Diamonds may always be a girl’s best friend, but recently, the gem’s gleam has caught the attention of men too, who look to precious stones for investments. The United States’ $71 billion jewelry market is driven by men who aren’t looking to add another bauble to their wives’ fingers; they are seeking rock-solid investments that are highly portable and extremely attractive on the global market.
In an interview with the WSJ, Judith Price, president of the National Jewelry Institute, said there’s a new sense of “refugee mentality” amongst some investors. According to Price, they know they can’t grab their Picasso and head for the hills, but if the need arises, they can very easily slip jewels in their pockets and run. While diamond prices often rise when stocks fall, gemstones often hold values extraordinarily well in the long-term.
IVY Member Yanni Kyriazis, designer for David Lee Holland Fine Jewelry in New York, is knee deep in the jewelry market. By trade, he produces fine art jewelry, a special method for creating jewelry that celebrates the artist’s hand, placing value of intricacy and innovation. The style grew out of the modernist jewelry movement of the 1940s and the corresponding renewed appreciation for craft art. Today, these pieces are created using incredibly unique techniques, and their one-of-a-kind features help them hold value for years to come. Yanni sat down with IVY Magazine to discuss why jewelry remains important and how his unique work stands out in today’s buzzy jewelry culture.
Yanni Kyriazis is an IVY Member. Connect and collaborate with him here.
IVY: What constitutes “fine art” jewelry?
First, let’s start with the question: what is art? It is a captured moment, embodying time and place, viewed through the artist’s eye. The art market proves that what speaks to the human spirit is essential and always will be sought-after and prized. That’s what fine art jewelry is. It’s not fashion. Fashions change, but what strikes a resonating chord with the human spirit is timeless, even if its form is era-specific. With fine art jewelry, a jewel must be timeless, but it must also be unique, precious, constructed of the finest materials, and fabricated flawlessly.
IVY: How has jewelry changed in the last 50 years?
The way we wear it has changed more than the jewelry itself. For instance, men wear far less jewelry nowadays than in the past. They used to wear a lot of diamonds, stick pins, bracelets, and big rings. Women have veered toward bolder statement pieces: earrings, rings, and bracelets, which draw immediate attention. They also rarely purchase suites as they once did – which is a shame, as that really makes for an exciting and important provenance for a collection.
After the social and cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s, men characterized wearing jewelry as feminine, while women liberated themselves from the arcane concept of existing as purely decorative creatures. In denying the style of their parents, the youth of this time created a new “stripped down” aesthetic landscape. Society took off the suit and corset and put on the blue jean. This trend has been mirrored in the art world, with its movement away from old masters to the market mania for modern/contemporary/emerging art and internationally recognized common cultural denominators.
Now that we are living in another belle époque—a less culturally revolutionary era—people are again beginning to understand the reason why, four generations back, their great grandparents invested in and wore so much jewelry. It was a way of carrying their portfolios, and enjoying them at the same time.
IVY: How has jewelry changed in the last 400 years?
400 years?! In that case, we have to talk about the natural world diminishing. We work with natural color gemstones. What used to be available 400 years ago—natural baroque pearls, beautiful natural ceylon sapphires—were in abundance at that time. It’s impossible to find some of these large stones now. Internationalization right now means we’re battling with Asian markets for rough, so anything in the colors which those markets deem auspicious is very hard to get. The rough for the orange garnets you see here are terrifically scarce at the moment. Red spessartine garnet rough, as well. That being said, there are new sources and new natural color gemstones coming to market which are of great value, priced below their true valuations, which offer great additions to any portfolio.
IVY: What are the biggest misconceptions people have about the industry?
First, jewelry is a big business. There is “mass market jewelry,” including costume and fashion jewelry; there is truly fine jewelry; and then there are artists who work in precious materials. Lumping these categories all together as part of the same art market is like lumping Picasso’s Femme d’Algers with a college dorm room poster.
We are proud to be jewelers as well as artists. (Call us sculptors in gold and platinum.) The gemstones we use, no matter how rare and magnificent, are simply an embellishment to our botanical designs. The result is a one-of-a-kind wearable work of art.
Second, people see the intrinsic value of precious metals and gemstones as being the only value to fine jewelry. To an extent, this is correct. However, a design is not just a design; a diamond is not just a diamond; and a ruby is not just a ruby. Solid gold jewelry like ours is very different to wear than hollow gold machine-made jewelry. When you reach the level of fine art jewelry, you are in the world of an investment much like a painting or a property.
Third, there is no “deal.” Mass marketers are to blame for this misconception with their 50% and 70% off “sales.” Truly fine jewelry costs what it costs. You don’t make a deal for a Lamborghini, or demand 30% off your dream villa in Cap Ferat. As long as pricing is market consonant, it is real, and your investment will appreciate.
IVY: What’s your inspiration?
Nature: because it’s limitless. When I’m not in a city, I like to be in the country in the middle of nowhere and hug trees, so to speak. We support botanical gardens across the country, so I spend a lot of time touring gardens like Lotusland in Santa Barbara or the Dallas Arboretum. I see things that just “wow” me all the time, and I want to capture the spirit and the ethos of the botanical form I am seeing.
Then there are these beautiful natural color gemstones, which we cut from rough. I’ll look at them and I’ll say, “I need to make something spectacular to showcase that.” In that case, the craft comes by cutting the gemstone to make the perfect shape.
I think of our jewelry this way: a thousand years from now, should archaeologists unearth your treasures, I want people to think that you must have been a member of a royal house to own such a beautiful jewel. I try to make things that could imagine being worn to a gala or seen in a major museum’s collection.
IVY: How do you blend form and function?
Art is form and function married, and these qualities should be balanced. After we finish a piece, we have to try it on, wear it, and make sure it is sensual to the touch as well as beautiful to behold. Jewelry has to be personal. It has to feel attractive to your body and to your senses.
IVY: What’s your best piece of advice?
Patience. People who are involved in consumer services should definitely read Stanley Marcus’s book Minding the Store. It describes what a true luxury specialty store is about, and what personal service really is. We believe in the old school method of personal service, anticipating your client’s needs, knowing your client’s taste and lifestyle, and respecting boundaries. We always tell people “we don’t sell our jewelry, we only show it.” When a client has fallen in love with a jewel or a work of art, and is ready to make an investment, he or she will let us know. It is our job to make that experience a joyous one.
Patience also means having a long-term view on relationships: you have to take care of people you do business with. As a personal jeweler and as an art dealer, I earn my client’s trust over time. One cannot be too scrupulous or too attentive to detail.
IVY: Does this next generation still buy expensive jewelry?
I think the current generation is very interested in jewelry. People don’t dress up as they once did, and therefore their jewelry needs to be comfortable and wearable. The essential element remains the same: it’s all about love.
Jewelry must arouse an emotional response – this applies to acquiring fine art, as well. Younger people are just beginning their collector’s journey. The way one builds a collection – i.e., portfolio-quality acquisitions – is to build around key purchases. In jewelry, for instance, a major investment should be versatile, and you should be able to wear it on a consistent basis and love and enjoy it. However, if you are someone who attends a number of important events, you will also need “statement” or “red carpet” investments. Our younger clients are buying both.
IVY: Is jewelry a good financial investment?
Fine jewelry is an excellent investment! It comes down to what is portfolio quality, and what is not. The number one thing to look for in a piece is uniqueness. If you buy something that can easily be purchased somewhere else—like a platinum diamond tennis bracelet, for example—its value is essentially the intrinsic value of precious metals and gemstones. However, taking the auction-house model, if it’s impossible or unlikely to find something “like and kind,” you’ve landed on something really wonderful, which will appreciate in value.
Look for something with unique design, intrinsic value, and excellent provenance. By itself, it should be a magnificent work of art, which not only ornaments the human body, but also will complement and enhance your personal style. Some people love and buy Warhol; some people prefer Degas; and some choose both—in building a portfolio of jewelry or art, choose according to what you love. That’s the great thing about jewelry. You can love it, wear it, and have it as an investment.
IVY: Did you always love art?
Yes, perhaps it’s a Greek thing. We have a tremendous history when it comes to art — artists, poets, writers, dramatists, choreographers – and our respect for artists is almost genetic.
In the world of jewelry we have a long history of craftsmen who fabricate intricate, remarkable pieces of jewelry in small family-held workshops, and to a large extent this still holds true in Italy and Greece today. Of course, my academic background at Harvard, the Courtauld, and NYU, and my professional career in theatre, film, fine jewelry, and fine art, added knowledge and scope to my inherent love of the plastic and performing arts. I cannot imagine a world without the cathartic experience art brings – no human society has ever existed without it.
IVY: How can the IVY Community best support you?
We invite our IVY friends to visit us, online or in person. It’s that simple. Engage in dialogue with us. We are consultants as well as jewelers and develop long-term and personal relationships with our clients. As we continue to grow, we’re always looking for partners, or people who want to help us expand the business, or other designers in fashion who want to work together. We love collaborative projects, and people with great ideas. That extends to everyone in the remarkable IVY member base. It’s not just about buying jewelry or masterworks in fine art—it’s about getting to know one another personally and developing mutually beneficial and rewarding relationships over the long haul.
IVY is dedicated to fostering a community for thriving people—inspiring connection, collaboration, and growth. To learn more, visit www.ivy.com.