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Estate Tool Kit

Here’s how to add another profit center to your business.

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Why specialize in estate jewelry?

“Right now, we’re going through a transition of a trillion dollars in jewelry transitioning from baby boomers to millennials and Gen Z. There’s so much jewelry out there and they don’t know what to do with it,” says Lily Mullen, fourth generation owner of Springer’s Jewelers in New England. “Having an estate case is a customer service opportunity. But also, as gold prices go up, it’s a great way to get things at a lower cost. It’s a margin opportunity. And there’s a following to estate jewelry for sure. It’s bringing in a new type of clientele.”

Should it be displayed in a separate showcase?

Lee Krombholz, whose store has dealt in antique jewelry since its inception nearly 80 years ago, often mixes modern and estate jewelry in cases to display a certain type of jewelry, such as ruby or aquamarine rings. “We’re a little weird in how we merchandise,” he says. But he recommends if you’re starting out, it’s better to set up a separate estate case to draw attention to it and add props and display pieces to signal it is an estate case.

What’s the best way to display it in the showcase?

Avoid clutter in the cases. When you’re selling antique and vintage inventory, it’s particularly important to curate showcases to create an elegant, less overwhelming shopping experience. Show less, but make sure what you’re showing is what you want to be seen. Anne Russell, VP of Hamilton Jewelers, focused on visual merchandising when setting up H1912, a niche store that specializes in vintage looks. “Vintage jewelry can look very quickly like a lot of STUFF, instead of a collection of fine vintage jewelry,” Russell says. So, they display by period and make sure they are not over-merchandising so the focus can be on each individual piece.

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What customer objections might come up?

The consensus among young people used to be that vintage or antique jewelry was “Grandma’s old stuff” and not relevant, says Julie Walton Garland, who grew up in the business of Walton’s Antique and Estate Jewelry in Franklin, TN. But now that stuff is cool. “It’s important to let people know that well-made pieces are super wearable and can be worn every day with the right care.” Another misconception is that it will be too expensive. “That’s not always the case either,” she says. “Sometimes they’ll pay more for new designer jewelry.

Is it a good investment for customers?

Garland steers customers who want to invest toward the stock market or real estate and away from jewelry unless it’s very rare. “You can have it for generations, and yes, eventually it will hold its value, but in terms of investment, it’s a word I don’t like.”

What are the selling points?

“Pieces are one of a kind, so you wouldn’t walk down the street and see something similar,” Garland says. “And there’s the story behind them. For most of our pieces, we don’t have the individual stories. But we can tell clients about the time period and, if it’s hallmarked, where it’s from.” Some customers are interested because they think of vintage and antique jewelry as eco-friendly. “You’re not manufacturing something brand new. You’re repurposing and recycling something that is already made.”

What else do you need to know?

Because storytelling is vital to selling antique and estate jewelry, Krombholz advises that beginners learn all they can about each period so they can put the jewelry in a historical context. “You want to be able to tell the story of when something was made and how it was worn and what sort of clothing they would have worn, how it relates to the fashion. It’s a whole other conversation than traditional jewelry sales.”

Estate Jewelry Could Be the Niche Opportunity You’re Looking For

At Krombholz Jewelry in Cincinnati, new and vintage share case space.

Do antique experts stock other types of jewelry?

While 90 percent of Walton’s inventory is pre-1940s, they do also sell new wedding bands because antique wedding bands are harder to come by and are often not what modern shoppers envision. Other new inventory in the Walton’s mix includes classics such as diamond pendants and stud earrings. Krombholz sells a mix of antique, secondhand and jewelry made in house, as well as non-branded jewelry from vendors. At any given time, about half of his in-case inventory is secondhand.

Are antiques and e-commerce a good fit?

When Garland began working with her dad, second-generation owner Mike Walton, in the family business, he was amenable to her ideas for expanding their omnichannel options, which is one reason Garland believes they are still successful today. “We didn’t have much of an online presence, but I’m super type A and organized, so when I suggested it, he was like ‘Do your thing.’” Online presence and sales have made such a dramatic difference that Walton’s has had to double their staff to keep up with the additional business.

Is it a good idea to buy on consignment?

Rick Nichols of Nassau Jewelry in Fernandina Beach, FL, buys half of his estate-showcase inventory on consignment. “You also, at any time, can offer to buy the customer’s jewelry and resale for a higher profit.” For consignment sales, he pays the customer 60 percent of the sale price and keeps 40 percent. He offers to size, detail and package the merchandise, and then calls customers to tell them their items have sold. All sales are final, officially, but occasionally, when someone insists on a return, he offers them an exchange. They then resell the estate item and the profit becomes the store’s.

Spell out your terms when buying on consignment, says Tim Wright of Simply Unique Jewelry Designs in Yorktown, VA. Wright does a 60/40 or 50/50 split with no contract and no set time limit. The item needs to be intact and wearable, and he will minimally refurbish the piece and warranty it for the first year. “We do look for the unusual or different,” he says. “We do not resell chain store jewelry, mainly because we cannot stand behind it and it does not seem to be different enough.”

Krombholz used to stock jewelry on consignment but found it to be too complicated. He now buys jewelry from clients outright. About half of what he buys goes into the case and the other half is either broken down for parts and melted or repurposed, such as when a brooch is converted into a ring or pendant.

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What do jewelers look for when buying OTC?

“All items must be in fair to great condition, including strong chains, decent ring shanks, good prongs, and have stones free of chips and excessive abrasions,” Nichols says. “It’s also very important to add only pieces that fit your store or pieces you think are potential sellers.”

How should you approach customers who are selling jewelry?

It helps to hone your empathetic nature if you’re buying estate jewelry over the counter. “You will be dealing with a lot of either grieving people or cash-strapped ones; being kind does not mean you should overpay for items, but it costs you nothing and can help a lot,” says James Doggett, owner of Doggett Jewelry in Kingston, NH.

How do trade-ins work?

“One of the benefits for clients is that if a person sells us something, we do offer more in trade than in paying for it outright,” Krombholz says. “They are receiving more for what they have and are able to buy something else.”

What should you not do?

Don’t get too attached. Edwin Mens of E.L. Mens Jewelers in Brainerd, MN, says it’s important to realize that not all estate jewelry will sell in the showcase, so jewelers need to buy the vast majority of items at prices that factor in the possibility they will need to scrap it. “’Hogs get slaughtered, pigs get fat,’ which means don’t try to buy too cheap and don’t hold on to your scrap too long trying to get the absolute highest price. Make your profit and move on.”

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