Antique shows have nearly reached terminal stage in New York due to the economy and scarcity of suitable venues. The most favored show venue that was profitable and prestigious over the last fifty years was the Seventh Regiment Armory at Park Avenue and 66th Street. I say “was” because recently, under the care of the Conservancy, rents have increased threefold, thereby compelling hundreds of antique and art dealers to seek new space. Show promoters are trying to find a replacement for the Armory, but have yet to be successful. Lamentably, this venerable landmark, once a centerpiece of New York City’s thriving art dealers’ community, has turned into a mix of Centre Pompidou and Haute Intellectualism, favoring shows on modern dance and kitchen design rather than the world-famous shows that have given the Armory its international cachet.
Although the Metropolitan Pavilion, where this year’s third Annual New York Antique Jewelry and Watch Show was held in July, is not comparable to the Armory, it is nevertheless a fine building. However, better dealers, who rely on international retail clients and wealthy collectors, prefer the uptown Armory due to its location and reputation.
The New York Antique Jewelry and Watch Show is a dealers-dealing show that allows dealers to trade among themselves before the show opens to the public. During the show set-up, the floor becomes a frenetic marketplace of exhibitors rushing around, networking and trading for desirable and well-priced goods. The advantage of a closed private space where jewelry dealers can buy and sell is invaluable to their bottom line. Dealers keep pieces hidden in their safe to be discreetly shown to well-established relationships, customers with perfect credit or those who write a check on the spot. Items can change hands many times, frequently with dealers partnering to ease the financial burden and increasing their chances of selling. Bargains are found and old stock is sold off. For most exhibitors, that is the sole reason why they set up at this show.
During the first few public opening hours, the savvy outside dealers and keen retail customers surge in, making a beeline for exhibitors who may have kept something back for select buyers or to find undiscovered well-priced goods. As I entered the show this year, I was struck by the dichotomy of seeing two large booths opposite each other: Hartley Brown with a collection of superb early intaglios, German 18th-Century carved Blackamoor seals and 17th-to-19th Century museum-quality jewelry elegantly displayed; and on the opposite side, Windsor Jewelers, the Loehmann’s of the international retail jewelry world, with shelves laden with brand-new unsold overstock goods from Bulgari, Boucheron, Laura Munder and Van Cleef & Arpels. Windsor is well known for its successful national advertisements to buy jewelry from the public, and very often they do have exceptionally fine pieces. Opposite the entrance was Yafa Jewels with a large assortment of the finest late 20th-Century signed pieces; Van Cleef, Winston and Cartier, in particular, were bursting with splendid color. Further down an aisle, I saw Hancocks of London, who were aggressively buying before the show opened. There were many British and other European dealers as well: Byworth, Brown, Biehler and so forth.
Nick Silver of 21st Century Jewels London, with “politically correct” discretion, showed me some very interesting items. Nick is a devotee of Aldo Cipullo and he becomes ecstatic when talking about this former Cartier designer and jeweler. However, one item that caught my eye in Silver’s display was a large parure made by Verdura in the 1960’s for a member of the McIlhenny family. Made of amethysts and aquamarines set in gold, this splendid set seems timeless in design.
Fred Leighton, who is semi-retired and now has taken up fly fishing, spent the entire afternoon walking around and chatting with exhibitors and dealers. As always, Mr. Fred reminds me of a cat that caught a mouse and makes me think that if he were a nation, his national anthem would be Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. Rest assured, I am sure he uncovered several wonderful finds during the afternoon.
This show has a large variety of dealers and goods for sale and has room for development as an important international venue for the estate jewelry trade. As far as sales volume for this year, the best description I have heard was,”neither negative nor positive but the higher end of negative.”
Business continues and the trade adapts, as new trends and designs in estate jewelry evolve.
Images Courtesy of Christies Images, Sotheby’s Images, V & A , British Museum,
and Clive Kandel Collection