BENTLEY & SKINNER
As jewellers by Royal Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Bentley & Skinner is the keeper of some of the most beautiful, rare and important one-off pieces ever created. From Fabergé, Giuliano and vintage Cartier, to pieces from the Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco eras, the company is a treasure trove of antique gems. What’s more, the boutique at 55 Piccadilly is also home to a workshop where one can watch master craftsmen at work; remounting and repairing, engraving and restringing, are just some of the services available. One man with an intimate knowledge of the business is Omar Vaja. A sales professional who has been with the family-run business for 20 years, Vaja has borne witness to some of Bentley & Skinner’s finest creations and has established strong bonds with families who’ve been patrons of the company for generations. Naturally, Vaja is charm personified, but he is also intensely honest, scrupulously discreet and has an encyclopedic knowledge of vintage jewellery that is infectious.
What are your thoughts on British craftsmanship?
“I think the wonderful thing about British craftsmanship is that Britain is a centre of excellence as far as most things are concerned. One only needs to look at tailoring, goldsmithing or silversmithing as proof. There was a time when apprenticeships were available working with a master jeweller or master craftsman that taught the trade from scratch. Sadly, these seem to be few and far between now and there appears to be only a select few coming through into the profession. Of course, honing the craft is a slow process and learning takes patience. Thus, what one can say with confidence, is that whoever does go into jewellery making, truly loves the craft and truly loves the feel of the metal. There must be a wonderful sense of achievement in knowing that you’ve actually created an objet from scratch.”
What gives vintage jewellery its gravitas?
“Vintage jewellery is unique because it’s not mass produced. I think anybody with a sense of style appreciates this. Even as a chap, I know that I don’t want to be seen wearing anything that another chap might own. With vintage jewellery, an individual might go out and buy a designer dress, but they will know that by adding jewels from the Georgian or Edwardian era to the ensemble, for example, they will create a unique look. One finds that one is able to express one’s sense of style and individuality.”
Which style of jewellery appeals to you?
“I actually love the Edwardian and the Belle Époque periods. At the turn of the century, jewellery was nice and simple and the design was more important than the size of the stones. It was also at this time that platinum was first used in jewellery, allowing designers to achieve really fine detailing in their work and to also create pieces that were incredibly light. Personally, I adore anything that combines natural pearls and diamonds – I think it’s incredibly feminine. There’s that brilliance of the diamond and the innocence of the pearl; a lady looks absolutely incredible when she’s encrusted with diamonds and pearls. Ask any of my other colleagues, however, and I’m sure they might have different ideas altogether."
How popular is vintage jewellery?
Do some pieces sell more quickly than others?
“It’s very interesting to see what happens to different pieces and how quickly they move. There are pieces that have been here for a while but, equally, there are pieces that are sold the moment we put them on display. I remember this happening with a jade necklace recently. It was quite an important piece, not insignificant in terms of value, and within 15 minutes of it going into the window it was sold. Someone spotted it there and then decided it was forth, it was absolutely wonderful. There are pieces here that are so beautiful that you are often left wondering why they haven’t sold. But jewellery has to speak to you, it has to say ‘I am for you’ or ‘take me home’. I should add that we are, of course, constantly on the lookout for pieces we know will appeal to our customers. We have long-standing relationships with many individuals that have been built up over many years, and so we are privy to what style of jewellery they like, what pieces they possess already and what is missing from their collection. This can be hugely advantageous when a husband comes in and wants to surprise his wife with an anniversary gift, as we already know what pieces will work well.”
Is trust and discretion important to Bentley & Skinner?
“Trust is very, very important. Trust is something one must build over a period of time. You know, it takes years to build a reputation and it can take just one bad experience to break that. Bentley & Skinner is very keen on honesty and integrity and believes it’s vitally important, as do I. Take, for example, this scenario. If you were trying on a pair of earrings and one pair happened to be priced at £30,000 and the other at £10,000, but the style costing £10,000 happened to look better on you, one will try and guide you to opt for the £10,000 pair. Even though customers often point out that they can afford the £30,000 price tag, this isn’t really the issue. If a piece suits the wearer, she is going to look and feel good wearing it. Jewellery has to look right – it can kill an outfit if it’s not.”
How do you guide someone who wants to remodel a piece?
“If you’ve arrived with a piece that doesn’t have any historical value to it and one doesn’t mind breaking it up and remodelling it, then I will use all my expertise to guide you to find the best design to ensure that the stones are protected and are still wearable. However, if you have come in with something that is absolutely spectacular and said you wanted the stones removed, I would do my best to discourage you. Often people don’t realise the beauty of what they have and, in this instance, I will perhaps advise someone sells the piece in its entirety and use the proceeds to buy something more in keeping with their style. More often than not, people do listen when I’ve praised an exceptional piece. But, on occasion, there are customers that have been insistent. I don’t mind admitting that when this happens it just breaks your heart.”
Bentley & Skinner, 55 Piccadilly, W1J 0DX
020 7629 0651