jewelry, it’s important to stay true to your authentic personal style and keep the things you wear on a daily basis in mind. When it came to curating her Heritage collection, for example, Gordon Maffei envisioned the pieces being layered with jewelry that’s already in the client’s jewelry box at home. “So I’m probably not buying Georgian or Edwardian pieces, because for the most part, they don’t feel contemporary enough. But there are definitely Victorian pieces that can feel contemporary, and turn-of-the-century pieces that I can stack and layer well with modern pieces. You have to ask, ‘how is this going to look on a modern gal?’” Gordon Maffei explains. “And if you’re drawn to a piece, and it’s not real, but the price is right, then it doesn’t matter. It’s really just what’s speaking to you.”

 

Embracing the history.
“There’s something about old stones that have this warmth about them,” Geller says, adding that the multifacets in some precious gems were cut to catch the dim lighting in a candlelit room. “I love that worn, soft look. That means that someone wore it for decades, probably, and it was really a part of them — they felt connected to it. So for me, that’s adding value that I enjoy,” Geller says. You might uncover personal relics left behind in pieces, such as in the lockets in the Heritage collection. “I’m leaving the photos all in,” says Gordon Maffei. “Some of the really old lockets will have tintype pictures in them, which is wild, or braided locks of Victorian hair.” For Gordon Maffei, the evergreen aspect of fine jewelry goes beyond adornment. “Think about where we are in our society and the way that we consume things, and the way that everything seems so disposable. That these pieces have lasted the test of time — and I’m hoping the jewelry that I create lasts the test of time — makes me feel like I’m contributing less junk in the world.”

 

Feature image: A selection of Tokens of Affection pieces from the Heritage by ARIEL GORDON collection. Photo by Angela Kohler.

 

This story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of C Magazine and has been updated as of Sept. 25, 2019.

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