A Rare Vintage

David Sawyer

Was the ring he bought on impulse as special as the love he had waited a lifetime for? Carll Tucker wants the truth.

Jane hadn’t expected she’d want a diamond. She hadn’t expected she’d be getting married, either.

We had known each other 25 years. Jane and her late husband and my ex and I had been friendly. Jane knew me as editor and publisher of her local newspaper. I knew her as the country’s leading personal finance writer and a dinner guest who’d charm any man she sat next to.

One starry night she was seated two rows in front of me at the Metropolitan Opera. I had no idea Jane loved the opera. What’s more, she was gorgeous. Divorced eyes see differently. Married eyes aren’t allowed to see gorgeous.

We caught up at intermission. I suggested we go to a concert together. Two days before the date, Jane phoned. She couldn’t make it. We missed that concert but not the next or the hundreds since. After a month I wanted to get married. Jane didn’t, so that was that. Then one evening in a restaurant she turned to me and said, “The answer is yes.”

I asked Jane about an engagement ring. Back when she and her late husband married, she hadn’t wanted a diamond. Now she did. She couldn’t say why.

We shopped Fifth Avenue, saw all sorts of dazzle. But taste, like love, is a mystery. A magazine article caught Jane’s eye. Vintage engagement rings. We were vintage, weren’t we?

I discovered an offbeat, cozy shop; half the space was devoted to knit hats and mittens, the other half to antique jewelry. The selection was small but enticing. These ornaments had histories. They’d seen a thing or two.

One was marvelously, almost miraculously right, a round brilliant-cut diamond set in platinum and flanked by triangular stones. Jane tried it on three times. Her eyes narrowed as she peered. “This is it,” she said.

I felt tears rising.

Passion dreads the dawn. Curiosity is a disease. Maybe the saleslady had hooked me. Maybe the diamond was a cubic zirconia. Maybe the appraisal was bogus. Jane was reluctant. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Journalists, I told her, aren’t afraid of the truth.

When jewelry consultant Patrizia di Carrobio pressed the loupe to her eye, I felt as if she were X-raying my brain.

“What did they say about the clarity?” asked Di Carrobio, who learned her trade at Christie’s, running the jewelry department until 1991, when she became an estate jewelry and gem dealer.

The four Cs are the ABCs of jewels: clarity, carat, color, cut. My report, I told her, assured that our diamond’s cut was round brilliant, its weight 2.25 carats, its color I (third best in the nearly colorless class), and its clarity SI-1. SI means “slightly included,” that is, feathered by internal imperfections that may be visible to the naked eye.

“That’s a friendly appraisal,” Di Carrobio said, smiling like a kind nurse. “I’d say SI-2—on a good day.”

“It is a diamond, isn’t it?” I tried not to whimper.

“May I ask what you paid?”

Di Carrobio stepped me through the calculation: platinum mounting, two triangular-cut side diamonds. We arrived at a price. It was what I’d paid for two rings, this one and Jane’s platinum wedding band.

Definitely relieved but dogged in my pursuit of the truth, I walked up Madison Avenue to Kentshire. Marcie Imberman and her sister-in-law have been building their business since the mid-eighties. They specialize in antique and period jewelry. The difference between “antique and period” and “vintage” is that the latter doesn’t mean much. “Antique” means at least a century old. “Period” suggests the jewels reflect a bygone aesthetic (Edwardian, Art Deco). “Vintage” is to jewelry what “preowned” is to cars: a prettier term for “used.”

“They told you this was vintage?” Imberman said as she eyed Jane’s ring. “It could have been made thirty, forty years ago— or yesterday. The style is very traditional.”

We spoke, too, of appraisals. Imberman encourages them, but she cautions against data dependence. “With contemporary jewelry you can say exactly what a piece should cost based on the price of diamonds, or of gold. With antique jewelry, it’s more about taste. If you love it, buy it—at a fair price.”

I returned home relieved. The diamonds were really diamonds. The setting was classic, if not uncommon. Old really was old. We had not been fleeced.

That was the lesson I came home with. A well-purchased ring shines brighter. It pats you on the back instead of rolling its eyes. Jane’s ring—like our love—was a stroke of luck.

Editor’s Note: Jane Bryant Quinn and Carll Tucker were married on June 14, 2008.

Period Pieces

Any dealer can put a ring in a vitrine and call it vintage. Here, our most knowledgeable and trusted sources for estate rings.

Camilla Dietz Bergeron

Co-owner Gus Davis thinks beyond diamonds, and many older brides come to the by-appointment-only salon seeking vintage colored-stone rings, such as a Cartier emerald and diamond one from 1930. From $5,000. At 818 Madison Ave., New York; 212-794-9100; cdbltd.com.

Fred Leighton

The name is practically synonymous with vintage jewelry, and its high-powered inventory includes rings like a late-19th-century Tiffany & Co. diamond ring. From $20,000. At 773 Madison Ave., New York; 212-288-1872; fredleighton.com.

Jaspar

Tell Patty Hambrecht what you’re looking for and this former president of Harry Winston will find it. And should things not work out as planned, Hambrecht can very discreetly help clients find a buyer. From $10,000; 212-333-5423; jasparllc.com.

Kentshire

This shop stocks a well-curated collection from the Georgian, Victorian, and Art Deco periods. A more recent piece is a 15.97-carat fancy yellow diamond ring from the forties. From $10,000 to $150,000. At 700 Madison Ave., New York; 212-421-1100; kentshire.com.

Louis Tenenbaum

With 26 years of experience in estate jewelry, Louis Tenenbaum has the eye to distinguish a reproduction from the real thing. From $8,000. At 1801 Post Oak Blvd., Houston; 713-629-7444.

Lydia Courteille

This tiny shop in Paris, open since 1993, is filled with whimsical pieces dating back to the early 18th century. From $1,700. At 231 Rue St.-Honoré; 33-1/42-61-11-71; lydiacourteille.com.

Patrizia di Carrobio

Private consultant Di Carrobio has cultivated a vast network of dealers in her 28 years of working with estate jewelry. From $2,000; 212-315-5109

Stephen Russell

This store in New York specializes in rare signed pieces such as a 1930 Raymond Yard Art Deco diamond ring. From $25,000. At 970 Madison Ave.; 212-570-6900; stephenrussell.com.— Shannon Adducci