I’ve been crazy about big, bold jewelry since I could first walk up to my grandmother and yank on her blinged-out chest of glittering necklaces. But I didn’t start properly collecting vintage jewelry until I was in my late 20s and living in New York. That was the moment I discovered the Chelsea flea market, where I went every weekend to look at the stalls filled with magical fur coats and huge pendant necklaces. For many years, I collected vintage jewelry and clothing in a very spontaneous, unprofessional way: I simply bought anything that caught my eye without worrying about labels or whether a piece was ‘important’ or not.
When I moved to Milan in 2001, I began to meet many fashion designers and stylists who introduced me to a more formal world of vintage. They were true collectors who knew their fashion history backwards and forwards, as well as the provenance of each piece they stumbled upon. I began regularly following friends into flea markets and it quickly became a personal obsession. Now whenever I travel, the first thing I always check in a new city are the vintage stores and local markets and by now, my basement is a full-fledged vintage closet!
My very first piece of important vintage jewelry was a dramatic gold ‘knit’ necklace in a knot shape designed by Gianfranco Ferre that I bought about 15 years ago in Los Angeles, where I grew up. That piece can transform any outfit you are wearing from the most basic into the most stunningly beautiful. This, together with the impeccable quality of historical pieces, is exactly what I love most about vintage jewelry. With vintage, you find pieces that not only make a statement but that are exquisitely made. Every historian I speak with continues to tell me that the quality of the jewelry made in America before the 1960s and in Italy up until the 1990s is the best you can possibly buy. Even Chanel — it’s always best to buy pieces that were made before the 1995.
I also love the one-of-a-kind quality that vintage jewelry imparts. No one else will have your piece and it’s possible you may learn something about fashion history along the way. That was the case for me when I discovered the work of Ugo Correani — an Italian costume jeweler who worked behind the scenes for Gianni Versace, Karl Lagerfeld, and Valentino throughout the 70s and 80s. A few years ago, I stumbled upon his work in Milan at a design gallery and my jaw dropped at its beauty. Later, I found a dealer who had kept Correani’s entire atelier after his death in 1992 and now a huge selection of this rare, beautifully-made jewelry is now for sale on my new website, LaDoubleJ.com. I myself have about 10 of Correani’s pieces — from spiral genie earrings to a huge gold enamel bib necklace with matching pin and earrings — all of which are inevitable conversation-starters wherever I wear them. Correani really represents the very best of what vintage jewelry means to me: audacious, adventurous, and gorgeous wearable art.
Translation: Georgia Reeve
J.J. Martin is a contributing editor at Wallpaper* and WSJ magazines as well as the Editor in Chief of "La Double J" , a new shoppable website that features vintage clothing and jewelry mixed with new fashion, shown on Milan’s coolest creative women.