It only took one quick glance from my whizzing cab on the busy streets of NYC–I locked onto the gilded windows with my eyes and secretly swooned as I sped by A La Vieille Russie. The antique gallery specializes in rare jewelry, Fabergé, decorative arts and Russian treasures, and stands on the corner of 5th Avenue and E. 59th Street in all its glory. It’s a shop unlike any other and it belongs in no other place than NYC. Unfortunately for me, I don’t get to visit NYC as often as I’d like to, but hopefully soon I will get a chance to visit ALVR rather than drive right by it only wishing I could stop.
The inventory on display at A La Vieille Russie is what most would describe as “exquisite,” or in my own words, “museum-worthy.” If you love Art Deco engagment rings, yes ALVR has them…but how about a rare piece of French Victorian jewelry, perfectly executed and in excellent condition?! Or even better, how about a diamond spray brooch with an origin most likely of the Russian Crown Jewels?! That’s what sets ALVR apart from the rest. The jewelry is magnificent and it speaks for itself.
I had to know more about this gallery that stands out from the crowd…about their jewelry, most importantly, and their views on the antique jewelry industry. With such an extraordinary store and resume, I fielded some questions and enjoyed hearing the intriguing responses. Hope you enjoy too!
We source our jewelry from around the world but the majority of it we find in England and the European continent.
The short answer is no. For instance, we have a postcard in our archives from an antique jewelry dealer, writing to his son in the 1820s saying “I don’t know how you are going to continue in business, I can’t find any merchandise”. We think dealers have always felt this way and really great antique pieces are becoming harder and harder to find. They are out there but along with being harder to find, the quality we seek has become a lot more expensive. It is easy to spend a million dollars but we would actually find it very difficult given the quality and the rarity of the pieces we are on the hunt for. However, as time goes on, pieces become vintage and eventually antique. Most of our collection comes from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century but we are beginning to collect exceptional jewels from the mid-20th century and we even have some “vintage” jewels from the 1970s and ‘80s.
We are world renown for our Fabergé and have formed some of the most important Fabergé collections in the world. The Messer Schaffer’s father, Alexander Schaffer, is known for introducing Fabergé to America and Fabergé himself was a client of our firm in 19th century Kiev. We are also known for our Imperial Russian treasures and European Objects of Vertu and snuffboxes. Interestingly, snuffboxes are considered by most to be the top end of jewelry. Primarily snuffboxes were made for men, however, in her lifetime, Catherine the Great had the largest collection and the story is that she supposedly had a snuffbox on every window ledge of the Winter Palace, known today as the main building of the Hermitage Museum. Given the number of windows in the Winter Palace, 1,945 to be exact, this story must be an exaggeration. However, it is possible that she had at least one in each of its 1,057 rooms.
In terms of jewelry, we consider ourselves to be “where the unusual is usual.” We look for the highest level of craftsmanship, the finest materials as well as unusual and innovative designs. We get most excited about delightfully unusual jewels and over the years, some of our favorite pieces have included materials such as wood, leather, gunmetal, human hair, copper, brass, celluloid etc. Of course, rings do very well for us as they are easily worn with today’s fashions. We try to carry a range of momento mori rings, hardstone cameo rings, Georgian, Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian, Art Deco and cocktail rings. Rare, high quality rings always sell and oddly enough, at the moment we are also all out of tiaras.
Art Deco is eternally popular. Lately, we have also seen a returned interest in mid-nineteenth century jewelry (1830-1870) in the Georgian, Victorian and Revival styles. Art Nouveau ebbs and flows in popularity but we love it always. Artist jewelry such as pieces by Salvador Dalí or jewels by Hollywood celebrity jeweler Paul Flato also always has an audience. There is definitely an increase in the salability and desirability of antique jewels and we think it is due to two main factors: 1) People are looking for individuality and do not want to be a part of the herd. So much of today’s jewelry is ubiquitous or a continuation of branding and people are favoring unique antique pieces more and more. 2) Some of our jewelry we consider “subway jewelry”, as in you can wear it anytime, anywhere, depending on the audience. Some of our best pieces do not appear as obvious bling and are quite understated. You could wear these pieces on the subway without anyone realizing what you had on and then once you got to the opening night of the Opera, everyone would know what you’re wearing.
Any? We have several! One of our favorites is from a few years back. A friend and client came into our gallery one day saying that her sister had passed away and was wondering if we would be interested in looking at her massive collection of jewelry in Jersey. Of course, we said yes and when the subject was broached with one of our firm’s principals, he immediately said “get in a car and drive out there”. To which the response was “No can do, it is the Isle of Jersey… off of the coast of France!” We ended up with over three hundred and fifty pieces of fabulous jewelry.
This post was brought to you in collaboration with A La Vieille Russie.
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Matt May 18, 2016 at 10:43 pm:
Wow, a snake with a baby snake it's mouth. That's an interesting piece of jewelry
Rebecca May 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm:
Love your blog! Have been reading it for years but it's my first time commenting … Having worked at A La Vieille Russie, I can say that it is no ordinary retail gallery. You will feel transported in time if ever you or your readers get the chance to visit. It is a treat to see so many magnificent pieces all in one place. ALVR is a must-see in NYC for antique lovers. I hope you get the chance to visit real soon. In fact, why not make a day of it? Go around all the amazing antique jewelry galleries that are within walking distance in those 5 blocks. Start in Kentshire located inside Bergdorf Goodman, then to A La Vieille just across the street, then pop over to Madison Avenue and visit Macklowe Gallery just around the corner from ALVR, and end your tour at FD Gallery on 65th street. And if Christie's is previewing their sale, start your day there, then follow the itinerary above. Enjoy! Makes me excited just thinking about this tour 🙂