By Allie DeSeelhorst
Know your heart. This is the most important advice I can give about entering a long-time family business.
In college, I earned dual degrees in fashion merchandising and business and started my career as a clothing stylist. But three years ago, I realized the jewelry business was in my heart. So in 2015, I opened the Copper Canary jewelry boutique in Carlsbad, following a family tradition that stretches back more than 130 years.
My second piece of advice to a person wishing to enter the family business: Love the business.
I am a fifth-generation jeweler. I truly love being around the inventory. The antique pieces I adore the most are those that could very well have been sold at my great-great grandfather’s store in Chicago in 1885. To me, that’s current. Copper Canary’s collection dates back to the 1700s. We also offer unique items refashioned in a contemporary way from vintage jewelry like pins, watch chains and brooches. Why not wear your grandmother’s brooch as a pendant?
Respect the tradition. For those interested in the world of antique jewelry, knowledge is vital. Honor the tradition. Every piece has a story. So many of these pieces are in pristine shape and have been handed down in the family for generations. One should become a true admirer of craftsmanship. Antique jewelry was not mass produced from molds. No two pieces are alike. In addition, this is why it is of utmost importance that you only bring your treasures to a goldsmith who is experienced in working on antique jewelry.
My great-great grandfather ran a successful jewelry trade until he was wiped out in the Great Depression. His son also ran a Chicago store from 1925-1970 and employed his own son as a traveling salesman. But the son retired when his job became too dangerous (gun-toting robbers frequently tried to steal his merchandise). My father was fourth in line. He entered the trade on his own 40 years ago. I am the first female jeweler in the family.
Honor wisdom and listen. My father is a wealth of knowledge and I learn from him every day by listening to him educate customers about what they have and the time period behind each individual item. The wide range of art movements and the history of jewelry during each time period is so incredibly special and I learn from him daily.
We listen to customers and learn about their family pieces when they come in to sell their items. We had a woman this past week who had a ring from her mother who was born in 1908 and married in 1926. Now we have the history behind this particular ring to pass along after we refurbish and re-condition the piece. When folks come in to Copper Canary, they have a more personalized experience as we are family owned and have just one location.
Know your inventory. At Copper Canary, for example, our specialty is pristine-quality antique jewelry from the eras known as Georgian (1700s-1830s), Victorian (1830s-1907), Art Nouveau (1890s-1905), Edwardian (1900-1918), Arts & Crafts (1905-1917, Art Deco (1918-late 1940s) and Retro (1930s-late 1940s). To find these items, I travel three times a year to Europe and around the United States visiting dealers, trade shows and estate sales.
Hire great help. My goldsmith began his career in the goldsmith trade in the 1960’s. He apprenticed and learned from another goldsmith working on jewelry from the early 1900s. At this time, that jewelry was not antique nor vintage, it was “used” jewelry. He has so much knowledge and knows how to work with antique pieces unlike anyone I’ve met. He can look at a piece and educate me on how it was made in all its parts and pieces, sometimes over one hundred years ago. I learn from him daily.
Use your imagination. From 1900 to 1930, women wore many layers of clothing they held together with lingerie pins and bar pins. I redesign these into earrings, necklaces, wrist cuffs and rings. There’s also a necklace in the store made from a mourning piece — the large pin or locket that Victorian-era women wore to commemorate the loss of a loved one.
I applaud everyone who wishes to step into the family business and continue the tradition from generation to generation. Follow your heart, trust, listen, learn, and let your imagination guide you forward.
Allie DeSeelhorst runs the Copper Canary antique jewelry boutique in Carlsbad Village.