Artist Interview: Meet Jenn & Joyce of Bellflower Bay Jewelry!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Let's take a break from the crazy Christmas shopping season! It's always a pleasure to team up with independent artists and showcase their work for the community. Jenn and Joyce of Bellflower Bay Antique & Vintage Jewelry are a mother-daughter team based out of metro area NYC who hunt down and sell beautiful vintage and antique jewelry pieces. Their finds are beautiful and fit right in with my love for exquisite baubles and statement pieces. Later on today EA will host a giveaway with Bellflower Bay. But first, get to know Jenn & Joyce and learn about their Etsy store in this artist interview!

Thanks so much for sitting down with me Jenn! First and foremost, how did Bellflower Bay come about?
Bellflower Bay is run by my mother, Joyce, and myself--we adore old jewelry. It's really been a lifelong obsession for both of us, though I didn't start personally collecting until about eight years ago. After much discussion and idle wondering, we finally decided to go ahead and open a store to share our favorite things with everyone else, especially people who may not have access to them. I know from personal experience that shopping online for antique and vintage jewelry can be tough; the best items are often found in little towns or at fairs where sellers have no interest in bringing their inventory online. We really go out our way to handpick beautiful and interesting pieces, mostly rings, that are affordable to a wide range of folks. Most of our jewelry is under $500, and we offer payment/ layaway plans so that anyone can eventually own a piece they love! The store opened at the end of May, but we had been slowly picking up pieces here and there for about a year beforehand. I handle the computer stuff, for the most part, and my mom is amazing at the real life part--spotting great pieces and maintaining relationships with dealers.

Bellflower Bay owners Jenn and Joyce

Do you have any physical store locations? Do you sell in boutiques at all? Or are you online-only?
All the items ship out of my home in Astoria, Queens, NY, and right now the store is only online. We offer shipping everywhere, and use only priority and express mail with tracking so we can make sure it actually delivers!

How did you come up with your store's name? What does Bellflower Bay mean?
After much listing making and polling amongst family and friends, we ended up calling our store Bellflower Bay Antique & Vintage Jewelry. In Victorian times, flowers had very sentimental meanings attached to them, and the Bellflower was meant to represent gratitude. We liked the idea of a secret thank you to everyone who came to the store. The Bay was added because it sounded nice... Gotta love alliteration!

Alliteration works very well! Where do you find the pieces for your store?
My mom and I travel quite a bit for store stuff, mostly along the east coast. It's been a total blast going on these buying trips, where we can also visit the local sights and maybe sneak in a spa afternoon! I've also got my husband well-trained and if he visits a place without me, he keeps an eye out for the goods.

A Victorian Mourning Ring in Bellflower Bay's Etsy shop

How much history do you know about the items you carry?
Through research and just general repeated handling of jewelry, I can usually pinpoint a year range and era. We rarely get items with any specific provenance (which would mean that the piece includes a letter or note from a family member), but the best case scenario is when we have an older piece that is fully hallmarked and engraved. Holy cow does that make my life easier. Hallmarks are stamps on the inner band that represent different details about the ring, such as the year it was made, the city it was made in and maybe the jeweler who made it. A lot of rings prior to 1930, especially rings from the 1800's, have engravings in them that really add another dimension the piece. For instance, right now we have a gorgeous mourning ring in the store that can be dated to around 1875 because the engraving reads "AFB Dec 25th,'75" which is the date & initials of the deceased. (Mourning rings were one of many types of jewelry created as a memoriam when a family member or spouse passed away.)

What's the best way to care for antique/vintage jewelry?
Oh, this is a good question. It varies from piece to piece, but overall, I would say that you should just treat your jewelry with kindness. Opals and pearls are the most tempestuous of stones, so treat them with the utmost care and don't wear them in water. Turquoise change colors from oils on the hand, so if you want them to stay a certain shade of blue or green, keep your mitts off the stones. Try to always put your pieces away in a jewelry box. Check the settings when you get a ring--you can just touch the stones with your finger to see if they feel loose. If they do, bring them to a jeweler who can tighten up the setting for you. That's actually the best advice I can give: make friends with a jeweler who knows what he/ she is doing. That is invaluable.

Do customers contact you after a purchase? Do you know what they do with the items they buy?
It's kind of amazing... when we started the store, we definitely wondered who our customers would be, but I don't think we ever anticipated how many engagement rings we would sell! We've sold about five so far, all atypical engagement rings, but there's something so lovely and personal about picking an engagement ring, which represents a very traditional idea, by choosing something so nontraditional  My favorite notes on Etsy are from the excited guys who can't wait to propose to their gals with the ring they've just bought.

Do you have a favorite item from your store? (Past or present.) 
This is like asking if you have a favorite child! (Or cat, in my case...) There are two that stand out to me: one is a vintage Dendritic Quartz cocktail ring we got for the store and I remember thinking, "Yes. This is what I want Bellflower Bay to be." It was a bit pricier than other things we had up, but was also completely one-of-a kind, which is something we strive for. The other is this amazing three garnet vertical Victorian ring that is in the store now. It's just one of the coolest pieces I've ever come across, and I'm also pretty proud of my photos--jewelry pics are surprisingly hard to take!

The Dendritic Quartz Cocktail Ring that is one of Jenn's favorite Bellflower Bay pieces

What advice do you have for people looking to purchase antique or vintage jewelry?
Let me just step up on to my soapbox here :) I would recommend that you buy from a seller who writes a complete and knowledgeable description, who has other vintage or antique pieces and is not just selling an expensive antique ring amongst a lot of vintage blazers, and who has positive feedback. My biggest concern is people overpaying because they don't know the value of something--my recommendation to avoid that would be to price out items with similar qualities on sites like Etsy and Ruby Lane. Sometimes, a ring may seem special, until you find two others that have similar attributes. And sometimes the opposite may be true: you see a ring that you like, but doesn't seem worth the money, until you poke around and realize that there are no others like it out there. If you are buying in real life, I would suggest that you always ask what the stones are and the gold content (10K, 14K, etc). Also, though it seems terrifying to some (like me, when I started), you must ask if the price they are giving you is their *best* price. Sometimes it is and that's that. Sometimes you can save a bundle just by asking that one question. That actually goes for online sellers as well.

With so many online jewelry dealers now, in what ways does Bellflower Bay stand out?
Just that we love helping people find that special piece of jewelry that will take their mind off a hard day at work or make them smile when they glance down at their hand. We love the community here (and I still hope to one day find my Anthro dress that got away on the Trade Market!) and we are so excited to share our story & jewelry with you all!

A Victorian Comet Sapphire Ring (with quite the cool story!) in Bellflower Bay's Etsy shop

It seems like Anthropologie (and their sister store BHLDN) have gotten into the vintage/antique jewelry business recently. How do you feel about it?
I have been a longtime EA reader and Anthropologie shopper, and I always felt that antique and vintage jewelry fit right in with the Anthro aesthetic. A couple of years ago, Anthro even started offering antique pieces online and in select stores--that confirmed for me all along that Anthro really has the perfect meshing of old and new, interesting and lovely, and these are all things I think the EA reader cares deeply about. It's more than just fashion--it's owning something that makes you feel beautiful and unique. 

Thanks so much to Jenn of Bellflower Bay! It was a pleasure learning more about the shop, vintage jewelry and how to pick the right piece. Be sure to come back to EA later this afternoon -- a giveaway is coming!!