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Antiques: Local dealers shine when it comes to providing antique jewelry

Saturday, October 07, 2000

By Donald Miller, Post-Gazette Senior Editor

NEW JEWELRY may be good, but old jewelry can be better -- often of superior craftsmanship and with proven lasting quality. That is why many people, young and old, find value, beauty and nostalgia awaiting their beck in the brightly lit glass cases of shops specializing in antique jewelry.

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Joden World Resources in Grove City, Kozloff & Meaders in Shadyside, The Marlene Harris Collection in Blawnox, Moses Jewelers in Butler, Broff's Inc. and Joy's Antique Jewelry, Downtown and Lily's Antiques in Shadyside are among the area's best sources of antique gold, silver, platinum and other pieces. Their owners know classic jewelry never goes out of style.

Joden World Resources

Take Interstate 79 north to the Grove City exit. Don't turn left to the Prime Outlets. Go right for a few miles and follow signs to the town's business district, one of the neatest streets in Western Pennsylvania. Here, Joden World Resources, 144 S. Broad St. (800-747-7552), is a first-class purveyor of antique and contemporary jewelry with two master jewelers on the premises.

Owner Joseph A. Murawski, 50, is a busy man with connections to world auctions and markets, including De Beers, the international diamond cartel, noted on the front door. Murawski -- son of the late Adam Murawski, a trade jeweler, and himself a gemologist -- has a special place in his heart for antique jewelry. His favorite designer is the legendary Carlo Giuliano (1831-95), favored jeweler of Queen Victoria. The store proudly owns one of the largest Giuliano collections in this country.

Murawski's favorite Giuliano piece is a regal bracelet of 18-carat gold set with a large cabochon (unfaceted) oval amethyst surrounded by 16 pearls. It was crafted in London in 1885-96. Minute enameling enriches the jewels. White-enameled palmettes support a second row of smaller pearls. Giuliano's hallmark? A florid perfectionism. It sells for about $45,000.

Murawski is also partial to the work of Victorian C.W. Hancock, famed for his enameled gold brooches and pendants in the style seen in paintings by German artist Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543) in his fine Northern Renaissance portraits. In best Holbein fashion, Hancock created a pendant with an enameled checkerboard pattern on gold that surrounds a yellow-green peridot.

Murawski, who followed his father into the jewelry business at 19, later formed Joden, pronounced JoeDen, after its first partners. (Joe would later buy out Dennis.) Murawski not only exhibits a cameo carved by his father but also has a special fondness for cameos. The owner's taste runs to unusual cameos, as it does to other jewelry.

"The best cameos are carved from stone," he said, "not coral or seashell."

He has 19th-century intaglio cameos cut into amethysts and garnets set in enameled gold.

Murawski brings out an orange-and-white chalcedony cameo brooch made with papal doves. The pope in 1865 probably gave it to a church donor, Murawski theorizes. Set in a tall pierced gold bezel (frame), the pin appears as splendid as it ever was. Another Roman brooch presents a Madonna with halo in a micro-mosaic portrait, its tiny stone pieces set in lapis lazuli, surrounded by an oval picture-frame bezel of about 1880. The reverse side opens to reveal a hair receptacle. (What? You haven't thought of preserving a snippet of your loved one's hair?)

There is also jewelry for men -- such as a massive, size 12 Renaissance-style 18-carat gold ring with a faceted octagonal green tourmaline, looking like a large emerald. Caryatid figures of Hercules and Zeus support the setting, as though Kaufmann's clock had become miniature. The price: $8,500.

Joden also carries a notable collection of art nouveau and Edwardian jewelry. One of the largest pieces is a large oval silver pendant of the goddess Ceres, or "Autumn," with leaves in her hair and gold-leaf touches under the polychrome enamel (signed Assanchou, Limoges; $15,000.)

A smaller 18-carat gold pendant portrays the profile of a blond young woman. The metal is softly brushed with enamel, creating a blushing cheek and an eternal springtime effect, along with green leaves entwined with a red flower ($5,500). A similar deftly made locket shows Cleopatra in a peacock headdress. She is hand-enameled and bears a blush (French, about 1910; $8,500).

For the unusual, a French bracelet and necklace contain 15 small green fossilized scarabs (natural beetles) peppered with black dots on their shells (1850; $25,000 both pieces). A woman with rich taste could be pleased with a carved 18-carat gold baroque pendant depicting a dragon holding a diamond. (1895; $4,500).

Talk about conversation pieces: Back in the days when egret feathers were popular on women's hats, actual stuffed hummingbird heads with iridescent feathers and gold beaks were made into brooches. Joden has an 1860 version with a real hummingbird's red-feathered head and ruby eyes. It faces out from a gold brooch.

Among Joden's other offerings are 1940s platinum and diamond engagement rings.

"They are hard to find," Murawski said, "but we have rings with a diamond brilliant and small baguettes on the sides totaling one carat for $3,000. We have at least 100, and they are popular. So are antique stones in new settings."

Kozloff & Meaders

Catch David Kozloff and Mark Meaders at their shop, Kozloff & Meaders, 5883 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside (412-661-9339); or, as I did recently, in their booth at the Pappabello Antiques Show in the International Exposition Center in Cleveland. These men specialize in fine old jewelry as well as antique furniture and rare accessories.

Poring over brightly lit cases of old jewelry is a delight for anyone who cherishes fine workmanship and vivid imagination transmuted into works of art. It must be paying off because there is a strong market in antique jewelry, Kozloff finds.

"More and more of the public is aware of it now," he said, including young people. "They can see the value in older jewelry and there is a better chance for high quality [than in new pieces of comparable price]."

For instance, Kozloff, who has been in business 24 years, offers a 1950s sterling silver bracelet with five segments, or panels. It looks as though it could be by Danish designer Georg Jensen, but it lacks a hallmark. Kozloff's price is $295. He notes the market is particularly strong for 1950s platinum jewelry and other objects. The current price of gold, down about $25 from its customary price of $300 per troy ounce, doesn't affect the jewelry market, he said.

"But now that platinum jewelry of the 1950s is highly popular, gold jewelry of the '50s is a good buy."

I ask to see a pair of perfect but unsigned 18-carat gold cufflinks. They are shaped like Aztec serpent heads -- displaying tongues and fangs and are partially enameled in red, white and black enamel. Their price: $450. They could easily be worn by either sex.

What kinds of jewelry do Pittsburghers like?

"Platinum and diamonds -- blue-white but not colored. Sapphires are the most popular colored jewels, but emeralds are hard to sell," Kozloff said.

Are there any drawbacks to old jewelry?

"It has to fit the customer's needs, or there is no sale. A dealer has to show lots of old jewelry, in case a particular piece doesn't work for a customer. You just can't order a piece of old jewelry that is what you want." Such pieces are no longer in production.

What might intrigue you at Kozloff & Meaders? A 17th-century Mogul gold ring with a large central cabochon emerald is inlaid with gold and rubies. Its carved sides have a lattice pattern ($3,250). Or how about flower eardrops, their faceted amethyst centers surrounded by rose diamonds and opals ($1,950)? Or perhaps an 18-carat gold pendant depicting a winged griffin ($950).

An old piece doesn't have to be exotic to be a bargain. Kozloff brings out a cushion of stickpins.

At $50 to $110, these are a good buy, he said, since they contain genuine stones and are gold. You could also buy a man's 18-carat gold 1989 Cartier Panther wristwatch for $8,500. A new one, says Kozloff, is $15,500.

Marlene Harris Collection

In Blawnox, you will find The Marlene Harris Collection at 238 1/2 Freeport Road (412-828-1245), where an irrepressible doyenne of antique jewelry holds sway in a former chicken coop transformed into a "fantasy jewel box."

The two-room boutique is pale blue, like Marlene's eyes, elaborate yet neat as a stylish pin. Here, jewelry but also elegant high-button shoes and fringed umbrellas are seen together against moire silk. But the older jewelry (and some reproductions) takes pride of place. The most splendid pieces are from the 19th century's Gilded Age and the 1920s-'30s Art Deco period.

Assisted by her husband, Leroy, Harris has been at this address nine years and has 28 years in jewelry merchandising. For 13 years, she was a contributing editor for Victoria magazine, advising editors on story ideas and helping with photography layouts from her various collections, including antique buttons and chatelaines.

The latter are 19th-century silver chains equipped with keys and household items such as lidded watches, tiny scissors and knives. One chatelaine in the shop, however, once belonged to Elbridge Gerry, vice president under James Madison. It's historic and made of elaborately enameled pink gold. A fob (to seal letters with wax) bears images of the goddesses Athena and Demeter.

A woman's French lidded watch with painted porcelain face is $1,500. Harris also has a group of unusual antique watch-holders, among them a helmet made partly from a large iridescent snail shell ($1,200). Mesh purses ($50-$200) also are selling well, not to mention gold and silver pins, brooches, earrings and occasional rings of many kinds.

What's hot, she says, is her bridal business.

"Customers are looking for period wedding bands and engagement rings. Platinum is very popular, but all white metals are being bought. Young women want platinum filigree. I also find if I have something really unusual, it sells immediately."

She, like Kozloff, finds sapphires among colored stones are most in demand, much less so emeralds.

"They are too soft. Green tourmalines are harder, richer, cleaner (fewer occlusions) and available for a lot less money."

Harris also offers a large selection of stone and shell cameos. Some carved in high relief are made of brown and tan Pompeiian lava stone. They range from $100 to $5,000.

"Buying jewelry is like buying a painting," she says. "You fall in love with it. It talks to you. And it has to hit your soul."

Moses Jewelers

Moses Jewelers, 115 W. Cunningham St., downtown Butler (724-285-1776), is run by father Merril Moses and sons Tim and Larry. Larry operates a satellite store 2 miles away (724-283-2776) in Clearview Mall, Route 8 North (724-283-2776). Another son, Tom, is a diamond trader who keeps the family, jewelers for 51 years, in touch with De Beers and European markets.

The firm has always offered estate pieces. Both stores have choice Art Deco objects. At the main store is a fine diamond and platinum ring from the 1930s. Eighteen small diamonds totaling one-third of a carat surround a central, .85-carat diamond. It sells for $4,250.

A late Deco platinum bracelet contains seven marquise (elliptical) diamonds with another hundred smaller diamonds and sells for $11,200. There's also an 18-carat white gold bracelet from the late 1930s for $3,500.

The mall store offers a five-carat cabochon star ruby platinum ring surrounded by diamonds in petal design for $11,975. The stone has a beautiful rose color.

A 70-year-old platinum wedding band is rimmed in small diamonds, at $2,000. One of the store's two bench jewelers has re-engraved the pattern to restore the metal's gleam.

A circa 1915 simple platinum ring set with a four-carat cabochon fiery opal is $2,250. There are also two tiny machine-engraved and hand-enameled-on-silver pendant ball watches, $725 apiece.

A platinum and diamond bow necklace on a handmade platinum chain from the 1920s-'30s sports a large 15- by 13.7-millimeter pearl, $6,500.

Broff's Inc.

Broff's Inc. has dealt in both estate and new jewelry since 1932. But the current owners' father and grandfather were in the business back in 1920s, eventually buying out about 50 other pawnshops. Just after World War II, Broff's opened at 413 Smithfield St., Downtown.

Many Pittsburghers seeking diamond rings and other objects of high quality know this store. Headed by brothers Myron ("Mike") and Jim Broff, the firm is also, as Pittsburgh Magazine notes in its September issue, Downtown's only remaining pawn business.

Broff's sells retail as well as wholesale to the trade throughout the United States. Mike travels weekly on business to New York and regularly to Belgium and Asia in search of precious stones.

"With less and less estate material to sell, we offer reproduction jewelry, too," he said. But it is clear where his principal interest lies. From a black velvet-lined tray he extracts an unusual platinum ring.

"You see that the main stone is shaped like a shield [like a heart with a flat top]. It's 7.31 carats. I came across two smaller shield-shaped stones in Belgium and had the ring made up." He winces at saying its price for publication, a sum in five figures. Broff's, with a full-time craftsman in its workshop, also makes jewelry.

It offers a large collection of platinum Art Deco materials. One necklace is paved with diamonds and set with emeralds; another with elliptical segments is lined with ruby baguettes. There is also a grouping of women's fine mesh bags inset with small diamonds and rubies in 22-carat gold ($2,000-$3,000). One such purse contains an octagonal mirror attached inside to a small chain. Cabochon (rounded) sapphires crown its gleaming clasps.

Mike Broff brings out as a curiosity a heavy gold necklace that gypsies have pawned. This massive work carries three gold rams' heads set with small emerald eyes. The textured links resemble suppressed wreaths. Its nationality?

"Possibly Romanian or Iranian," Broff surmises. "Not as fine as an Italian design would be." Nevertheless, the price is $6,500.

Joy's Antique Jewelry

"I've never had so much merchandise," says Joy Hankins, of Joy's Antique Jewelry, second floor, Clark Building, 717 Liberty Ave., Downtown. "Mother says, 'Buy it when you see it.'" And so she has, also noting that good estate jewelry is becoming harder to find. Her customers like jewelry in filigree.

"It reminds them of their grandmothers," she said, "anything in platinum or white gold. Pearls are really hot and still a fashion necessity. But colored stones are very good sellers -- tourmalines, amethysts, opals. I love opals."

With that, she whips out a tray of reproduction bracelets from the 1950s that look back to the Gilded Age -- filigree gold circlets in several styles but all studded with many small, fiery white opals in floral patterns ($600-$800). There are also garnet-set gold reproductions from the 1950s ($650).

Hankins also loves Victorian items, such as an 1880s American bracelet in pink gold set with tiny pearls, opals, garnets ($2,200). For many years, she has found and offered shell and stone cameos.

"Look at this one," she says, lifting a pink and cream oval brooch from its sisters. "It's Italian, of course, but with an American filigree frame of white gold. This beautiful woman's profile looks English, and she is surrounded by finely carved flowers." This unsigned but elaborate pin is $500, just one of dozens awaiting a buyer almost as avid a collector as Joy is.

Lily's Antiques

Lily Isaacson, owner of Lily's Antiques, 244 S. Highland Ave. (412-361-5361), has been in the antiques business 40 years and at this location seven years. She is confident that with a new furniture store coming in the former Rite-Aid (and before that Giant Eagle) building across South Highland at Alder Street, the avenue's antiques stores will see a rebirth of activity as furniture shoppers take time to visit. But now, except for Mondays when Lily's is closed, is a good time to see this small shop specializing in antique jewelry and related objects.

Outstanding is a pair of baroque pearl earrings from the 1920s-30s. These lustrous jewels of the sea, each a terminal drop on a white gold chain set off by a tiny jade bead, are 8 to 10 millimeters in circumference ($225). Even more delicate is a pair of French 19th-century earrings with tiny seed pearls held in place by almost invisible white horsehair. These drops are 3 inches long and $475.

Other objects include a Victorian openwork brooch set with faceted garnets, $350, and a clustered garnet ring, $450. An unusual cinnamon garnet in a vermeil (gold plate over silver) bezel is $275 while a pendant is $150. Also old is a Victorian locket made of three colors of gold while two diamonds hang loosely from a flower, $650. A coral and blue-beaded necklace, still chic, is $140. Also on hand are Victorian jet jewelry and several women's shoe buckles.

Among items being sought today are Bakelite (colored plastic) bangles. In their early days in the 1930s, they sold for small change but now fetch $75 to $150. A pin of fat and very bright cherries, probably made of painted compressed sawdust and also redolent of the 1930s, adds color to a showcase.

Isaacson prefers more rarified items. She specializes in small feminine picture frames, some micro-mosaics, and women's compacts. One, dated "1957, Moscow" in Cyrillic letters on silver depicts a mother and child with a dove and a church spire in the distance ($125).

"I also have beaded handbags in several sizes," Lily said.

What is an average price for a small petit-point bag? "About $175."

There is also a fine black calfskin handbag by Holzman, with its closure ringed in small ivory-yellow cameos, another specialty. Old perfume bottles, one of cut glass with a distinctive Waterford starburst on the bottom, are also available in this shop.

One of the pleasant aspects of antique jewelry stores is that they are not just one-way operations. They are all interested in buying excellent older jewelry as well as selling it. So if you own fine jewelry you are finished with, there is a good chance a dealer will want it for its next wearer -- who will regard it as a treasure worth its weight in gold.

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