With Millennials marrying in record numbers, “something old” includes more than a handed down wedding dress. Ernest Perry, owner of Perry’s Fine Antique & Estate Jewelry, is reaping huge sales benefits with today’s bridal jewelry customers by establishing his Charlotte-based store as one of North Carolina’s leading antique and estate jewelry stores.
At Ernest’s store antique and estate jewelry accounts for about 70 percent of his inventory. The other 30 percent of his store’s inventory is new production jewelry. With his daughter Hadley working in the family store, her main goal is to incorporate the latest bridal jewelry designs to offer “something new” to marrying couples.
“She’s been very successful at bringing in the latest bridal jewelry designs with customers responding well to the inventory mix,” says Ernest. “But even with a strong inventory of new bridal jewelry designs, about 25 percent of young bridal customers end up going for antique and estate engagement and wedding jewelry.”
For Ernest and his staff, the antique and estate jewelry buyers are an even 50/50 split between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Baby Boomers are not only selling jewelry outright or on consignment, they are also reinvesting in select pieces of jewelry they want to wear for the rest of their lives. Some Boomers are remarrying after divorces and deaths and even buying dream pieces they couldn’t afford or justify buying earlier in life.
When describing the buying habits of the two groups Ernest and his staff have discovered that Baby Boomers are nostalgic buyers while Millennials wish to purchase jewelry that is unique and well made. With more Millennials marrying, bridal has become an exciting product category at Perry’s with the younger demographic showing some real buying power and strong interest in previously owned jewelry. Even if a Millennial couple doesn’t invest in an antique or estate piece, they still like aspects of gemstones or jewelry designs from a certain time period or era.
“Some young couples may purchase a semi-mount in a trendy design, while others are asking for [new production] vintage-inspired rings to be set with a rose cut, an Old European cut or an old mine cut diamond,” says Ernest. “This totally fits in to the customization and personalization qualities associated with Millennials.”
Millennials are also very traditional. The time-honored “something old” rhyme is also a motivating factor for this demographic when considering antique or estate jewelry. “Even if they don’t buy an antique or estate engagement ring or wedding band we still find today’s brides honoring this tradition with an antique pin, brooch or earrings,” says Ernest.
Following the engagement or wedding jewelry purchases, Millennials are coming back to Perry’s for other types of antique and estate jewelry. Self-purchases for women from this age group gravitate toward Art Deco and filigree pieces.
“These really move fast for us,” says Ernest. “Brooches and pins are also doing well with Millennial ladies and cameos are hot right now. Comfortable price points for antique and estate jewelry self-purchases start at $300 and tend to top out at $600.”
For Millennial gents vintage watches are in, especially old tank-style watches from the 1950s. Price points for vintage watches are hard to resist when compared to today’s popular pedigree watch brands. “A refurbished vintage watch in good working condition can be two to three times less expensive than a similar new production watch.”
More modern watch name brands and styles that are now part of the secondary market are also popular timepieces for this demographic. Millennial men also have tastes for older tie pins, tie studs, cufflinks and tuxedo stud sets.
For retail jewelers looking to add to or expand on their antique and estate jewelry displays or departments, Ernest suggests buying from the public as the most lucrative way to earn wider margins for this product category. He offers one caveat: “Make an offer in a way that doesn’t anger the customer,” says Ernest. “Most of the time it’s not what you say, but how you say it that may put people off.”
Ernest’s skills in buying and selling jewelry spans many decades, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s when gold reached then historic highs. Ernest was working for Jewel Box at the time. The company was donating the value of scrap jewelry to charities while Ernest sold the better pieces at flea markets. The combined experiences of buying and selling previously owned jewelry to the public provided the incentive to open Perry’s Fine Antique & Estate Jewelry in 1980.
Not everyone deals with the selling public well. Partnering with long-established antique and estate jewelry dealers is another option for sourcing goods. Major industry trade shows also have antique and estate jewelry and watch events, but Ernest cautions to buy carefully. Some items may be priced too high and will be either hard to sell or will sell with very narrow profit margins.
And, Polygon’s antique and estate jewelry channel is an online destination to learn more about these product categories and to find reputable dealers. When buying goods, be sure to purchase antique and estate jewelry that’s trending well with today’s buyers including diamond jewelry set with rose cut, old mine cut and Old European cut diamonds. Art Deco is hugely popular and rings tend to be top sellers with pins and brooches not far behind.
In terms of staffing, having graduate gemologists and industry-accredited people working in your store is essential, but a passion for antique and estate jewelry is just as important. The lion’s share of romancing antique and estate jewelry is knowing the story behind the piece. Ernest refined his ability to tell these stories when he hosted a DISH Network cable TV show that showcased antique and estate jewelry. He sold the rights to the show last year, but the talent for romancing such jewelry lives on.
Key information to convey when selling antique and estate jewelry includes designer and manufacturer marks and engravings, knowing circa dates, hallmarks, styles and techniques representative of a period or era, and emphasizing the rarity of signed pieces. Most importantly, knowing the story of the previous owner(s) is key. Learn as much as possible about the antique and estate jewelry sold in your store whether its sourced from the public or a valued vendor.
“The personal story behind the jewelry is perhaps the best marketing and sales tool you and your staff have,” says Ernest. “Everyone wants to know the story.”
Ernest recalls a $15,000 diamond brooch a customer inherited. When selling the piece to Ernest, the customer conveyed an incredible story. The brooch was a signature piece for an aunt that constantly wore the brooch throughout the 1940s. Later in life, the older relative was travelling and tragically died in a plane crash. Never recovered at the crash site, the brooch was presumed lost forever. Two months after the aunt’s memorial services, a bag of rotting potatoes was discovered in the aunt’s root cellar.
“When the bag was lifted the bottom fell out and a small item wrapped in tissue was discovered,” says Ernest. “The aunt had hidden her favorite brooch for security reasons before embarking on her journey. Had the bottom of the bag not broken open, the diamond brooch would have been thrown out with the rotting potatoes.”
Finally, if you’re adding more to your existing product offerings, or jumping in with both feet on antique and estate jewelry, give yourself two years to get some traction with broader offerings of antique and estate jewelry. “People are actively seeking out this jewelry and it may take them time to find you,” says Ernest.