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With DeLizza & Elster, sometimes it’s as important to know what something isn’t as what it is
Mistakes are nature’s way of telling us we aren’t as smart as we think we are. With every comeuppance we’re forced to endure it teaches us a valuable if sometimes expensive lesson. But compared with college, an education in the practical school of buying, collecting and reselling is a bargain. And the good thing is, we’ll never make the same mistake twice. (Well, yes we will.)
This particular column’s curriculum is about things that seem to be something they aren’t. Take the juicy vintage necklace of pink and red glass glitz. It smacks of, it looks like it could be … D&E. That’s the New York fashion-jewelry house of DeLizza & Elster (1947-90), a wholesale manufacturer known for dazzling décor destined for women’s throats, wrists and earlobes. D&E in fact designed and created every kind of jewelry known to womankind, from early dress clips to late liquid silver to “Indian jewelry” (often proclaimed authentic Native American work because it’s so well done). But its stock-in-trade among collectors is elaborately constructed crystal chains with art-glass stones. In the vernacular, collectors routinely call this D&E product “Juliana,” a tasty tag Frank DeLizza (son of co-founder William) concocted to christen the 1967-68 line, hoping to directly establish the company’s name in the retail world. (It honored Julia – Frank and brother Anthony’s mother – as well as Anthony’s mother-in-law, Anna.)
Collectors are crazy for lavish D&E. The catch is, it’s unmarked and was heavily copied. So how do you know if it is or isn’t?
You ask Frank DeLizza himself. At a time in life when many a former New Yorker turned Floridian wants nothing more pressing on their minds than mixing cocktails the color of sunsets, DeLizza, author of Memoirs of a Fashion Jewelry Manufacturer, “verifies” at least 100 pieces a month. His imprimatur can mean a considerable difference in purchase or sale price (nobody wants no stinking copies).
Foreign firms were especially good at knocking off D&E delectables, reaching a peak in the 1980s, when 75 of 100 stores on Broadway might be selling repros. One man insisted on buying DeLizza a drink when he unexpectedly met him, because he was so grateful for the popular jewelry he was able to knock off and live handsomely.
There should be a better way to definitively discern non-D&E than constantly bugging the boss. There are details that suggest something is likely D&E. These include five-link oval- or rectangular-bracelet construction, puddled plating on the reverse and open-backed skinny navettes. But shouldn’t there be obvious earmarks that, conversely, announce a “no” in no uncertain terms?
Uh, no. DeLizza says he used every color, every kind of material, so it’s only through experience, what is and isn’t D&E, by the jewelry’s lines, flow and dynamic.
He explains: “They could try to copy everything about a piece, but they could not get into our minds, our thoughts, and copy those.” So, the bad news is, no matter how fetching or fashionable someone might find this vintage jeweled necklace, it can’t legitimately be called “Juliana.” Ergo, the purchaser (that would be me) overpaid for the necklace shown here, on a hunch. (I couldn’t get into DeLizza’s mind either, evidently.) Also, because D&E produced figurals, and a snake pin I found “Easter egg” stippled cabochons familiar in D&E designs. I thought for sure it was the real thing too.
“Anybody could buy those cabs at H.S. Imports,” was DeLizza’s unembellished retort. The bottom line: Buy “Juliana,” sure or not, if you adore the adornment and want it for yourself; but for resale, you’d better be certain. As for the vintage snake, that motif sizzles for spring-summer 2010 styles, so it will sell despite no D&Eness.
Next on our list is an antique shell carving set in silver (shown at left). Yes, it’s a cameo. Yes, the portrait portrays a man. If you personally love hardstone dudes and want to gather up every glyptic guy you spot for a collection, “man cams” are rarer than the profusion of profiled ladies crowding carving’s landscape.
So what’s the snag? Cameo guru Kerry Davidson of Camelot Cameos and Antiques broke the bad news to me: Though scarcer, male subjects are practically impossible to resell at a snazzy price. Nobody’s coveting the XY chromosome in a cameo role – unless he’s mythological (or maybe famous and political, as with Lincoln). So, even though the carving is nice, in perfect condition, even though fine antique cameos move fairly briskly, it won’t prove an easy sale. Such situations call for a Plan B, such as … offering the fellow, decked out in an academic robe-and-mortarboard, as a gift for the upcoming college graduate.
On to the coiled chain with crystal jewels (shown above, right), with simulated pearls and pretend paté de verre (aka molten glass). It’s not a necklace, no matter how many women tried wrapping it around their clavicles. Alas, it is a belt, formerly the most common of fashion’s finishing touches – before thirsts developed for Big Gulps and a hunger for Supersized fries. These days the word “belt” can prompt women to stampede away in horror. But this belt has a mark, YSL, so we have to hold our horses. It’s an Yves Saint Laurent creation, complete with Gripoix-like green marbled resin in raised bezels, lustrous faux pearls, and jazzy jeweled buckle, not to mention the fact it looks stunning cinching a simple black tunic.
Its value, therefore, must be weighed: not a necklace; yes, a belt; but possessing uncommon provenance and the pedigree of a couture name. The verdict is in: It returned to the land of tiny waistlines, France, at a sale price of $500. If born a necklace, it would have sold in America for up to 100 percent more.
Finally, as post-Olympic passion for jadeite heats up and sale prices climb north, building collections or buying for resale will prove increasingly tempting. It’s time for potentially interested parties to wise way up, since the green earrings you’re considering could be Chinese jade, or nephrite, rather than Burmese jadeite. It could even be that they’re serpentine instead. Jade is a realm where mistakes are less easily brushed off, whether buying for yourself, or even worse, selling to someone else. That misstep could make someone sicker than a serious strain of Asian flu. ?
Kathy Flood is a journalist, author and owner of the online antique jewelry shop www.ChristmasTreePins.com. Her latest book, Warman’s Jewelry, 4th Edition, will be released in July from Krause Publications. It will be available at shop.collect.com.
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