We've travelled backroads and byroads, city streets and country flea markets in search of old gold. Here we bring you images of some of the vintage jewelry we found. It is increasingly hard to find because so much of it has been melted down - sold in times of crisis or the transfer of estates. There are, however, the rare guardians of old gold who are still out there, seeking out and preserving the finer pieces, passing them on to the generations ahead. In the next three issues, we will choose one of these women to feature, together with the vintage gold pieces they shared with us.
Harriet Edmunds with 37 years at landmark Bowen Jewelry in Lynchburg
Harriet Edmunds was first recruited by Mr. Bowen Sr. back when they were neighbors 37 years ago. She started out in the mall location of Bowen Jewelry Company, helping couples pick out engagement rings.
She now works two days a week at the downtown location alongside Biff Bowen Jr., a third generation Bowen gemologist now at the helm. She finds herself looking at diamonds with the children and grandchildren of the young couples she helped choose rings back then.
Harriet has seen a lot of jewelry come and go.
Tradition, heirlooms, antique or vintage jewelry, whatever nomenclature you choose, that is Harriet’s specialty and the estate department at Bowen Jewelry has been her life's passion.
"It's unusual," she said. "The price for the value is lower than new. In spite of the lower price, you usually get larger more unusual cut stones. Many of the pieces are one of a kind and the workmanship is unmatched."
It is the quality of craftsmanship, the unique cuts and beauty of the stones, and the quality of the gold formulation that has ensured that these exquisite pieces are still around today.
She thrills to the history behind each piece of estate jewelry, whether it is Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Art Deco, or Retro, but Harriet’s favorite period is Art Deco from the Roaring 20s. Her mother-in-law educated her on style and elegance. Art Deco is mostly platinum and the workmanship is unusual with clean lines. Harriet also loves the Victorian era “years of mourning” (for Edward). The lines are clean and distinct with the stones frequently being black onyx in honor of Edward.
We asked Harriet about old gold in particular. She explained that estate jewelry typically comes in platinum, white gold and yellow gold. Yellow gold had fallen out of favor with recent generations, but it is making a comeback.
"It is so pretty against diamonds. It has backing and substance with the diamonds. It is becoming popular again and is frequently associated with
grandparents and tradition. People frequently remember their grandmothers owning
Platinum is more expensive, but can withstand two to three generations of use, especially in rings. It's become more affordable in recent years, and Harriet recommends platinum settings if you are planning to pass your rings down.
Harriet recently gifted her granddaughter her great grandmother’s platinum engagement ring when her granddaughter became engaged. It was a special moment.
Harriet encourages clients that are dispersing estates to first and foremost see the value of old jewelry. Bowen frequently helps clients to choose pieces to keep or to disperse through sales, but does not come between family members in making these choices.
The folks at Bowen will walk a client through this process even to the point of showing them detail through the microscope and explaining in detail craftsmanship, stone vs. synthetic, past repairs, integrity of stone etc.
Photos by Rowen Miller
for old gold
On a Treasure Hunt
off the beaten path
By Donna Gail Broussard
Most of their estate jewelry is local. Bowen does not seek out estate sales. Clients come to them. They will buy old gold, and even allow some quality pieces to be sold on consignment.
The value of old gold is valued partially on what is in demand. Some of their pieces do not sell immediately and the right customer has to come along. If a customer loves a piece but it doesn’t fit, Bowen’s can resize and fit it.
Bowen has carried some historical pieces. They can tell if pieces are “old Mine cuts,”, “old European cuts," etc. that came from families in Lynchburg’s historic past. Bowen has carried a lot of Victorian style pieces that came from the Lynchburg area. They have had pieces that “reflect the era and reflects the unique historic setting of Lynchburg."
They have also carried Native American turquoise pieces from the area as well. Some of these pieces are second and third generation and the history is unclear.
Sometimes the third generation is more interested in the old pieces because they came from grandparents or great grandparents (or remind them of their grandparent’s pieces). Children that grow up with the “look” of this type of jewelry in the family, tend to be more aware of it and value it more, thereby buying it more frequently.
Preserving the finer pieces and the history behind them - and passing on a passion for the preservation - has been Harriet's life's work.
Harriet hopes that pins will come back. “A scarf with a beautiful pin can make an outfit.”
We couldn't agree more, Harriet. While we're putting in our requests, hats, too, with ornate bejewelled hat pins. Those were the days.