Interview with jeweller to the stars Jennifer Gibson
- Credit: VANITAS LIFE
Vintage costume jewellery collector and retailer Jennifer Gibson took a long-held passion and turned it into a career that has brought her international attention
Jennifer Gibson would laugh at my assertion her work has brought her to the attention of global superstars. But really, what else does it mean when Nicole Kidman and Anne Hathaway wear your pieces from your jewellery collection in photoshoots for Tatler?
I am getting ahead of myself, something else the very modest Jennifer would never do. Our chat took place in the closing months of 2019, but Jennifer's story started some while before that.
'I grew up in the antiques business,' she tells me. 'My mum had an antiques shop and we did lots of fairs. My every weekend and school holiday was spent working with her - I was completely hooked. She loved antique jewellery and I developed a passion for vintage pieces - mainly mid-century, but really anything from 1900 to the 1990s.'
Perhaps in some act of teenage rebellion - or a 'sensible' streak rising to the surface - Jennifer chose not to follow in her mum's footsteps, but instead at 18 took an apprenticeship with ICI and started what would be a fascinating career in clinical trials and testing. Roles with AstraZeneca took her all over the UK and involved her in projects of global significance. But the requirement to move house every time a new project was offered eventually became too much. 'Five years ago, when they decided to close their offices here and move to Cambridgeshire, I realised I couldn't face moving again. So I set up my own business, Jennifer Gibson Jewellery.
'I had stayed in touch with the antiques network over the years and kept up my research and had been building my own collection, so decided to see if I could start again.
'Creating my jewellery is almost a forensic process,' she says, 'finding a piece and then being able to prove its provenance. Before I can attribute anything to a specific designer at a specific fashion house, I need to be very sure it is what I think it is. My almost 40 years of experience and collecting can give me a very strong gut instinct about a piece, but I need something more concrete before I can label a piece as Dior or Chanel, for example, for re-sale.
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'Unlike 'haute joaillerie' [fine jewellery with precious gems and metals], very few records were kept about the costume jewellery developed by the couture fashion houses. I can spend days disappearing down rabbit holes, searching for some proof, or definite indication I am right.
'To find a really good/rare piece of Dior I can look at more than 10,000 photos or pieces. I have a massive network and work only with trusted sources. I have to be so careful - with jewellery of course there is always a risk of being offered stolen or counterfeit goods. This is not such a risk with vintage jewellery and costume jewellery but I am still vigilant.
'Dior has always been a favourite. I bought my very first piece when I was in my mid-teens. I worked every hour possible and saved and saved to be able to afford it. It seems an odd thing for a teenager to want - I mean, what was I going to do with it? Dior only launched his own fashion house ten years before he died, yet he is one of the most famous couturiers of all time - but so little about his costume jewellery is really documented.'
It was Jennifer's fascination for Christian Dior that led to 2019 being an extraordinary year for her, and a huge boost for her business.
'There was an exhibition of Dior's work in Paris,' she says. 'I took both my parents and it was the last day. We arrived early, but the queue was immense. Museum guards came down the line to tell us there was no way we would get in, even if we queued all day. I was so upset. But I decided something better would happen in 2019 - and it did!'
The 'something better' was the decision by the V&A to host their own Dior retrospective. Jennifer reached out to the curator of the exhibition and offered her a loan of some of her most stunning Dior pieces - an email accompanied by such good photos that it did the trick. After months of uncertainty, Jennifer was asked if she would lend the V&A a demi-parure (a necklace and matching earrings - a parure is a full set, which would ususually include a brooch, hair clip and bracelets or cuffs.) made by the great man.
'I went nine times to that exhibition,' Jennifer laughs. 'I went once with Jo Davies, of Black White Denim in Wilmslow, who has carried a collection of my pieces for some time now, including items by Dior. Having my pieces in her shop has been wonderful, and my dream became to have them in a major high end department store too.'
This dream also came true in 2019, when Fenwicks of Bond Street invited Jennifer to launch a concession with a curated collection of Dior pieces, inspired by the impact of the V&A show.
'It went really well. Now I have placed collections in four stores - always with a theme, such as Cocktail Earrings, or Cool Couture. It's hard, curating something like this, sourcing sufficient 'one of a kind' pieces, but the customers love it.
'There's a rejuvenated interest in buying vintage - it's not only beautiful and kinder to the environment, but there's the intrigue of its history and the names behind it.'
But what about thoe celebrity clients - Nicole and Anne? Tell all!
Jennifer laughs. 'I was asked by the styling team at Tatler to offer some pieces for the photoshoot - and they wore them!'
Well, who wouldn't? You don't need to be a Hollywood superstar to fall in love with pieces so utterly beautiful they make your heart beat a little faster. Oh, for a little Dior in my drawer!