When my grandfather passed away, my dad took his small inheritance and treated our family to a trip to Miami Beach. It was the first time my sister and I had ever been on a plane, the first time we were staying in a glamorous hotel—the Deauville, much to my mother’s chagrin, since she wanted the Fontainebleau. My sister and I discovered room service; we swam in the pool instead of the ocean. Miami was a thrilling foray into the world of sophisticated adulthood to my pre-adolescent eyes. The Beach Boys were staying at our hotel (see, it was good enough for them, mom) and Wayne Newton was performing, though we didn’t go to see him. Amazingly he is still alive, but then again, so am I.
The other denizens of the hotel were swathed in sheaths and mink stoles; our clothes, perfectly serviceable in Massapequa, were a disaster, so bad that we did some last-minute remedial shopping on Collins Avenue. There was no South Beach back then—the whole art deco district was run-down and slated for demolition. It would take a miracle to save it, but miracles sometimes happen.
We probably only stayed in Miami for a few days, but that vacation lives in mind forever. I can still remember the feeling of riding in a taxi at night, seeing the neon lights, and listening to the car radio playing Cat Tjader’s jazz classic “Soul Sauce” and thinking, this is what being grown up is going to be like! Someday I will don a sheath and a stole, drink cocktails, and go to after-hours clubs.
Well, I am grown up now. And I am telling you all this to explain why Miami remains so close to my heart, and why I am so excited for the upcoming The Original Miami Beach Antique Show, a staggering 600 plus dealers at the Miami Beach Convention Center from January 19th to the 23rd. I will not be staying at the Deauville or the Fountainebleau; I will not be wearing a strapless frock and a mink stole, but that is not to say I won’t be having the time of my life.
Unlike some other huge antique jewelry shows, the Miami show is open to the public, and I urge anyone with an interest in the subject—and who would not be interested in gorgeous antique diamond jewelry? I don’t want to know that person—to visit this incredible event. If you have never been to a massive show like this one—or even if you have—you might need a few tips from someone who has gone to literally thousands –ok hundreds– of these shows and is in a position to help you out.
Here are My 5 Indispensable Rules of the Game:
1. It might seem obvious, but the excitement of seeing thousands of cases bursting with jewelry can lead you to forget to stay hydrated, take breaks, and above all, rest your eyes. Of course, I don’t have to remind you to wear your most comfortable shoes. Resign yourself to the fact that you won’t see everything—I have been known to return on a second day and notice thousands of wonderful diamond baubles I could swear weren’t there the day before.
2. When you see that one precious jewel you cannot live without, but you are not 1000 percent sure you should purchase it, ask the seller to put it aside for a half hour or so. I speak from bitter experience: I am still mourning the gold Victorian locket that spelled out “Baby” in diamonds that someone scooped up five minutes after I saw it, a decade ago at a show in New York. (If you see this in Miami, please text me, ok?) Oh, and always get the booth number!
3. Bring cash! See the beat-up briefcase that otherwise well-dressed gentleman is toting? Or the sad plastic bag slung over a chic woman’s arm? These vessels are stuffed with cash. The antique jewelry world is in many ways an old-fashioned place, a business that surprisingly still runs on paper money. Sure, you can suggest checks, Zelle, Paypal, Venmo, etc., but the way to a dealer’s heart, and the best price, is to wave a wad of bills under his or her nose.
4. Don’t be insulted, but are you sure you know exactly how to bargain? Here is a quick refresher: if you say, “What is your best price,” and you don’t like the answer or want to think about it, you can walk away in good conscience. But if you make an offer and it is accepted, you are honored-bound to buy. (Well, of course, you could still walk away, but the dealer will hate you.) This brings us to perhaps the most important rule:
5. Be curious and be polite! Some people mistake the horse-trading atmosphere of an antique show for an excuse to forget their manners. You will be way more popular and, in my experience, end up with a better price, if you don’t conceal your enthusiasm for a special piece. Ask questions! Is it signed? Does it have hallmarks? Most dealers are happy to tell you the history of a piece, and if you end up with a taciturn lemon on the other side of the showcase, just move on. Your grocery bag is still full of cash, and your cheerful demeanor will be welcomed at the next booth.