November 30, 2023


Taking The Lead For Fashion Quality

A Vintage Jewelry Dealer Lured by Gold

Every day Shelly Branch posts precisely styled photographs of vintage jewelry on Particulieres. NYC, an Instagram account she created several years ago to sell the striking gold pieces she had begun to acquire. Even though she hadn’t planned to become a jewelry dealer.

“I didn’t set out to do this by any means,” Ms. Branch said in an interview near her apartment on the edge of the garment district in Manhattan. “If you had told me five years ago that this is the life I would have and the livelihood that I’d make for myself, I would’ve said, ‘Nuts.’”

Before founding her company — which is called Particulieres, although its Instagram label is a bit different — Ms. Branch was a journalist and author. She worked as an editor and writer at The Wall Street Journal, and was a staff writer at Money and Fortune. She also wrote a financial handbook, and co-wrote the 2006 book “What Would Jackie Do,” a lifestyle guide inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

In her spare time, she enjoyed finding and buying vintage decorative home items, like a French ceramic Mithé Espelt box and a bulbous Italian vase by Aldo Londi for Bitossi. “I’ve always been in love with ceramics, glass and vintage — mainly midcentury pieces,” she said. “I have a large collection of objects.”

“I’m an accumulator,” Ms. Branch acknowledged, smiling.

After Ms. Branch left The Journal in 2017, she was inspired to become a dealer when people repeatedly admired the jewelry she was wearing and would ask if she had comparable items for sale.

Her selections — sourced from flea markets, dealers and other contacts — generally are about 50 years old and mostly are statement pieces in gold: a Boucheron tiger’s-eye and pavé diamond cocktail ring and a wide Van Cleef & Arpels onyx and diamond band, both from the ’70s; oversize, textured gold disc earrings by Georg Jensen; link bracelets, chains and bangles.

Prices range from slightly less than $3,000 for an unsigned chunky gold ring to around $50,000 for a heavy gold chain by Jean Mahie for Cartier, although Ms. Branch said she also had sold more expensive pieces to some clients offline.

Ms. Branch’s selections take some confidence to pull off: They are the opposite of, say, simple pearl studs. Still, she displays them in a way that makes them seem approachable and alluring. A gold link bracelet was recently photographed draped across a scarlet Alsterfors vase, for example. In another post, the contours of a boxy H. Stern ring were emphasized by the Stig Lindberg for Gustavsberg tray that sat behind it.

“Immediately you can see that it has a very personal aesthetic and voice to it,” said Frederikke Moller, a client of Ms. Branch’s who is head of communications at the Danish Arts Foundation in Copenhagen. “The jewelry is very bold and nonfussy and very ’70s, but yet very fresh and contemporary.”

Reed Morano, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker who has been a client for about 18 months, said, “She’s an art dealer, effectively.

“She gets such a wide variety of things, but they all feel, elegantly, like they could all be in the same display in a museum,” she said.

Ms. Branch’s eye and professional background are not the only things that set her apart from her peers. “Obviously, I’m a Black woman in this industry,” she said. “I can’t name another anywhere, which is, which says a lot.”

“I find it depressing,” she said, “but it’s not surprising given how the industry has been structured: How most people come from a family background of jewelry business; how it’s mainly a male-dominated field. There are very high barriers to entry in this business.”

Yet Ms. Branch seems to be successful. While she declined to disclose her annual income, she said she was making more than she did when she was a journalist. And both fellow dealers and customers say that her mix of enthusiasm, curiosity and determination to find and sell resonant pieces at fair prices has served her well.

The generally insular world of vintage jewelry sellers makes those accomplishments all the more noteworthy. “It’s difficult to be successful and make a sustainable living at it, because it’s a lot about relationships, and it’s a lot about vendors and sources,” said David J. Bonaparte, president and chief executive of Jewelers of America, a nonprofit trade organization.

Ms. Branch said she intentionally left prices out of her Particulieres posts, to encourage people to get in touch and begin a conversation. “I really am selling as much a lifestyle as I am a product,” she said. “My business is not strictly a transactional business by any means. It’s a relationship business.”

She said she tended to become quite friendly with many of her clients and estimated that about 75 percent of them were repeat customers. “I feel like I absolutely know them,” Ms. Branch said. “I know their names of their pets. I know their husbands, their boyfriends, their woes, their problems.”

Some have expressed concern over her sleep patterns, she said, because she frequently is up late, texting shoppers in Asia and Europe, with her dog, Porter, a terrier mix, by her side.

Ms. Branch’s personal taste fuels what her business sells. During an interview on a chilly weekday afternoon, her jewelry included a large, boxy Trudel diamond ring that resembled a precious piece of Lego, a long chain necklace and an oversize, heavy gold link bracelet from the ’40s by the French jewelry designer Georges L’Enfant.

“It has all of the things that I really love in a piece of jewelry,” she said of the bracelet, describing it as “architectural” and “timeless.”

Fortuitously, Ms. Branch’s taste in jewelry happens to be on trend. “It’s gold, which is very important right now, whether its ’50s or ’60s or ’70s,” said Lauren Santo Domingo, a founder and the chief brand officer for the retailer Moda Operandi, which hosted a Particulieres trunk show in 2019. Another is planned for later this year.

Ms. Branch — who will say only that she is in her 50s — was born in Nyack and raised in the nearby village of Piermont, two New York State commuter communities about 45 minutes north of Manhattan. Her parents were teachers; her mother, who later became a lawyer, was a fan of Persian rugs and squash blossom jewelry.

“She was always looking for the best thing at the best price,” Ms. Branch said, “and she had a very strong, very curious eye.” She and her older sister frequently spent family weekends at flea markets and warehouse sales so their mother could look for treasures and bargains.

Ms. Branch received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a master’s from Columbia Journalism School.

Although her current line of work has its challenges, she said its pressures were quite different from what she faced as a writer and editor.

“The types of things I used to have to dissect and figure out and investigate make this very easy by comparison,” she said.