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Who's Buying Antique Jewelry in NYC? Independent Women

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Welcome to Whale Week 2013, our celebration of the city's biggest spenders.

If you're looking for a pair of mid-century Cartier earrings, Benjamin Macklowe can help you out. His family's business, The Macklowe Gallery, has been selling museum-quality 20th century antiques on Madison Avenue since 1971. Check out a gallery of some of his latest acquisitions above, and hear what he has to say about the city's high-end jewelry buyers in the Q&A below. Want to see some of the pieces in person? The Macklowe Gallery will be at the Winter Antiques Show through February 3.

Where does your merchandise come from?

Our goal is always to buy things that are really unusual and special, so we try to hunt the world for it. I probably say no to 99 pieces out of 100 in order to say yes to one or two. We cover every public auction, we buy through estate lawyers, we buy through the public. People walk through the door every day on Madison Avenue with things to sell, though often they're things we're not interested in.

After 41 years on Madison Avenue, we've developed relationships. People come to sell their parents' jewelry, or come to buy jewelry because their parents shopped with us. It's a family business.

What's the price range?

It starts around $2,000. The vast majority is between $5,000 and $25,000, and then we have a lot that goes up to $300,000 as well. You can buy something really beautiful for $5,000 or $10,000. We definitely have whales as customers, but some are small whales.

What are your customers like? Are they collectors, or people looking for one-off purchases?

Being a retail store, we work with everybody. I've sold decorative arts and jewelry to museums around the world. We also sell to decorators and private advisers, like art advisoes for jewelry. And we deal with the public all day long.

Is there a community of antique jewelry collectors in NYC?

Oh yeah. There are several communities, depending on what your interests are and where you find yourself on the scale of funkiness or propriety. There are also fraternal organizations where those of us in the trade get to know each other and get to know who's upstanding and who's not. There are also things like the American Society of Jewelry Historians.

How often do your recurring customers come in?

People come every week. It doesn't mean they buy every week; they want to know what's new. Then there are people who never come in, but who buy from me all the time because of email. I'm sending them emails and packages of beautiful things over the mail. They say you do 80% of your business with 20% of your customers. That's true in jewelry as well.

Can you generalize about who your customers are?

They're really all over. They tend to be a more Manhattan-based crowd, but not entirely. A lot of them are women making their own money who can buy themselves beautiful jewelry, and who can use it wherever they're working.

Any prominent fashion clients?

Lots, and I'm not going to tell you any of their names. Editors of several major fashion magazines are clients of mine—people whose names you would definitely know.

Do you have perks for regulars, like personal shopping?

Yes. We try to make it fun. Sometimes I reach out to one customer at a time, and sometimes I'll send out an email to all of my customers knowing that one is more interested, and that person will call me and say "Why didn't you offer that to me first?"

What's the most expensive or otherwise memorable piece you've ever sold?

The most expensive piece we've ever had for sale is one we own right now. We're just about to put it up for the Winter Antiques Sale. It's a unique piece by Rene Lalique, who's considered the absolute master of artistic jewelry. We've been fortunate enough to purchase this piece from the family of the original owners in France. It's $1.5 million.

Do you have a sense of who will buy it?

No. When you buy great things, you never buy with a customer in mind. You buy it because you believe in it. Otherwise you're not a dealer, you're an order taker.

Any advice for first-time jewelry buyers (aka Baby Whales)?

Antique dealers are not mean scary people. We're actually really excited when young people ask us questions and want to learn. If you go to the Winter Antiques Show, especially during the week when it's less crowded, you can get basically 75 museum curators showing you what they do for a living. You can really enjoy everything from antiquities up to 20th century design, and all you have to do is buy a ticket.
· Macklowe Gallery [Official Site]
· Winter Antiques Show [Official Site]