The thing about The Poetry of Living that excites us the most is the opportunity to meet such a wide variety of people. One afternoon, at the suggestion of a friend, we met with Alison Barry and were so immediately struck with the enthusiasm she showed for her work, we asked to come back and talk about it further. At first greeting, Alison has a dynamic about her that invites you in and makes you feel at ease. The postmodern home she shares with her husband and 2 daughters fit well with her modern vintage style, as much as the gold rings on her fingers highlight her long, reddish hair. What we loved most is that Alison is quick to tell you the history and stories behind some of superb rings she has acquired. As example, one such ring she invited us to look at more closely through a loop and we discovered that it was made up of tiny mosaic pieces that formed a perfect miniature picture. We thought we’d ask Alison more about her company, Duvenay, and her passion for the jewelry she has so thoughtfully curated for her upcoming trunk show.
Duvenay is a nonsense word that I made up when I was little. I had a game with my friends where I was a shop owner and I don’t really remember why but I had thought I was going to be Madame Duvenay and sell clothing in a boutique in Paris. If I was going to do retail, that’s what I was going to do!
How did you get your start in Jewelry?
I had always collected Vintage Clothing, since I was in High School. As the years went by I started buying better and better stuff and I would go to Paris, Rome and lived in New York for a decade, and even living here, I was able to get amazing vintage stuff. When my kids were little I decided I wanted to pass on most of my collection, but there were pieces that I wasn’t really wearing or have room to store and things that I felt like I didn’t really need to save for my girls, so I opened an Etsy shop to pass those items on to someone who would really appreciate them. I started with vintage clothing, bags, and shoes and then I started adding in jewelry, timidly at first. But I was running out of vintage clothes and just gradually made the transition to just jewelry. It’s more fun to acquire jewelry, for a shop to sell, than vintage clothing. It’s a lot of work either way but with vintage clothing you are showing up to the flea market at 6 am and that kind of thing but jewelry is much more fun to pick out.
What do you look for when acquiring pieces for your collection of jewelry or to sell?
I’m a gold person, not exclusively gold but I’m more about pieces that just have intrinsic value in the materials. There are lots of cool silver pieces and I would buy silver if there was a really cool design. I look for a lot of things but I think overall it’s about a piece that someone can have and it has value that is something to hold on to for years to come. Something you can either pass on as an heirloom or something you can have in rotation in your jewelry box for years to come. That’s why it tends to be a lot of gold. Sometimes it’s also about what I would want to wear or what I would like, or catches my eye. Not particular to any one time period or any one designer, it’s really about what I think is artistically a cool design and the materials have a really high quality.
How do you verify authenticity?
That’s a good question. There is a certain amount that I can do myself, diamond testers, acid testers for gold, and then there is a point in which I take it in and have to have a piece looked over and appraised. You have to have a really good jeweler that you trust as your reputation is based on it. Actually I have 5 really good jewelers that I trust. I have one for historic pieces, one for just gold, there is someone else that I have that is really, really good at identifying hard to figure out gemstones, I have a diamond person as well. It takes a village.
Do you think of jewelry as a form of art?
I do, absolutely! I collect jewelry myself in the same way that somebody else may collect art. I like to sell it to people that are collectors as well as they treat like a piece of art.
Is it difficult to part with some of the pieces you find?
Ah, yes. When it’s really hard I just don’t, or I put it off. Usually I’ll get over it eventually but it’s gotten easier. The thing that helps is that it’s really exciting to fit the right person with the right piece of jewelry. That’s so much fun and I’ve gotten so used to that thrill that it’s not that hard for me any more. There are some pieces though, that I just put off for sale.
You’ve shown me pieces that were modified from a brooch to a bracelet, do you often re-invent some of the pieces or update them?
Absolutely! Conversion jewelry is kind of a burgeoning art form in the jewelry world. There are so many beautiful pieces that have an intrinsic value, gold, content beautiful designs or gemstones but maybe it’s a brooch or a pin that people don’t really wear any more. Some of these beautiful pins just get melted down for their scrap value so people were cashing it in which is kind of sad. Brooches and Pins used to be just as important to people as their rings, earrings and necklaces are to us. Some really beautiful items were pins or brooches so it’s really exciting to convert a pin or brooch into a pendant, ring or a bracelet that someone is going to wear. Conversion pieces are really popular. It’s a good feeling to give something a new life and save it from being melted down.
Do you feel your background as a Genealogist draws you to vintage pieces that maybe have a story to tell?
Definitely. As a genealogist I’ve had some experience at discovering things from people’s family histories by some of the objects that they own, sometimes through jewelry and sometimes from a tea mug. That is information that helps us discover the origins of ones family. Art, the history of clothing, different eras, it all helps to tell the story. I love it. Jewelry with a story, there is nothing better. My favorite thing is when there are inscriptions inside rings. I love the visual of hand carved script in old rings, it’s visually beautiful and when I can read it and see what the details are, like mourning rings, I always go back and try and see if I can find obituaries or details of the persons name who is on the ring. Mourning jewelry, if it’s a ring, it’s usually inscribed on the ring and you can find out details of who the person was because they would have had to of been somewhat well-to-do to have a piece of jewelry that marks their birth and death dates. It’s really, really satisfying when you can find out details of the person that owned a ring someone has acquired, and give a little piece of the story to it.
What is your favorite part about being a collector/seller of Vintage Jewelry?
My favorite part is that I get to wear it all! I get to see it an appreciate it. Sometimes that’s enough for me, geeking out with my loop and seeing all the details and finding the right person for the pieces. Instagram is amazing for that as we can interact immediately. It’s really funny how quickly that happens.
Tell me a bit about your upcoming trunk show.
I’m very excited because it’s the first time I’ve ever had one. I sell online, I have some local clients, but I mostly sell online. I’ve met a lot of people through Instagram, reaching a lot of people that way. I wanted to have more of a local presence as well. I’ve invited another seller that I met through Instagram actually, and we compliment each other well. My dream of being Madame Duvenay is coming true! It’s going to be a Lily Lodge, which is a floral boutique on Robertson, so we’ll be surrounded by flowers with some champagne. 2 days of heaven!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I may actually have a brick and mortar store, some tiny little shop. The great thing about jewelry is that you don’t need a lot of space.
Visit Duvenay on: Instagram
Photos by: Kelly Norris Sarno & Alison Barry