BRENDA GOES SHOPPING FOR ANTIQUE JEWELRY
One of the questions I'm most frequently asked is "Where do you buy your jewelry?".
I can honestly answer "From all over the world".
Unlike many jewelry businesses, I don't sit back and wait for offerings that have passed through many hands, like pass-the-parcel, to reach me.
I travel to many places around the world looking for antique jewelry.
Sometimes, I fly long distances, hit the ground running, visit my contacts and then come straight home. For example, I've been to Paris countless times, but rarely had time to be a tourist. At the end of the day, I'm usually so exhausted that I don't even enjoy the famous French cuisine. Flop into bed and try to gather energy for tomorrow.
On other trips, I manage to combine business with holiday. A week in Italy might include 2 or 3 days of solid work and then a little foraging to sightsee, to enjoy the countryside and of course, sample the fare.
India is a really long way from home, although it's partly become a home from home. I often save up enough miles to go business class - my one luxury in life on ultra-long flights. I also manage to combine a few days of jewelry-hunting with visiting a new place. One year I might explore Kerala, another the Himalayas (my best) and yet another Tamil Nadu.
There are other countries in the world besides those mentioned and wherever I go, even on holiday, I look for antique jewelry. It makes vacations so much more interesting and I enjoy meeting other people who share my interest.
Meeting antique jewelry lovers around the world is one of the perks of my job.
There are lots of wild goose chases, but I might find a great bookstore instead and no matter what happens, I learn about the local life, society and culture. My last visit to Milan resulted in 2 pairs of earrings and 4 pairs of shoes.
Becoming a little old lady, means that I enjoy the support of my husband, if and when he can accompany me. That casts a much more fun aspect to my trips. We take food more seriously and always make time for more varied activities. He discovered the thrill of Michelain restaurants, but I put my foot down when it came to eating a donkey.
Exploring other countries and shopping the streets, results in almost my entire wardrobe being bought overseas. On any given day, looking down at my attire, I'll remember my trousers were made in Delhi; my blouse in Cape Town and my shoes in Milan or Paris.
The world of antique jewelry has afforded me the luxury of much more travel than would otherwise have been possible. While it can be a delight to explore different cultures and far-away places, it has become increasingly difficult to find good pieces, even in the most famous resources of London, Paris and Delhi. Even with the limitations of covid, In the last 15 months, I've been to Argentina, France, Italy, England, Hungary, Israel and of course, Las Vegas and New York, which are not strictly speaking another country.
Travelling overseas sometimes offers an opportunity to see interesting and important jewelry exhibitions. The jewelry in the Pforzheim museum is jaw-dropping; the jewels of the Green Room in Dresden have been extensively in the news following a famous heist and then, a few years later, the recovery; Paris - where do you start to discuss their museums? And there is always the wonderful collection at the V&A in London.
Only last week, I visited a little-known museum in Jerusalem, called the Islamic Museum. Not only do they have a wonderful collection of Islam-related jewelry, but they have a fantastic collection of antique clocks - perhaps the most rare and valuable in the world. The week prior to that, I visited the museum in Trapani, which used to be a center for jewelry-making in Italy since the Renaissance. Looking for reference material on the subject resulted in many adventures as I criss-crossed Palermo in search of a bookshop that might have one in stock.
Have you been to the national museum in Lisbon? It offers so much to learn about Georgian jewelry. Don't forget to eat their marvellous pastries. If you love antique jewelry, you must indulge your other senses.
In the same vein, somebody told me about antique jewelry in the museum at Castelbuono. Whoever even heard of the place? But my husband (always willing to adventure forth) and I drove up high mountains, on narrow roads with hairpin bends, through magnificent forests, without a sign of another car or any form of life except the occasional tiny village perched high up, like a figment from your dreams or a romantic fairy tale. After crazy adventures with drunks and others, none of whom spoke a word of English, we eventually found the museum (in the castle). There were two small window displays and that was it. But the exciting and magnificent trip made it more than worthwhile.
I have been to countries which didn't even have a bank (Myanmar, when it just opened to the West and we had hopes of a bright future). I've been to tiny hamlets in the Himalayas where I found a father-son-grandfather business. The shop was about the size of your fridge. They were making jewelry exactly as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago, still sitting on the floor. Credit card? They looked at me in bewilderment - never come across this new-fangled tricky form of paying and certainly not interested in trying it.
Sophisticated dealers I've met: people who have written books, have put together world-famous collections and lots of crooks of all kinds. No matter how careful you try to be, the nasty truth will often hit you once you are thousands of miles away and there is little to be done.
My work has permitted me more travel opportunities than I could ever dream of. Wonderful as travel can be, it is the journeys of the mind that are truly the stupendous journey of my profession.
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