If you take a look at Emily Duffelmeyer, owner of Jean Jean Vintage’s Instagram (@Jeanjeanvintage), you’ll get just a glimpse of the trust she’s built among followers, buyers and aficionados. antiques recommended on his account. Like most small antique/vintage collectors-turned-dealers/shop owners with a passion for jewelry from the past, she started with a small budget, promoted her wares on IG, opened an Etsy shop, and finally, a small brick and mortar shop in Lansing, MI where she lives. She has built a strong following and customer base due to her variety of merchandise, her often fun and whimsical posts, and her down-to-earth manner. However, don’t be fooled. She researches everything she sells until she gets to the heart of each piece and when she’s not sure, her honesty is refreshing. Here, she shares how she turned her passion into a thriving business in small steps and then in big strokes.
How old were you when you realized your passion for jewelry?
“I think I’m wired to love rocks and artifacts and shiny things. I spent time as a young girl looking for fossils in my gravel driveway in Iowa (spoiler: didn’t find many) and studied archeology in college. I spend a lot of time thinking about history, memory and how objects manage to cross time and survive. Jean Jean Vintage jewelry represents this greatest centuries-old story of adornment, preservation and joy!
What is the first piece of jewelry you bought for yourself?
“If we go back to the very first piece, it was probably one of those ‘BFF’ necklaces at Claire’s shop around 1988. But the first piece that was a harbinger of things to come for me was a Victorian hair work mourning band that I found on my lunch break at a thrift store circa 2005. »
Do you have any other stories from your youth that would indicate you were immersed in the world of jewelry?
My mother was stylish and she wore a pretty brooch, necklace and earrings to work every day. I loved looking in her jewelry box, carefully opening/closing all the little Avon boxes and thinking that everything was so special, whether it was “chic” (meaning “fine”) or not. I still think this way – 1930s Art Deco glass jewelery is just as intriguing to me as precious and rare Georgian pieces.
Is jewelry your first profession or did you start in another profession?
“I tried archeology and French before landing a job buying specialty foods (chocolate!) for Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. I worked there for five years before opening Jean Jean Vintage.
Can you tell us a bit more about why you chose to buy and sell antique/vintage jewelry?
“Jewellery can be powerful little containers to hold everything we need it to hold: sadness, hope, love, remorse, longing and more. Although all personal items from the past can be imbued with sentiment (furniture, books, art), I think jewelry carries the strongest dose of sentimentality. I view antique jewelry as beautiful markers of time and human experience. They come alive and feel as they pass through owners and over the years.
What does the company name mean?
“When I was little, one of the nicknames my father gave me was Jean Jean. He died in 2005 and that sweet name kind of died with him. This came to mind when I was thinking about company names in 2010. It’s familiar and welcoming and that’s how I want my company to feel.
How did you start buying and selling merchandise and what were the first pieces you bought?
I started my business from scratch in 2010: with no family or industrial ties, no formal training. I had a small pocket camera to take pictures. I saved about $1,000 and used it to purchase several modest pieces of jewelry. It was a slow and steady process, entirely Etsy-based for the first few years. I started my family around the same time as the company, so a slower pace of growth suited the demands of parenting young children well. At first, I mainly bought costume jewelry from the 1900s to 1950s, browsing antique malls, estate sales and eBay. My inventory was a little quirky at first but still high quality and I always tried to take the best photos possible. I still take all my own photos today.
How did you transform the collection into quality antique and vintage jewelry?
“I was lucky because Jean Jean was a pushover at the start. I had no overhead or payroll; therefore, I could reinvest heavily in the business. I always bought the most unique and wearable jewelry the company could afford, eventually getting to where I am today. I try to stock beautiful jewelry at different price points and spanning multiple design eras from Georgian to the mid 20’se century. I am currently focusing on building my antique wedding inventory, which is rewarding and exciting!
Tell us about your physical store?
After several years of e-commerce and educating my sons, I opened a small boutique jewelry box in Michigan in 2018. My small Art Moderne building from 1939 is complete with the original terrazzo floors , a giant geometric showcase and a shaded wall by Caroline Lizaragga! This is the perfect home for Jean Jean and his treasures.
Do you have a favorite period?
“My favorite time period and provenance right now is 1910s German/Austrian ‘werkstatte’ style jewelry.”
You seem to have good sources so affordable prices. How did you find them in the beginning and now?
“I’ve built a small but mighty network of trusted sources over the years. Most of my sources are in Michigan: I rarely travel or buy outside of the state, except for a few very good sources. knowledgeable and trustworthy.”
Can you also talk a bit about the designs you create and the Cachet collection and how it evolved?
“I started the Cachet Collection because I desperately wanted to find a way to wear one of the bulk wax seals with these meaningful mottos, messages and rebus pieces in my personal collection of wax seals. I wanted some one as a talisman for myself and i eventually cast it in different metals, sterling silver, 10k and 14k gold i loved mine so much i made some others for friends and have them finally published in the Etsy shop. The collection has grown over the years to include a myriad of sayings and sentiments as well as customization options. It’s a way to celebrate the lost art of letter writing. and the timeless emotions that rule us all. It’s pretty exciting to take a functional object that was once used to seal letters and turn it into a wearable piece of art.
“What are the most popular styles or periods that you sell?
“My clients, like many collectors, are most excited about the Georgian, Victorian and Art Deco eras. There is also a lot of interest in antique bridal at the moment, especially among my local guests.
How do you learn the history and creators of whom you sell? You have a great talent for that.
“I read and read and study and study! Writing factual, compelling and exciting descriptions of jewelry is very important to me and it requires some footwork. I spend as much time writing about jewelry as taking pictures. This is all part of the jewelry marketing process. I want buyers to know as much as possible to inform their choices!
Do you find that you sell a lot on IG or does it drive customers to your Etsy shop and site?
“I don’t do a lot of direct selling on IG and I’m not set up to ‘shop’ on the site at the moment. Instagram is the starting point for many of my ideas and new work, as well as an important point of engagement with clients, but I generally direct serious buyers to spaces that feel more personal and less frantic.
“How does the physical store differ from the way you sell online?
“I opened my store about four years ago so I could serve my local community and also have a brand headquarters. To be honest, what I sell isn’t that different online than it is. in store. I see more couples, mothers/daughters and friends shopping for jewelry together in the store, which is lovely. I am committed to providing intuitive, meaning-oriented service, regardless of location : I hope everyone will experience a spirit of generosity and caring with me, whether online or in person.”