Some people travel to visit far-flung museums, seek out gastronomic experiences, climb the highest mountain, trek through deserts, or just lay on a beach and stare at the sky. Not me. When I am lucky enough to embark on a trip, the first thing I do is google “Antique Jewelry” and the name of the city. What could be more fun than uncovering an off-the-grid shop or vintage market, in search of the perfect diamond souvenir? You will be happy to know that I seldom fail in this quest, and my jewelry box is bursting with exquisite keepsakes. Here are some of my favorite finds from five of my favorite cities, with the back story of how I unearthed them.
When I am in London, which is a few times a year (Fashion Weeks!) I hit all my favorite spots—Portobello Road on Saturday morning (the earlier the better); Alfie’s Antique Market—great for vintage clothes in addition to jewelry; and the upscale Grays Antiques Market, where, as a young girl, I first saw a huge 1920s portrait diamond and nearly collapsed with desire. This hatching chick is from Grays—I looked at it for a long time and finally, the dealer, realizing that there was an audience of one for an egg-and-chick (which came first?) lowered the price sufficiently. He is gold topped with silver and I suspect dates from the mid-to-late 19th century.
I will admit that in Paris I have been known to contort my entire schedule to accommodate my two favorite markets—maybe in the whole world!—the charming Porte de Vanves—weekends only and closes up by noon—and clear on the other side of town, the massive Clignancourt Marche des Puces. (If you are nuts like me, you can do both in one day—that is why God invented Ubers.) If there is no wonderful diamond jewelry to be had at either place (unlikely, especially given the high-end dealers at Clignancourt) there are other alternatives. Many fancy street fairs are set up for a few days or a week at different locations, and these can be found by referring to the following indispensable website: https://vide-greniers.org. It was at one of the markets, in a tony neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe, that I found this incredible brooch, in what appears to be its original box. It spells out Souvenir in diamonds, which means “Remember” in French—and of course I do.
So many diamond jewels I could show you that I have bought here over a lifetime, but I have settled on these two Victorian snake rings since I wear them virtually every day. The first one, two intertwined serpents with a cabochon sapphire and a diamond in their respective heads, was purchased in 2008 from DK Bressler on 47th Street. The second I bought only a few months ago at the legendary Fred Leighton on Madison Avenue. Leighton shares its space with Kwiat, and I was in the house to interview diamond expert Greg Kwiat for Only Natural Diamonds. After we talked, I cruised through the Leighton side of the shop, and in one of the cases saw this creature with a single diamond—but a lovely big one—sunk into his noggin. I was toast.
I love Italy, and I don’t get there nearly as much as I would like. But a decade ago I did manage to finagle a press trip to the vast Mercanteinfiera in Parma—hundreds of dealers in football-field size halls—everything from the hugest pieces of furniture—oh, to be able to get these home! to a Lenci toy of Donald Duck’s nephew on skis (ok, I bought this) to the fabulous diamond bracelet you see here. I thought the way its lacey Belle Epoque diamonds contrasted with the chain links was unusual—is this the original piece, or did some enterprising designer put these two elements together? Who knows? It’s part of the mystery, and the thrill, of antique jewelry.
You might think that when I am in Sin City for the annual Couture jewelry show, I would spend most of my time at the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry Show, which takes place at the same time as Couture. But life—and jewelry—are full of surprises! Over the years, I have found myself increasingly enthralled by the designer jewelry at Couture, so much so that—at least for a few afternoons—antiques actually take a back seat. Here are three rings I cherish and that I found at Couture, from a pair of designers who have become friends—the two birds in flight are by Arman Sarkisyan, and the gorgeous star is from Selim Mouzannar. They all mix beautifully with my antique pieces, which only goes to show that diamonds are always ready to make friends with other diamonds.