When I left Christie’s to become a dealer I knew one thing: if I bought just a handful of jewels that looked good together, I would hire a professional photographer. One group shot was all I needed and then I’d print a postcard to send to my clients. That would be my advertising.
Websites didn’t exist in the early 90s. Communication was still all by snail mail.
Only a few weeks into my independent career, one of the American descendants of Daria Petrovna Hesse (1890–1977) offered to sell me her jewelry collection. Just six years old when her father was appointed Commander of the Tsarskoe Selo Palace, Daria became a playmate of the Tsar’s children and later was appointed Lady-in-Waiting to the eldest daughter, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna.
Below is the postcard photograph of a selection of Daria’s jewels I sent off to my clients. It was thrilling to be able to promote this set of pre-revolutionary Russian jewels from St. Petersburg with such marvelous provenance! Given the importance of the collection, many sold right away – including the pair of Fabergé bowenite egg-shaped cufflinks (upper left) that were still in the original red leather presentation box adorned with the imperial eagle indicating they were a royal gift. (I loved those cufflinks so much I later made my own in lapis, nephrite and carnelian.) With that first sale, off I went to buy more jewelry. Fully aware that collections such as Daria’s seldom come on to the market, I have nonetheless still made some exciting discoveries.
Working at Christie’s in New York City had taught me the importance of professional photography. When we were assembling sales, we would bring jewelry – in my case Russian jewels and treasures – down to the photography department. They would be displayed as we wanted them to appear in the auction catalogue, with attention made to background color, lighting and orientation. I always enjoyed those moments of collaboration.
So on my own, even in the early days, I never attempted to photograph my inventory myself. For one thing, I didn’t have the correct lighting, set-up or patience. As a result over the years I worked with some wonderful photographers in New York, Boston and now in Canada where I live. Their work has been key to my success as a dealer.
Perhaps I also envisioned a book featuring images of my inventory, past and present. Writing was certainly not originally on the cards early – I was too busy buying and selling, or trying to.
But this happened in 2020 when I published Beyond Fabergé: Imperial Russian Jewelry. I was thrilled to be able to feature many of the high quality images I had accumulated over the decades as well as some of my current pieces.
Among the hundreds of stunning images of Russian jewelry and treasures from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, other international auction houses and museums I could now also include my own. For these, however, I take no credit. That goes to my amazing photographers.