From Rocks to Rockstars: THE name to know when buying antique jewellery

Jewellery is an essential part of expressing one’s style, especially when there are limited options available clothes wise. There are some stunning modern designs out there, but with antique pieces you can feel you're getting good value for money as well as a life-long investment. So I interviewed antique jewellery dealer Sylvie at Spectrum in Gray’s Market London about her story, the most exquisite and rarest articles, and what to invest in. And, with her clients including world famous rockstars, Vogue, comedians, politicians, TV personalities, as well as the average jewellery enthusiast, she's undoubtedly the person to know.

"Every day is fun for me… I can't stop enthusing"

How did you get into antique dealing?

It happened very accidentally, which is probably how most things happen! I was expecting my first baby, working full time as a secretary for a very important broker in the City. I still wanted to work one day a week after having the baby, so I looked in the newspapers and immediately saw a part time job advertised. I rang up, had an interview and was employed instantly. It happened to be an antique shop in Kensington Church Street, and the man who owned it was a very important French clock specialist selling fascinating things: clocks, ornaments, Meissen, bronzes…. We got on so well that I ended up doing extra work for him from home, and I progressively gained an appreciation of these wonderful works of art. So I decided that instead of getting payment, I’d like to buy a few antiques from him. I was gradually educating myself without realising.

So I started going to lots of different antique markets, picking up pieces of interest for myself. Little by little did I know I was becoming quite involved and getting a nice collection of things. Which led me one day, with a girlfriend, to start going to the Alexander Palace antique fair with a few bits I’d bought. I put them out thinking ‘out of a thousand dealers here I’ll be the only person who doesn’t sell anything because I’m a novice!’. But, amazingly, every single thing went to collectors or dealers who liked what I had, and they gave me their card saying ‘if you get any more please phone me’. I thought, if it’s that easy, I better do this more seriously! And 40 years later here I am! I still love every minute, still very enthusiastic, and have built up a wonderful empire of dealers from all over the world. Every day is fun for me and doesn’t feel like work.

Why did you decide to go into jewellery?

I didn’t initially. I started doing antique 1920s beaded dresses and sequined dresses. And straightaway Edina Ronay (Egon Ronay’s daughter) started selling individual sweaters for £200 (this was 40 years ago) with little antique lace collars of mine on the King’s Road. Then Liberty found me and started buying my antique lace to make into wonderful wedding dresses, and the word soon got around. But I just couldn’t keep up with the demand. They asked me to buy little bits of jewellery, but I wasn’t keen as it’s too serious, and I wanted to be more light hearted. But little by little I started buying a few things, which has led me to quite the collection today!

What do you specialise in?

I have an eclectic collection. I have silver, gold, platinum, diamonds, jet, amber, coral, Georgian seed pearls…. Hence the name Spectrum! I mostly sell Victorian and Art Deco but I also sell Georgian jewellery. And I also sell some silver articles.

My motto is to buy pieces that I would personally enjoy wearing. And when I look at a piece, I want to be happy with what I’m looking at, rather than just having another person in mind, who may not end up buying it anyway. So everything I sell is something I treasure. For example, I’m very partial to turquoise, which lots of people don’t like. So those that do, come to me.

And, most importantly, I try to be affordable. I start from £10/20 upwards, to £4/5 thousand for an engagement ring. So whatever people want, I try to satisfy them and please them. I’m happy to show endless bits without any obligation. Lots of people in this profession are very pushy and intimidating which can be quite off putting. So part of my popularity is endless patience and a variety of pieces.

"This is a breathtaking example of a Georgian snake necklace. This particular one is set with emeralds with ruby eyes, and he has an articulated heart drop hanging from its mouth."

"Vogue has had a very big impact on my career"

Vogue is one of your clients. What role have you played in fashion?

From my early days, Vogue has hired from me (they don’t buy). They work 3 months ahead of the magazine, and every month they come to me and choose maybe 10 different articles to feature. As they are the leaders of fashion, what they choose sets the most important fashion for everyone to follow. So, for example, 10 years ago they hired 9 or 18 carat longards (which are very long gold necklaces that you can wrap around 2 or 3 times, or wear very long). But 3 months later, when people came to buy them from me, they had already gone: because the models had bought them! And that look took off all over the world.

What jewellery is currently at the height of fashion?

Big outrageous pieces from the 1960s. People of all ages are wanting them. They're fun but affordable. Also, amber as it has become extortionate.

What will be next?

Vogue has just come to me for gold charm bracelets. So that will be the next big thing.

What to invest in

What is your most exquisite piece at moment?

A pair of outstanding dramatic Georgian earrings in pristine condition. They’re set in silver because white gold and platinum didn't come out until around 1910 in England. All the diamonds are hand set, they’re hand made, and were made 250 years ago to the highest possible standard. Modern designers would struggle to make something similar as they're not so imaginative and they're unable to make so much jewellery by hand without the use of machines today. And they’re the ideal investment: someone has already borrowed them and put them on their website for double what I’m asking. So they’re perfect for anyone wanting to make a quick profit too.

Which stone is best to invest in at the moment?

Diamonds are always best… diamonds are forever! For something different: tanzanite. It is a modern stone from Tanzania that started to be mined in the 1970s but it stopped in 2000, so there isn’t much around. It's a very unusual dreamy colour, between blue and mauve.

Which periods are good to invest in?

Georgian. It is highly sought after because there isn’t much around. We’re talking about 250 odd pieces of jewellery. All pieces are very desirable, usually made by hand, one off pieces that are quite exceptional.

Alternatively, Art Nouveau, which dates to approximately 1900. It is very intricate and pretty, quite often with enamel work in it. Sadly there isn’t very much around making it increasingly sought after.

What sort of pieces do you recommend to the readers of

1. For something striking: a gold necklace, like a gas-pipe one. Because a woman past her 40s is more confident, she can wear more important jewellery instead of little dainty pieces associated with someone in her 20s. Gold necklaces are very desirable: I’ve sold two directly off the neck of my French friend who helps me, and I’ve had to replace them for her!
gaspipe necklace

A gold gas-pipe necklace and a flower brooch with pearls and a diamond

2. George Jenson silver jewellery. After your mid twenties, I suggest being more adventurous by moving on from silver to gold or platinum. But George Jenson is the exception. It’s too expensive for most young people, and it’s very distinctive and addictive to buy. Beautifully made in Copenhagen, they make the most unbelievable designs and it goes up in value the whole time; pieces clients have bought from me years ago have trebled. And men love buying it as they know, whatever they buy, their partner will love it.

If someone is looking for something a bit more unusual, what would you suggest from your collection?

I have a Day and Night ring, which is a very special Art Deco ring. This one has diamonds, rubies and sapphires, and it was given it’s namesake because you can change the colour to coordinate with what you are wearing. Most people don’t part with them if there’s one in their family, which makes them quite hard to come by.

On the left: the Day and Night ring. On the right: "This is a Georgian memorial amethyst ring from 1755. When John Osborne died, a loved one had a wonderful hand engraving put on the shank to remember him by. We wouldn't know how to engrave like this today, and this one has lasted so long in pristine condition."

I also have a large skull ring at the moment with diamonds. Skulls are very collectable, and I think they appeal to quirky mad people, of whom I seem to have quite a following!

On the left: the skull ring surrounded by diamonds. On the right: A tanzanite and diamond ring
Also this dachshund brooch. Animal jewellery is very sought after but rare. In the 60s they made masses of poodle brooches because everyone had a poodle, but it's difficult to get other breeds.

Animal brooches. Top: a poodle brooch. Bottom: a rare dachshund brooch.

What’s best when you want to buy something cheap to take on holiday but still looks good?

Marcasite. It’s silver jewellery that offers a bit of bling, and is only £20 – £30, so it’s perfect for wearing away without having to worry about it.

What's a great gift for a man?

Cufflinks are always popular. But also rings: a signet ring, an intaglio ring, or a plain ring that can have a family crest engraved on it (we have engravers that do that). Alternatively, a poison ring. People in Georgian and Victorian times did put poison in them; a man would be having a glass of champagne with his beloved and then, suddenly, at the age of 30, he would die in front of her…. In those day’s it wasn’t recognised why he died, whereas now we’d be able to work it out so a poison ring isn’t used for the same purpose! Today you could insert a photograph of a loved one or a lock of hair for example.

Top tips for buying antique jewellery

When buying antique jewellery, what should you stay away from?

Anything damaged. No matter how cheap it is, it is very undesirable and most dealers won’t touch it. Even if it’s nice, if it’s missing something, or if it’s enamel and even slightly damaged, steer away from it.

If you’re buying from a new dealer, how can you be sure what you’re buying really is what you’re being told?

Check for hallmarks. Ask to look through a loupe to check the article and to see the hallmark so you know what you’re buying. Georgian isn’t hallmarked, and about 10% of Victorian isn’t, but otherwise there should be a hallmark.
Always get what you're buying written down so you have a back up.

Find Sylvie at: SPECTRUM

Antique Jewellery

Grays Stand 372

58 Davies St. London W1Y 2LB

Telephone: 020 7629 3051



  • Posted by Ros Wort on

    I found this really interesting being a fan of antique jewellery. I particularly like garnets because of their deep colour and have a number of rings and earrings. I also invested in some tanzanite pieces recently so pleased to know they are worth having.

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