Levy’s capitalizing on estate jewelry popularity
Established in 1922, Birmingham-based Levy’s Fine Jewelry has the oldest gold buying license in Alabama. Purchasing pre-owned jewelry and old gold is a policy that dates back to the store’s founding by Joe Denaburg, but it wasn’t until 10 years after his death in 1972 that his daughter Rhoda Denaburg Link (co-owner), her son Jared Nadler and nephew Todd Denaburg (general managers) took this founding principle to the next level by buying and selling finer estate jewelry.
Estate jewelry has been part of Levy’s product offerings since 1941. Things changed in 1982 when Rhoda decided to close her Chicago-based jewelry business to join her brother Charles Denaburg, a full time practicing attorney and part-time jeweler, in the family’s Birmingham store.
“Rhoda used to buy directly from the jewelry makers right on the reservations, be it Navajo, Zuni or other tribes,” says Jared. “That specialized inventory helped her establish a lot of connections in the estate jewelry business. When that Native American jewelry inventory was sold down here in Birmingham we began to expand our estate jewelry section in part with the help of her connections.”
As humble as he is knowledgeable about estate jewelry, Jared doesn’t look back at the 1980s as someone predicting the future for today’s lucrative estate jewelry market. But he is quick to point out the last three decades have positioned his family’s busi ness nicely as one of the premier period and estate jewelry stores in Alabama at a time when these product categories are rapidly expanding.
Levy’s is not only capitalizing on buying jewelry from older generations and then selling it to younger generations that appreciate period and estate jewelry for its quality, finishing work, craftsmanship and unique designs. Five years ago, Jared and his staff started helping other retail jewelry stores by introducing, expanding and even establishing other out-of-market stores as period and estate jewelry destinations.
“We currently have around 12 retail jewelry store owner clients that are at various levels in their period and estate jewelry inventory offerings,” says Jared. “For some stores we have regularly scheduled estate jewelry trunk shows, some routinely buy from us while others are now exhibiting at estate jewelry shows and trade inventory with us.”
From New York to Florida and other Eastern Seaboard states, Jared and his staff buy, sell and even trade estate jewelry at trade shows six times a year. Closer to home, his local market provides a steady stream of period, estate and pre-owned jewelry with customers driving as far as four to five hours to Birmingham.
Jewelry is also routinely sourced from attorneys, bankers and trust departments. In looking back at the years invested in this jewelry category, it’s not just being an estate jewelry destination for customers, it’s being the go-to place for all things estate jewelry.
“It has taken years to build the reputation we have to attract some incredible pieces of jewelry history,” says Jared. “But the real investment we’ve made over time is our expertise.”
Levy’s is all in when it comes to period and estate jewelry. Forty percent of the store’s inventory is period jewelry, 25 percent is estate jewelry while 35 percent is new production jewelry from various designers. That commitment is obvious at every customer touch point, be it a store visit, their website (www.levysfinejewelry.com) or the steady stream of images and detailed product information on social media websites including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
The store’s website features a massive number of period and estate jewelry images. Products are categorized by jewelry types, including bridal, vintage rings, earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets and a catchall section of antique and vintage pieces. Each thumbnail image brings users to another page that offers additional details and the opportunity to see a larger image. Website shoppers have the options of buying through a shopping cart, creating a wish list or requesting additional information.
The store’s social media websites have almost daily uploads of product shots. The store’s Facebook page has more than 17,000 fans. On average, the many jewelry postings each week receive 200 to 300 reaches as well as a healthy number of shares and comments. “Social media has become a real central focus for us to showcase these products,” says Jared. “People can see the inventory for themselves and learn a little bit about each piece and the periods we represent.”
Art Deco is perhaps the most popular period of estate jewelry for Levy’s, but the store has its share of Victorian, Edwardian and Art Nouveau jewelry as well. Many pieces date back 100, 200, even 300 years, providing a practical world history lesson through jewelry.
“When you expose people to jewelry made throughout important periods in the world you teach them not just about jewelry but history too, from the influences of architecture in the Art Deco period to strategic metal shortages during World War II that forced jewelry designers to use certain metals,” says Jared.
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of sourcing period, estate and old gold at Levy’s is combining the knowledge and repurposing prowess of Jared and his staff with the capabilities and expertise of the store’s three bench jewelers.
Repurposing antique, estate and pre-owned jewelry and watches has a “green quality” to it the Millennials gravitate toward. Jared and his staff leverage this quality of the jewelry they buy and sell as well as the one-of-a-kind creations they produce each day. His jewelers also create bread-and-butter items including bridal jewelry. With melee-sized and small diamonds purchased from the public, Jared and his jewelers produce eternity bands cheaper than new production.
But a real source of pride for Jared and his staff, and an interest to their customers, are the one-of-a-kind creations. One of many examples is converting an old diamond-set Hamilton watch bracelet into a stunning pair of Art Deco diamond earrings. When Jared first laid eyes on the 1950s vintage watch, it quickly became a classic case of knowing what it would take to make the old watch saleable, and the actual value of its fundamental components.
One option was to refurbish it to saleable level, price it realistically between $900 and $1,200, and hope it sells. The other option: identifying the Old European cut diamonds in the watch bracelet, cutting sections of it into earring-length portions, adding design elements and diamonds, and selling it as an original Art Deco creation for several thousand dollars. “This is not only making good use of vintage jewelry,” says Jared. “It gives us a chance to create something new that no other jewelry store can sell. That’s what’s so special about Levy’s.”
Selling period and estate jewelry isn’t just a specialty, it’s a market differentiator for Levy’s, one of the main advantages he pitches to jewelry store owners. Chain stores are forced to carry inventory the main office tells them to sell. Levy’s has some new production to compete with the majors and other independent jewelers in the area, but his store is the category killer when it comes to period, estate and vintage jewelry.
Levy’s may carry everything such as cameos to bejeweled insect pins, but the depth and breadth of the store’s inventory attracts customers of all age demographics – especially the coveted Millennials. Always on the lookout for products that define them as individuals, period and estate jewelry appeals to young bridal customers.
“It’s not just the designs Millennials seem to like, it’s also the production quality and the finishing work of these pieces,” says Jared. “You just don’t see that type of finishing work anymore. And, of course, Millennials like the social responsibility quality of period and estate jewelry as no mining was done to produce the piece, just some innovative designing and creative bench work in our store.”
Levy’s also carries a number of vintage watches, from US-made Gruen Curvex and Hamilton watches to older Swiss-made treasures such as a 1945 14K yellow gold Rolex and a 1957 Tissot 14K yellow gold watch to name a few. Jared admits he caught the watch bug many years ago. “I’m one of my store’s best vintage watch customers,” says Jared. “I own more than 200 timepieces.”
Visit www.levysfinejewelry.com for more information.