At some point in your life, I hope you own, and treasure, a piece of fine vintage jewelry. There is nothing more unique, more exquisitely crafted or transformative. If you don’t yet, or are looking for something spectacular, Dana Kraus of DK Farnum is the woman you need to know. Dana is not only passionate about what she does and has an intense knowledge of jewelry in general, she has also become a confidant to those looking to sell extraordinary jewelry with often legendary provenance (she’s had pieces from Babe Paley, Peggy Guggenheim, the Hermès family). When TFI really takes off, the René Boivin diamond circle earrings below are mine! Here, Dana shares her favorite finds, why you shouldn’t buy jewelry as an investment, and the influence of Pharrell.
How you describe what you do? I help clients develop confident taste, both in buying and selling. Confident taste is a sort of habit of the eye, one that I’ve developed over a lifetime of exposure to great style, to intellectual rigor. I believe that fine jewelry should reflect the style of it’s wearer, as well as that of the creator. And that the best jewelry is magic, not decoration. Finding that magic is really what I do.
What was your career path and how did you get to where you are now? After many years publishing magazines and living in New York, my husband and I decided that we didn’t want to raise our sons in an urban environment. We preferred a rural one. We had a little house out here in the northwest corner of Connecticut, and we moved out here but we had to completely reinvent ourselves. I had extensive management experience selling advertising at Gourmet, Elle, and Fortune, where I made amazing contacts. And I really wanted to parlay that experience into something entrepreneurial, which would allow me family time.
And I knew people at Van Cleef and Tiffany and Verdura, and I’ve always collected rare jewelry books. And so, when a client approached me and asked me to sell her entire collection of Georg Jensen jewelry I took off and did it. And one referral led to another and the business was born in 2002.
And then in 2012, I made a conscious decision to reinvigorate the business and took DK Farnum to the next level. The technology that’s available now to bring luxury goods into peoples’ homes has really changed the way we do business.
Our current business model is an innovative concierge business. We really don’t need a store. We’re happy not to have a store. We meet with people. We work with some on the internet. It’s a combination of things. It’s a tricky jigsaw puzzle, but it works very well.
At this point, we’ve grown a lot. And our inventory really consists largely of exceptional pieces that are not easily found. So, we’re in a very good place.
Do you call it vintage fine jewelry? Why do you love it? How is it different than modern pieces? Vintage includes many eras or decades. And estate jewelry really is an elegant term for previously owned jewelry. I think fine jewelry differs from the other decorative arts in that it’s so intensely personal. My particular love is for fine jewelry from the 20s through the 60s.
I think those post-war years really freed jewelers from more time constraints with materials and resources. There was limitation on platinum. There was limitation on gold, and all sorts of other limitations. But, these post-war years really resulted in amazingly creative original design and a sense of innovation that is unmatched in other eras.
I do love a lot of modern design that is original and well-executed. But, I am not jazzed by what I call beady beady jewelry which is the stuff that you see a lot on some of these big websites. It’s interchangeable. It’s not distinctive.
Who are some of your favorite designers? I would say Suzanne Belperron takes my breath away. Her design was her signature. Her pieces are tough to find. They command very handsome prices.
I also adore old Schlumberger. I worked at Tiffany’s and people know that I own many of his original pieces, and I study his work. We get his pieces and they are very tough to let go. He’d take a straw basket or seashell and he would use unusual materials and make something that was haute jewelry out of it. He was really a master of understated elegance. We have a couple pairs of his earrings currently for sale which are pretty remarkable. One pair are from the Peggy Rockefeller collection and were custom made for her. We have the paperwork from Tiffany explaining the directions from Mrs. Rockefeller. And then we have another pair that were featured in a whole bunch of ads in Vogue magazine in the 60s and 70s as well as the Tiffany Blue Books from that time.
I also love old Vedura. We had a mouthwatering pair of pearl and diamond earrings Fulco di Verdura made for Babe Paley. I really wish I had kept those. They were fabulous.
And I love Angela Cummings, who is contemporary designer. I met her when I was working at Gourmet and I admired her as a person as well as a designer. Right now we have a carved jade lotus root cuff that is just wearable sculpture. It’s remarkable. It’s carved and set into 18 karat gold.
I don’t usually collect Hermès per se, but we have a bunch of Hermès bracelets that are outstanding and came from a member of the Hermès family. One of them is one of three that were ever made. Each link is different and it’s all hand-done. You just, you can’t replicate stuff like that these days, it’s too expensive.
Do people get as wrapped up in the story and the origin, of these pieces as, I mean, I would? Absolutely. I’m not a jewelry historian per se. But, I’m a junky about the jewelry history. I collect jewelry books. And I would say that our brand has become synonymous with distinctive signed one-of-a-kind 20th century design. So the conversation with us is usually about what makes this distinctive. And we have that aesthetic.
How do you suggest someone who is unfamiliar with fine vintage jewelry sort of step into it and begin collecting? First you should always work with a dealer who you trust and who understands your taste. And I think secondly I don’t advocate buying jewelry as an investment because, like art, I think you should buy it because you love it. I also think it’s better to buy one very special thing than lots of stuff. We see so many people in closets full of regrets. People buying things on trips, you know because they were there. Or people buying from a friend because they felt obligated. Or people buying something because it’s of the moment. And I have people calling me from India and South Africa thinking they should buy stones. And the fact is unless you know gemstones that’s not an investment and that’s not advisable. And then people buy things because of the signature. “Oh, it’s Cartier, oh it’s fabulous.” Don’t ever buy something just for the signature. But, I do think that great vintage pieces that have everything that we look for–signature, rarity, provenance, exceptional design, they will always be highly collectable. They are rare, they’re special, and they usually hold and increase in value.
What inspires you? I would say a philosophy of kindness. Being in love. Smart people. A good book.
What motivates you? A sense of wonder, which includes finding that just right piece that enhances somebody’s life in a meaningful way.
Three words that describe D.K. Farnum: Editors, curators, discrete.
Three words that describe you: Passionate, authentic, integrous which means having integrity. It’s really important in our business. People need to know they can trust you.
What is your most treasured piece of jewelry? I have a signed Tiffany retro gold bracelet from the 40s that makes me feel fabulous every time I put it on. It has really interesting story behind it. It has Austrian hallmarks. Tiffany now has a store in Vienna, but I don’t think they did when the bracelet was made in the 40s. I took it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and we think that this may have belonged to someone fleeing the Nazis, and that’s where the hallmark came from. A lot of people fled with jewelry during war time and throughout history. One of the reasons the Romanov girls took so long to die after they were shot was because all their clothing was lined with diamonds and jewelry, and the bullets ricocheted off. Crazy story. So, this bracelet, you know, the stories it could tell. And every time I put it on I just feel like it’s very special.
What type of jewelry do you like most? I’m an earring person. They’re our best sellers. And I think it’s because earrings are close to the face and the most transformative of jewelry. I think they tell a story about the wearer. We work a lot with people on things they might not think about like skin tone, hair color and clothing choices. I think earrings should fit into that schematic. I never leave the house without a pair.
Is there some jewelry that you’re still seeking out and have yet to find? I’m always looking for old pieces of Schlumberger and Vedura, but I’m also looking for Calder jewelry, older Cummings, Schlumberger, Després, Paul Flato, Bruno Martinazzi, Marianne Ostier, older Seaman Schepps. I love older Sterlé, I love old Van Cleef, and I really like some of the old Webb, David Webb. So, those are always on my radar.
Life goals: I am a cancer survivor. So I would have answered this question differently a couple of years ago, but I think now given a lot of things going on in the world I would love to quote from a Maya Angelou poem that she wrote for the 1993 Presidential inauguration, which I keep on my nightstand. And the quote is, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” I think we could all learn from that.
Daily goals: To cut back on the amount of wine I drink.
Me too! But then I just don’t want to.
Favorite book or read: That’s a really tough one because I always have three books going on. I collect jewelry books, but given my professional background I’m still a total magazine junky.
Daily rituals: Every day is different, and that’s what keeps it interesting.
How do you unplug? Right near where we live is a four mile loop and my dog Otis and I walk that loop and I never get tired of it, and he doesn’t either. My father was in the wine business, so I love good wine at the end of a full day. And I also love my garden. I’m an avid gardener.
Hidden talents or hobbies: I love to weed. Print that and we’ll see if anybody calls me for my services! I love repurposing things. I don’t like waste. And I’m really good at redoing people’s jewelry when they don’t know quite what to do with it. We usually look at that option before we sell or get rid of things.
Favorite charity: I have always been involved with the local land trust out where I live. I’m a tree hugger, and both of my sons are involved with environmental pursuits professionally so it’s great.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: I celebrated a big birthday a little over a year ago and my oldest son and I went to a very quiet corner of Uruguay. Neither of us had been to South America. We would walk for miles on these completely untouched beaches and never see anybody, maybe a few penguins. It was really, really lovely. And he’s a foody and loves wine too. We experienced food and wine that I had never experienced. It was really life changing.
Favorite small indulgence: Talenti chocolate peanut butter gelato.
Album currently on repeat: I spent a lot of time with the Pharell Williams album, “Girl” when we did a look book last year. It inspired that look book. I think he’s super talented.
Scent that brings back memories: Calyx by Prescriptives is my scent. I was part of the launch when I was at Gourmet eons ago.
Lucky charm: I often wear three or four gypsy rings at a time. Gypsy rings were made in the late 1800s, mostly in England. Gypsy refers to the way the stones are set. I collect gypsy rings that have little diamonds in them. I developed a really large collection and then started selling them, but I wear them all the time. They’re very cool. They look great stacked.
Favorite hour of the day: I have gotten myself in a lot of trouble because I am a night owl and my hours don’t always jive with other people’s, but my best thinking and writing is at night when the world is quiet.
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To contact Dana, please email email@example.com.