AN INTIMATE DIALOGUE WITH A LISBON VINTAGE JEWELRY DEALER: THE TRUTH BEHIND COLLECTING VINTAGE JEWELRY RINGS
Strolling through Lisbon during the lunch hour, being a jewelry blogger I spotted an extraordinary vintage jewelry through a dark boutique window. I tried to find the name of the place and even asked next door, but nobody knew. Standing there mystified by the dark window, I knew instantly I would be coming back!
It turns out the gallery & vintage jewelry store is called Isabel Lopes da Silva, after the owner. This gallery has been in the same spot for two decades and has never needed a flashy sign or the shop’s name displayed above the door. I made a private appointment with Isabel Lopes da Silva to find out more about the beautiful vintage jewelry rings I had seen in the window. We had an intimate chat about vintage jewellery and building a vintage quality jewelry collection, which I want to share with you now.
Every jewellery purchase is an investment towards your collection, but it also has to have something special about it that’s recognisably and uniquely you. Isabel’s clients know exactly what they want and what they’re going to find. She has been curating vintage jewelry earrings and rings for a long, long time and has been selling to the same families all throughout the generations. From grandmother to mother to grandson, her clients consist of three generations of jewellery collectors from many prominent Portuguese families. They trust Isabel to find something that is truly unique.
This store-gallery brings together a surprising collection and mirrors Isabel’s personal taste. She is a specialist in 20th century jewelry and silverware, essentially from the period covering the 30s to the 70s.
How did you get into jewellery?
I began to work with jewellery over 40 years ago. Believe it or not, I initially studied mathematics. I married very young and my ex-husband and his family worked with jewellery. So I studied and learned from him when we were living in Cascais, Portugal. After my divorce, I left mathematics behind and opened up a shop in Cascais. I came to Lisbon 21 years ago and set up the ILS jewellery gallery here.
From where do you source jewellery for your Lisbon store-gallery?
From all over. Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows me and they know what I like. When they find an unusual piece, they know to call me. I buy from all over Europe as well.
What’s your philosophy behind your jewellery curation? Do you choose pieces based on design or is it the gemstones and diamonds?
I love colour, especially purple. I’m drawn to amethyst jewellery, like the vintage Buccellati amethyst ring you tried on. But it’s the piece itself that catches my eye, not necessarily the stones. It doesn’t matter to me if it has a big diamond or not. That’s not my thing. What I like in a piece is the design. If a jewel is from the right period, 30s to the 70s, it doesn’t matter if it is Portuguese or French or Italian, it’s the object and the design of the object that I like. The stones take second place
My focus is on having a beautiful selection of artistic vintage jewelry rings and earrings. I carefully choose the pieces that I present to my clients. It has to be unusual and it has to be vintage. I’m not influenced by the year or make or country, but by the style of the piece. Somehow it all has to come together and I know it right away if it’s a good fit for my gallery.
Your style shines through in your jewellery curation. The gallery feels like all the pieces come from one special woman’s jewellery box and that woman is you. How do you define your style?
It’s my taste, but it’s a lot of different styles that present well in my gallery & vintage jewelry store at the right price point. I never buy anything I don’t like. I feel terrible if I sell something I don’t like. If you take a closer look, you can see the pieces are all very different and very artistic. Somehow they all come together and can be worn together. My clients know what to expect from me and what they’ll find at my Lisbon gallery.
It takes time to build a great jewellery collection. For how long have you been working with some of your customers on their collections?
The people who come to my Lisbon vintage jewelry shop, they know exactly what they want and what they’re going to find. I’ve worked a long time with the same families, over three generations. I began to sell to the grandmothers, then to the mothers, and now to the grandsons. Three generations.
Is your family involved in the gallery?
My youngest son is 37 and he helps me. He doesn’t work exactly with me, but he helps me. Because I told him jokingly, “Oh, I’m going to close the shop. I’m tired of working at the gallery. I’m tired of working alone.” I love my family.
Why do you think my generation and younger should continue buying jewellery and collecting jewellery?
Collect jewellery because you like it and because it’s an investment. Many of my clients see vintage jewellery as an investment and as wearable pieces of art. I’ve seen the prices of vintage jewellery go up over the years. It is not unusual for my clients to come back 20 years later and sell a piece back to me, like those gold diamond earrings you want to try on.
Do vintage jewellery prices go up even for unsigned pieces?
Indeed prices go up even for unsigned pieces. That is why I carefully select each piece for my gallery. I know a good investment when I see it. The price for vintage jewellery rings and earrings grows in value in comparison to many contemporary jewellery pieces.
Do you feel people from 40 years ago are different to today? Do people today want different things?
People are much more informed now. They like these sculptural kinds of pieces, unique and artistic. At the beginning of my career, design-forward jewellery and silver objets d’art were much harder to sell in Portugal. It was very, very difficult. But now, it’s easier. People know what they like. Jewellery collectors learned to appreciate unusual, artistic vintage pieces from the sixties, seventies and eighties.
I have to ask, how do you tell the difference in a piece from the sixties, seventies and eighties?
I don’t know how to explain it to you, but when I see it, I know. It’s from 40 years of training. When I pick up a piece and touch it, I know if it’s fake or not.
Do you have some funny story about a piece you sold that came back to you 20 years later?
My longtime girlfriend has bought many pieces from me over the years, 15 years of collecting. Then one day she decides she wants to sell everything she bought from me, her entire collection. She spoke with Sotheby’s vintage jewelry auction and they came to Portugal to see her jewellery collection and she decided to put the entire collection up for auction in London. The next time she comes into the gallery, she tells me because she made so much money selling her collection at Sotheby’s, she’s going to begin again, start a new jewellery collection and buy jewellery from me again! Ha-ha!
I am extremely happy to announce that my new jewelry book – GEMOLOGUE: Street Jewellery Styles & Styling Tips – is now on Amazon. I’m so excited. It’s the first book of its kind solely dedicated to jewellery.
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GEMOLOGUE jewelry blog by Liza Urla is a celebration of fine, fashion and vintage jewellery featuring talented jewellery designers, trendy urban street style, exclusive interviews and rare jewellery reviews. This jewellery blog’s goal is to encourage and educate about jewellery online in a fresh and original fashion to inspire women and men across the globe in a fashion and travelling context.
Jewellery blogger, writer Liza Urla, the founder of GEMOLOGUE, is a London-based and NYC-educated gemologist, who has travelled to and lived in many countries. She is now one of the most influential digital jewellery tastemakers. Her jewellery influence has been acknowledged by Financial Times, The New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
*Styling and Art Direction by Liza Urla. All photos belong to GEM Kreatives for GEMOLOGUE.
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