The Most Romantic Jewelry of All: Inside the High-Stakes World of Estate Gems
Model wears Tenenbaum jewels
There’s something poetic and romantic about estate jewelry. “Each piece has a story, whether we are fortunate enough to be privy to it or not,” says Tony Bradfield, co-owner of Tenenbaum Jewelers. “Some pieces have survived centuries, wars, and economic depressions, while others have been worn by great-grandmothers and great-granddaughters alike.”
Bradfield and partner Kevin Black so believe in the poetry of important estate jewels that, in November, they opened an impressive 8,500-squarefoot new store fronting Westheimer and adjacent to River Oaks District. It is here that Bradfield researches and plans his acquisitions.
Jewels with personality, originality, impeccable craftsmanship, quality, and rarity in the marketplace catch his eye. Exceptional pieces from David Webb, Cartier, Verdura, Tiffany, & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Yard, Taffin, Tony Duquette, Delperron, JAR, Aldo Cipulo, and Pomellato pass through, as well as fine watches from Patek Philippe, Rolex, IWC, Cartier, Bulgari, Jaeger- LeCoultre.
There have been jewels from Hollywood estates — gold, diamond, and amethyst chandelier earrings from Elizabeth Taylor — and jewels from royal families, athletes, rock stars, and fashion designers. But discretion is the name of the game. The largest diamond that has passed through the doors was a fine quality asscher cut, weighing nearly 70 carats — “and, yes, it was mounted as a solitaire and sold as a ring,” Bradfield says.
The secret to the estate-jewelry treasure hunt lies in relationships. Bradfield and Black, who both dealt in estate jewels in San Antonio, purchased the distinguished 42-year-old Tenenbaum Jewelers in 2010 from the late Louis Tenenbaum, who had forged deep relationships with Houston’s wealthy. These relationships were then — and now — key to obtaining important jewels that are new to the market and have not passed through multiple auction houses.
“After 29 years in the business, I’m still amazed at what will walk into my office on a Thursday morning,” Bradfield says.
Model wears French Edwardian platinum and white-gold choker with 30.45 carats of diamonds, circa 1910-1920; vintage Buccellati gold necklace with Dutch rose-cut diamonds and
baroque pearls, circa 1960s-’70s; platinum necklace with 50.02 carats of round diamonds; Riviera necklace with 33.50 carats of diamonds; Victorian enamel snake bracelet with diamonds and ruby eyes, circa 1870s; French platinum bracelet with sapphires and diamonds, circa 1920s; Art Deco platinum bracelet with sapphires and diamonds, circa 1920s; all price upon request, at Tenenbaum Jewelers. Akris printed pleated silk dress $3,990, at the Akris boutique Houston.