How One Antiques Dealer is Creating Retail Experiences
I’ve been to more trunk shows and shopping events than I can count, but I recently attended an event in New York City that felt less like a fine jewelry sale and more like entering a secret club.
Hosted and organized by antique jewelry seller Elisa Lovelie of Lady Lovelie’s Curio, “The Velvet Box Society” is a new endeavor in which Lovelie invites her most prized clients to socialize and share their love of jewelry while perusing her pieces.
“The Velvet Box Society is a program for clients who have spent more than $2,500 with me and are sustaining members of Lady Lovelie’s Curio. It’s a completely immersive shopping experience that goes so far beyond (my clients and my) connection on the internet, and is something you remember for the rest of your life,” Lovelie explained.
Lovelie has held two meetings of The Velvet Box Society so far, one last October and one in February. Both were held at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon, a historical hotel in New York that Lovelie calls “one of the best little secrets in Manhattan.”
Guests were treated to a high tea, and whether they knew each other from Instagram, the antique jewelry world or were meeting for the first time, quickly bonded over discussing their personal collections and favorite pieces.
“I love the full experience of being immersed in the past,” said Lovelie, who, prior to selling to jewelry, worked for her family’s antique doll business. “That really shaped me to love the idea of playing dress up and to love the act of play.”
That was exactly the element Lovelie’s tea party delivered versus the average private sale. The ambiance of Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon coupled with the emphasis on socializing over a sit-down high tea made The Velvet Box Society meeting feel like an out-of-the-ordinary experience.
At 26 years old, Lovelie represents the new generation of antique jewelry dealer, who is fluent in social media but possesses the same respect for luxury and history as her predecessors.
She only began selling jewelry in December 2016, but has already amassed over 30,000 Instagram followers and conducts much of her business on the platform through direct messages.
While new to the jewelry industry, Lovelie has spent her lifetime immersed in antiques. She grew up in historical Victorian homes in Brooklyn and operates her business from her parents’ house; her mother, who sometimes appears on “Antiques Road Show” as a doll expert, is her business partner but still operates the doll business.
Lovelie began collecting antique boxes on her own when she was 12 and always had a passion for jewelry. But it wasn’t until a fortuitous jewelry acquisition that Lovelie decided to turn that passion into a business.
At a doll auction, Lovelie’s parents purchased a box of sewing notions and fabrics. As Lovelie and her mother sifted through their new acquisition, they found a tiny, heavy pouch. Inside was a brooch and ring.
They assumed the pieces to be costume, but a jeweler and appraiser tested the stones, confirming them to be solid platinum, and the ring featuring a 5.35-carat marquise diamond.
Without much fine jewelry knowledge, Lovelie’s parents wanted to sell the pieces immediately, though initial offers seemed low, but Lovelie knew that if she started her jewelry business she could develop her expertise and clientele, eventually selling them for their full value.
“We haven’t even offered them for sale because I don’t feel like we’re there yet,” she explained.
She invested her life savings into her first buy at a couple of auctions, her parents matching her investment dollar for dollar.
Lovelie began her Instagram account in December 2016. The following February, she sold her first piece for $2,000.
“It was a game-changer. I told my parents and they said, ‘You sold it for how much on Instagram?’”
“When you are purchasing a piece of jewelry, you’re purchasing something with the potential to be an heirloom. It’s something you are investing in and that you really want to have confidence in. As much as I advocate for the Instagram shopping experience, I think it has a limit.”
Lovelie funded a buying trip to London in June 2017. There she met a model she was friends with on Instagram, who advised her to post pictures of herself on her account.
“She said, ‘You have to become your brand,’ so I started doing live videos. All of a sudden people trusted me so much more because I could really give them a real buying experience, which I think we’re hungry for right now.
“It’s also on the buyer’s terms. They can be sitting on their living room couch or lying in bed not doing anything and they can open up Instagram and watch a live show. They don’t have to walk into a jewelry store and have someone walking up to them and asking about their life, they can just observe and see if the person presenting themselves is someone who they want to engage with.”
Lovelie’s business took off. In August 2017, her jewelry business made more than triple her family’s doll business and she was receiving more than 100 Instagram direct messages a day. She finally hired an employee, her future sister-in-law.
But a desire to connect with her clients in a more personal way was what inspired The Velvet Box Society.
“That was my stepping stone into gaining a higher level of client who really trusted me,” Lovelie explained, though she was quick to note that, “Most of my clients are not very wealthy people. They’re mostly women, a little bit older than me, who have a steady job and who buy on layaway. The majority of my clients don’t have big incomes. They send me a couple hundred dollars a month to get something fabulous.”
The Velvet Box Society began with 12 members and is now up to 82.
The February event hosted 12 members, about half of whom came from outside New York City to attend.
Lovelie asked a couple of other antique jewelry dealers to participate, including Elizabeth Potts of The Moonstoned, another up-and-coming, dynamic force in the antique jewelry world, with whom she had connected on Instagram.
Lovelie and Potts are an example of two young antique jewelry professionals who want to break down the insular and competitive nature of their industry, instead opting to collaborate.
“I think Elizabeth is the face of the future,” Lovelie said. “I really look up to her. She’s been a total inspiration to me.”
Lovelie doesn’t think Instagram is the end-all be-all of her business, though it’s certainly responsible for launching it. She now has an online store via Ruby Lane, and is developing her own e-commerce site.
She also plans to hold more Velvet Box Society events, the next happening in Paris this June and San Francisco in October. If there’s enough interest from her clients, she’ll also hold another in New York.
“When you are purchasing a piece of jewelry, you’re purchasing something with the potential to be an heirloom, something you will have the rest of your life,” she said of the importance of in-person events. “It’s something you are investing in and that you really want to have confidence in. As much as I advocate for the Instagram shopping experience I think it has a limit.
“I want to connect the two experiences, seeing jewelry in a picture and seeing it in person. Seeing it online can have that haunting-your-dreams element. A lot of clients will text me or direct message me saying that they can’t sleep, can’t stop thinking about a piece of jewelry and really want to try it on before committing to buying. When you try it on after seeing it online that connection is already there, and then you’re ready.”