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No stone unturned: How to build a jewellery collection

When building a fine jewellery collection, quality is key but do keep it personal, the experts tell Avril Groom...

Even more exciting than gazing at gorgeous gemstones in inspiring designs is owning some. If you are not lucky enough to have inherited a bulging jewel box, building a collection is rewarding and, in a world of information, not as daunting as you might expect.

Books and exhibitions abound on historic jewellery and stones. These help you discover which styles appeal, and whether you prefer vintage, contemporary, or both. If the same designers crop up often on your “want” list, they are who to aim for. As Emily Barber, director of jewellery at Bonhams, puts it: “While prices for stones such as coloured diamonds have risen dramatically, jewellery is designed to be worn and you should buy pieces that ‘speak’ to you, although jewels have always been portable wealth.”

If antiques float your boat there are two approaches – buying at auction or through reputable retailers. Before the thrill of the bid, Barber advises you should observe auctions and go to viewings. “You can handle the pieces, examine the craftsmanship and try them on, without any pressure,” she says. “Check the rigorous condition report – quality is key and the estimate will reflect its findings.”

Estimates are realistic in the current market but, she says, “fine jewelleryis hot right now, especially classics like art deco Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels, and increasingly the more sculptural art moderne designers like Belperron, Boivin and Fouquet, so competing bidders can push prices. Ask how much interest a piece has attracted, but on the day it’s unpredictable so it’s important to work out what you can afford.”

If auctions seem too uncertain, build a relationship with an expert retailer who can advise you, look out for likely pieces and be sensitive to your developing tastes. “Research jewellers you are drawn to,” says Guy Burton, director of vintage jewellers Hancocks. “Learn about intrinsic value and why a beautifully made, unsigned 1920s piece may be half the price of the equivalent from a big name.”

Good 1920s pieces are a safe, long-term choice, he says, “but we see a growing interest in bold, gold, mid- century work – Andrew Grima is the hot name but others such as Ilias Lalaounis or Georges L’Enfant are catching the eye, and their style and quality have lasting value.”

Buying contemporary jewellery has parallels with fashion, says Maria Doulton, co-founder of The Jewellery Editor website. “Start with something everyday, like a bold, gold Italian piece perhaps with coloured stones from Marco Bicego, Pomellato or Nanis. Then think about the clothes you enjoy and find jewellery designers who mirror them – if you like the graphic look of Issey Miyake, jewellery from Vhernier might appeal; or if the feminine vibe of Chloé grabs you, so might Chaumet’s diamond flowers.”

Young designers work to commission as well as produce collections, and can make you a truly personal piece. Doulton suggests Lydia Courteille’s bold imagination and wild colours, Fernando Jorge’s impeccably fluid pieces, Hannah Martin’s spiky subversiveness and Jessica McCormack’s luscious yet edgy diamonds. It is, she explains, a very personal choice.

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