I studied art history in college and loved paintings and sculpture. I was placed reluctantly in the jewelry department as an intern. As an intern I worked with Art Deco Kashmir rings and Burmese rubies. I discovered Italian revival jewelry from the 1880s which resembled small three dimensional sculptures. The applied tiny gold bead and wirework drew me in and then it dawned on me ‘Oh, this is like tiny sculptures!’ Instead of putting it in a stationary spot, you could wear it, and constantly be reminded of how interesting and thought provoking it is. Jewelry is art you wear.
Pure color also attracts me, the blood red of a ruby, or violet blue of a sapphire, sometimes worn over 100 years, with scratches to the table (top) of the stone; only makes a piece more interesting. Some pieces carry a spirit, and the older the better for quality and rare pieces. In my world of gemstones and jewelry, rarity equals value. I am therefore on a constant quest to seek out these unusual and for the most part, no longer mined beauties, such as natural peals. Natural pearls grow in a mollusk and develop by a tiny grain of sand lodging itself into the animal, therefore creating a reaction to the intruder by creating a creamy nacre. The ones that get chosen to make it into beautiful jewelry come out of the oyster a perfect drop or sphere, and are carefully matched by a stringer sometimes taking decades, which is what it may have taken to create one single strand.
The most satisfying aspect of what I do is informing owners what their pieces are. Not only their value, but the history of the items. What decade or style is the piece? How was it worn, In the hair, or as a double sided jabot brooch? Was it a double clip which would be scattered on a lapel? Or it is a 1940’s bold design gold wide bracelet? Is it a Cartier Art Deco diamond and coral brooch, or a pair of Harry Winston diamond cluster earrings from the 1960’s, or a demure circle brooch meant to be worn on cocktail dress. With this comes an understanding of how to market their items, and to seek out like minded people who will continue to cherish the spirit of the jewel.
Vice President and Jewelry & Watches department head, Virginia Salem, GG represents Freeman’s in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, London, and Edinburgh.
Ms. Salem has been working with precious stones for decades - from the start of her career with luxury retailers Neiman Marcus and E.B. Horn Co. to the auction marketplace and her most recent role as director of fine jewelry at Bonhams New York for nine years. Virginia is a recognized jewelry authority and well-known personality, appearing as an appraiser on the PBS television program Antiques Roadshow for more than 15 seasons. She is a member in good standing of the American Association of Appraisers and is USPAP certified.