From the Box of the Jet Set
The jewelry dealer Susie Hoimes from San Francisco handles high-quality antique costume
jewelry. Her collection is based on the preference of American Society Ladies.
When the art dealer Ann Nitze in her elegant townhouse in Georgetown, Washington D.C.
invites you to an event, it is at the best place on your calendar. The graceful gallerist is one of the
most prolific hosts in the nation’s capital and is even one of the most popular guests at dinners
and events around the world. Whether at a luncheon in New York’s Frick Collection discussing
the future of museums with collectors, at the gigantic web of panels which span over Lake Iseo
in Northern Italy by Christo, who is considered to be her close friend, a dinner in London with
British aristocracy, or meeting with her friend Edmund de Waal in Berlin, wherever Ann Nitze
is, something high-level is going on.
We see that, to a certain extent, she put the finishing touches on the exhibition of prestigious
jewelry dealer Susie Hoimes. Her impressive collection of ancient costume jewelry was in the
salons of the Nitze residence between images of Edvard Munch, Emil Nolde, and Richard
Diebenkorn for sale. The “trunk show” is among the social formats where the American Society
Ladies meet and stock up on what is on display or by the pool where everything shines.
Currently statement earrings from influential haute couture designers of the 20s to 80s are
When Hoimes began to collect vintage jewelry a decade ago in her adopted home in San
Francisco, it was not clear whether the investment would be worthwhile. “Today vintage is all
the rage,” says the UK-born art historian. Growing up in East Africa, surrounded by the insignia
and décor of the Empires, she was already studying art, and at New York University these
objects fascinated her. “For a long time women wore custom jewelry to show their social status,
but in the 20th century, one showed her individuality and personal taste in art, as demonstrated in
the creations of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli.” Many of those pieces are inspired by former
art movements, made with limited conditions, but according to the same manufacturing process
as custom jewelry.
The pieces are very stable in value, if well-maintained. The renowned auction houses have
discovered this; however, Hoimes does not purchase pieces there, rather private collectors have
submitted several thousand pieces from Palm Beach, San Francisco, New York, and other places
where haute couture has always had many customers. “One of my suppliers lives surrounded by
Picasso, but has always only worn quality costume jewelry. Another is the wife of a diamond
merchant, but also loved only elaborate costume jewelry.” This enabled Hoimes to compile a
collection of the beguiling Italian house Coppola e Toppo, ranging from the 40s to the earliest
chains by Coco Chanel, the brooches of Elsa Schiaparelli, earrings by Dior and Lacroix and the
American glamour designer Kenneth Jay Lane, Miriam Haskell, Trifari and Hobe.
There is such a pool of high-quality antique costume jewelry in the United States which are
priced between $200 and $25,000, including those from fashion icons like Jackie Kennedy, and
of course, from Hollywood. Especially highly-traded are creations of Eugene Joseff, of films
such as “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Casablanca.” Hollywood stars such as
Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Joan Crawford made the multi-row rhinestone chains socially
acceptable, and the middle and upper classes in America soon reveled in the sparkling
showpieces. When the then First Lady Mamie Eisenhower wore 2000 studded rhinestones on her
evening gown after swearing in her husband in 1953, the glittering jewelry had finally arrived.
Huge brooches in the form of frogs, dragonflies, peacocks, horses and flowers were in each box
of the international jet set. In recent years, the architectural chains characterized by the 60s are
again hot commodities, after the shoulder-reaching earrings from the 30s hit.
When Hoimes explains the costs, she recognizes each piece immediately. “This Chanel bakelite
bangle belonged to Diana Vreeland,” she says and rotates the sparkling piece. “We also had it in
black, but it sold immediately.” Can any particular piece of the thousands of objects of
provenance and history stand out? “That’s what happens when you love something,” she says
laughing. She is similarly passionate when it comes to antique Venetian glass, which is also sold
in her shop MDVII in San Francisco. There is also selected fashion jewelry available on the
website of the boutique – if you have not received an invite in your mailbox from Ann Nitze.