“We want our gallery to be a center where our clients can come to look at jewelry, have a cup of coffee and enjoy our library,” states Pat Saling of her eponymous by-appointment only gallery, located on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside, just steps away from Madison Avenue on 72nd street.
A job in a New Jersey pawn shop launched Pat’s career in the jewelry business. She learned about gemstones the old-fashioned way with nothing but a loupe, a tensor light and a dose of curiosity. “To this day I can spot a synthetic sapphire at fifty paces,” she says with a laugh.
The pawn shop experience was followed, in 1978, by a 21-year stint running the iconic antique jewelry store Fred Leighton on Madison Avenue. She recalls what a wonderful and adventurous time that was in the jewelry world, noting that they were a bit like gypsies roaming the world searching for and selling jewelry. “We’d get a call from someone in Europe and we’d put a couple of million dollars-worth of jewelry in a bag and go,” reminisces Pat. “It was a unique time in the jewelry business. We used to go to 47th Street to find and save pieces before they got broken up. There was a lot of merchandise; it wasn’t so much about finding the jewelry, but more about figuring out how to pay for it.”
During that time Pat counted a couple of royal families in the Middle East as clients along with Imelda Marcos, the Aga Khan, actor Maria Felix and the socialites who grace the streets of New York City. “I was very fortunate that Murray Mondschein, who founded and owned Fred Leighton, trusted me. At that time most women didn’t really have a presence in the business unless they were someone’s wife, a bookkeeper or a model. They were not the ones making decisions,” she recounts.
Fast forward to 1999 and Pat had to make some life decisions about her career. She had a young son, Parker, and she didn’t want to miss his childhood years because she was working late or travelling, so she left Fred Leighton to start her own company as an antique and vintage jewelry dealer.
From Fracking to Jewelry
Parker grew up in the jewelry world and his first job was moving files around in the Cartier archives. He later graduated from college with a degree in Environmental Economics deciding to join the family business after some advice from one of his professors. “I was working on my fracking thesis and my professor told me to work with people who had my best interests at heart and who want to see me succeed,” explains Parker. “I decided to join Pat in the business. Jewelry is one of the best businesses in the world. There are many different ways to appreciate it. I love architecture and jewelry is architectural and I love the artistic aspect of jewelry. It becomes your life. It’s a vocation, not a job.”
Pat Saling’s gallery is a jewel itself, located in an historic brownstone, the space is long and narrow with high ceilings, plush carpeting and blushing pink walls that are an immediate calming antidote to the hustle and bustle of New York City’s streets. Curio cases are filled with sparkling jewels and a separate area is lined with bookcases packed with tomes on jewelry, fashion and related topics. It’s serene and luxurious, the perfect place to read a book and look at fabulous jewels.
“We don’t try to be all things to all people,” comments Pat. “Our inventory has a point-of-view. Our taste level is sophisticated. We have a high standard.”
Specializing in Belperron
It’s that sophisticated taste level that guides the mother and son team when they purchase jewelry for the gallery “We look at some things that are great for the money, diamond pieces and things like that, but that’s never what sells. We find what fits our style,” says Parker.
So what is their style? Pieces need to be comfortable, wearable, fashionable and stylish. “I’ve always specialized in Boivin and Belperron,” says Pat. “I sold my first piece of Belperron in 1983. I had a small group of collectors and we all fell in love with her. When you put on a piece of Belperron jewelry it takes on a life of its own. She sculpted jewelry for a woman’s body. As a woman in the 1930s, she was far ahead of her time. Belperron was fearless and didn’t have an ego, she didn’t even sign her pieces. She had vision. When everyone else was doing flat Art Deco pieces Belperron did sculptural jewelry. Her color combinations were bold and she mixed stones in different sizes and shapes in each piece. The jewelry manufacturing standards were high.”
Belperron figures prominently in the personal collections of both Pat and Parker, who cites a fluorite ashtray with a green tourmaline embellishment by the designer as a favorite of his.
As for Pat, every once in a while, she keeps a piece of Belperron jewelry for her private collection. “My personal ring, with cabochon sapphires and diamonds was Belperron’s personal ring,” says Pat, who also counts a Belperron emerald encrusted compact that she bought for inventory but can’t part with as part of her personal collection. The piece de resistance, however, is not even a piece of jewelry, it’s a pair of tweezers that once belonged to Belperron that are a prized possession. Not just because they once belonged to the great designer, but also because they were gifted to her on an important birthday.
In parting, Pat has some advice for those who are looking to buy vintage jewelry. “The most important thing is to buy from someone you trust, who is reputable,” she concludes. “There are many nuances in jewelry. Go to someone who has spent time learning , who has a good reputation as well as good inventory and who will take the time to explain why a piece is special.”
Featured image (top of page): Diamond, sapphire and platinum bangle by Suzanne Belperron, courtesy Pat Saling, (@patsaling).
Authored by Amber Michelle