Antique Jewelry’s Reel-to-Real Appeal

Popular period dramas offer a glittering display of fabulous pieces that are enticing new audiences to buy and collect.

December 5, 2023  |  Phyllis Schiller

When Bridgerton came out on Netflix in 2020, it joined the ranks of period dramas that have piqued the public’s interest in fabulous jewels from historical eras.

“Period dramas are wonderful for their ability to introduce future collectors to the world of antique and vintage jewelry,” states Suzanne Martinez, co-owner of Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry in San Francisco, California. “They add to the mystique of antique pieces because they help the client visualize a historical context: the jewelry and the types of people who would have worn them. After all, that is one of the most alluring parts of collecting antique and vintage jewelry — imagining all the stories that a piece was part of before it came to you.”

[The shows] add to the mystique…because they help the client visualize a historical context: the jewelry and the types of people who would have worn them.

A series of fortunate events

The various TV series, she says, help introduce current collectors to historical periods through the lens of jewelry. Bridgerton “inspired a curiosity in Georgian Regency-period jewelry — swag- and rivière-style necklaces and playful and pastel colors, particularly the signature light blue of the Bridgerton family, which closely resembles aquamarine.”

Downton Abbey spotlighted “long layered Art Deco necklaces, statement bracelets, and bandeau headpieces,” while The Crown moved from “large stately necklaces, brooches and tiaras to Princess Diana’s iconic sapphire engagement ring, pearl chokers, and 1980s statement earrings.” And of course, these shows all featured tiaras, an evergreen topic of conversation for new collectors.

Estate dealer Catherine Thies has also noticed an increase in the popularity of antique jewelry, and she, too, attributes it in part to period dramas; they “add a touch of old-word romance,” says the co-owner of Filigree Jewelers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And with the greater exposure to the fine craftsmanship on display, she has seen “a younger demographic take interest, which has been delightful and aligns with that particular generation’s sustainability values.” 

Lisa Stockhammer-Mial, owner of online retailer The Three Graces, agrees that “while it is hard to measure direct impact, any focus on period dramas and their associated fashion and jewelry always boosts awareness and seeps into the consciousness of those who are shopping and seeking a look or mood.”

Edwardian diamond dangle earrings. (The Three Graces)

Styles from the screen

Among her own clients, Stockhammer-Mial has found that “period dramas can help reinforce the focus on two of the most popular jewelry periods: Edwardian and Art Deco. Their timelessness and quality resonate with many of our customers. Witnessing the elegance and soulfulness of jewelry through these series only highlights what is often missing in our lives and often in modern jewelry.”

She also appreciates the exposure to pieces from England and the Georgian or Regency period. “The delicacy and wearability of this jewelry cannot be underestimated. Many don’t realize that some of this jewelry is out there in the world to wear and enjoy.”

The prominence of necklaces in period shows, observes Thies, “whether it was a chatelaine-style necklace worn in The Gilded Age or multiple diamonds-by-the-yard necklaces featured in Downton Abbey,” has translated to popularity for the category; long necklaces are in, she says, as are layered looks with pendants. Lockets “have also become mainstream again. We are still advocating and waiting for the brooch to come back for daily wear.” Yellow gold, meanwhile, “is still the predominant metal of choice.”  

While Martinez has heard a few anecdotes about purchasing particular pieces to copy a character’s style, it is more typical to see “an increase in interest around certain eras and a growing curiosity about the world of antique and vintage jewelry in general.” 

Stockhammer-Mial’s clients prize wearability as the biggest draw. “While tiaras and high jewelry create the drama and oohs and aahs, diamond rings, pendants and earrings remain a staple,” she reports.

Model wearing a French Belle Epoque convertible diamond tiara and antique earrings. (Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry)

When wrong is right

Of course, inaccuracies do crop up in TV shows, intentionally or not — but that can open other opportunities.

“It certainly becomes a fun exercise to examine with our clients and our followers on social media which pieces are accurate and which pieces are not,” Martinez comments. “What matters most to us is that people are excited and engaged with antique and vintage jewelry and eager to learn more. This builds a great sense of community with our online following and wonderful relationships directly with our clients.”

It certainly becomes a fun exercise to examine with our clients and our followers on social media which pieces are accurate and which are not.

Focusing on educating buyers has always been a primary goal for Stockhammer-Mial. “These wonderful spectacles remind us as purveyors to ensure what is presented is authentic [and] clearly demarcated as such, or [if not,] as a reproduction or in the style of an era.”

Thies, too, uses the inaccuracies “as an opportunity to educate. Hollywood has a flair for exaggerating opulence. We love that, but for example, most women did not wear a gemstone engagement ring during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.” 

Victorian pendant and matching earrings with natural pearls. (Filigree Jewelers)

Harder to find?

The availability of period jewelry is a continuing drama of its own. “Prices never seem to go down, and availability seems to wane as the years pass,” says Stockhammer-Mial. “Seeking out the best aesthetically, and for condition and authenticity, requires seeking new connections and maintaining long-established ones within the industry.”

With the growing interest from the TV shows, affirms Martinez, “the overall pipeline for sourcing unique, high-quality pieces has become more competitive. However, we have not seen a lot of direct correlation between the run of a series and increased prices for a specific era of jewelry.”

Thies has noticed a jump in the pricing of antique diamond rings due to demand, especially elongated cushions or interestingly shaped old mine cuts. “Victorian engagement rings have definitely seen the biggest uptick in popularity due to the period show phenomenon,” she says. “I think it will continue with or without the popularity of a particular series. People love the history, craftsmanship and romance behind an antique piece.”

Main image: Edwardian stomacher or choker in silver over 14-karat gold set with 8.50 carats of diamonds. (Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry)

This article is from the November-December 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.

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