x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gemstones that stand alone

Carrie Ryan has built a business selling sought-after vintage jewellery.

A 1940s amethyst cocktail ring is just one unique piece available at La Belle Époque Jewels. Photos by Mike Young / The National
A 1940s amethyst cocktail ring is just one unique piece available at La Belle Époque Jewels. Photos by Mike Young / The National

Nestled in The Greens in Dubai is a by appointment only boutique serving up beautiful designs, rare craftsmanship and the promise the antique jewellery it sells is not only antique, one of a kind.

A year into her business and Carrie Ryan, the owner of La Belle Époque Jewels, is already looking to expand. In addition to a range of women's pieces, some more than 100 years old, she plans to start offering men's cufflinks and pocket watches.

She says her love for intricate antique jewellery blossomed, oddly, in a recycled timber yard.

Working for a company in her hometown of Brisbane, Australia, she was sourcing and supplying high-end architectural salvage, furniture and objects d'art from around the world when their first shipment of antique jewellery arrived.

"I had never felt that same level of admiration for anything before," says Ryan, 27. "The spectacular detail of every painstakingly handcrafted piece sent shivers down my spine."

Her first significant acquisition came in 2004; it was a "stunningly delicate art deco filigree diamond and sapphire ring, probably from the early 1900's".

Her first sale happened rather unexpectedly at an event she attended back home the following year. Her creamy white pearl strands fastened with an Mabe pearl and diamond clasp, caught the eye of an important political figure's wife.

"It represented more than just a sale," she says. "It meant I could choose a piece of jewellery I loved and know that someone out there would love it more."

As her role in the company grew so did opportunities to travel, but each trip also left her restless and itching for more such experiences. Her yearning took form after a random encounter with a taxi driver from Malta.

"We talked about life, experiences and travelling," she says. "Then just randomly, he asked - Have you been to Dubai? You should go and fly with their airline and see the rest of world."

Not a fan of flying, she secured a job at a financial advisory company and three-and-a-half years ago, armed with 10 pieces she had acquired, bought a one-way ticket to Dubai. She launched her business in Dubai in 2010 and continues to hunt for treasures from dealers across the globe. to offer a growing client base.

A recent find was rare jewellery boxes made in 1905 by Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Charles Tiffany, of Tiffany lamps fame.

"He also designed jewellery exclusively for the family business Tiffany & Co for many years, as a sideline to pursuing his own career," she says.

Her collection sits at about 40 pieces, circa 1880 to 1960 and ranging in price from Dh3,000 to Dh140,000. Given the age of some of her pieces, it only adds to their charm that some of them were made to be convertible: a broach that can be worn as a pendant, for example, or a necklace may have removable components that can be worn as bracelets.

Ryan, who spent a year earning her gemology diploma from International Gemmological Institute and is an Accredited Jewellery Professional, an ethics designation she earned through the Gemological Institute of America, gets all her pieces certified by an independent jewellery evaluator in Australia.

Discretion is vital in her business, so Ryan gives only vague hints about her clients - who are not only wealthy but can be high-profile.

"My most recent sales were made to some important local women," she says. "And a very famous Bollywood actress viewed the collection too."

There is, however, one piece that Ryan would never part with - no matter what she was offered for it.

"It's this gorgeous 1920's daisy style white gold diamond ring I came across in Buenos Aires very early on," she says, her eyes gleaming. "It was filthy but even through the accumulated dirt I could see its heart - a two-carat stone with the most amazing fire. It has remained my favourite piece ever since."

There is one wish, however, that Ryan knows can never be satisfied - and that is to know in detail the history of each piece.

"I often find myself staring at a piece and just wishing it could talk to me and tell me all its life's loves and sadness."