Nothing makes a jewel more enticing than a compelling romantic history, says renowned Los Angeles vintage jewelry dealer Neil Lane. “Jewelry is typically given as a token of love,” he says, “and people love jewels with a romantic provenance.”
After two decades in the business, Lane has a complete repertoire of entertaining tales of passion about celebrities, socialites, and collectors with insatiable appetites for jewelry. Among his favorite love stories is that of Mae West and her longtime younger lover, Paul Novak. “When Mae West’s lover recently died, he left a safety deposit box with an extraordinary collection of her jewelry,” says Lane. “The man had very little money, but he never sold her jewels because they meant so much to her.” Lane acquired several pieces from West’s estate, including a circa-1920s, 40-carat diamond brace-let, priced at $150,000, which the actress wore in the play Diamond Lil.
Another of Lane’s recent acquisitions is a rare 13.5-carat cushion-cut Burmese blue sapphire ring simply inscribed on the inside with the message: “Love, John. Christmas 1916.” This original Edwardian ring is offered for $250,000.
“Vintage jewelry has a romantic charm because, aside from its beauty and history, it has stood the test of time,” says Lane. “Today, more than ever, things from the past are a source of comfort.”
Old diamond cuts, he says, are especially alluring and in high demand. “One hundred years ago, diamonds were cut by hand, and these imperfect stones radiated a soft, flickering light as compared to today’s precision-cut diamonds with intense sparkle,” says Lane. A prime example from his collection is an elaborate diamond butterfly brooch, circa 1875, with nearly 70 carats of old-cut diamonds. “It’s rich in diamonds, but it is not gaudy; it softly glistens and moves,” he says. “And butterflies represent renewed spirit and eternal life.”
Lane’s obsession with vintage objects began when he was a boy in Brooklyn collecting old glass and trinkets, which he sold to collectibles shops in nearby Coney Island. He studied art at Queens College in New York, and went on to live in Paris, where he discovered his love for jewelry. “I would peer in the windows of the jewelry shops in Paris, where I saw the most beautiful jewels in the world,” he recalls. But as a young man, he did not feel comfortable in the highbrow Parisian shops. That is when he decided he would one day open a jewelry boutique that would welcome all customers.
Twenty years ago, Lane established his tiny shop on Beverly Boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles’ antique district. Today, he is one of Hollywood’s best resources for fine vintage jewelry. His broad assortment of jewelry—collected from estates, auctions, and other dealers—ranges from delicate Edwardian and Victorian pieces to bold ’40s designs.
While he does not have a favorite style of jewelry, Lane clearly possesses a soft spot for simply beautiful designs with their own romantic stories to tell.
Neil Lane, 310.275.5015, www.neillanejewelry.com