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L.A. CONFIDENTIAL

In Jewelry Repair, They're Real Gems

Vintage, heirloom and other delicate pieces need skilled craftspeople. Here are four to trust.

April 27, 2008|Peter McQuaid | Special to The Times
  • Randy Bales works on a ring at Regency Jewelers.
Randy Bales works on a ring at Regency Jewelers. (Richard Hartog / Los Angeles…)

Notably missing from the lyrics to "Diamonds Are Forever" -- dame Shirley Bassey's passionate musical tribute to sparkly stones -- is any reference whatsoever to their setting.

That's because while "unlike men, the diamonds linger," their settings seldom do. Stones pop out, metal becomes brittle with age and exposure, a delicate flourish of metal and stone catches on something and snap! So long, symmetry. . . .

"It's the bete noire of jewelry," says Penny Proddow, a jewelry historian and lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. "You buy something, you walk out and you never expect anything to happen to it."

Most jewelers have at least some repair know-how, but when it's your cracked Bakelite brooch or heirloom diamond ring, you want more. You want the right craftsperson --one who's trustworthy and skilled in exactly the kind of repair you need. We issued an APB to members of L.A.'s army of stylists, curators, costumers and fashionistas for information leading to the identification of trustworthy craftspeople. At first, they didn't want to give up their sources, but eventually the fashion folk relented. And they offered a few general guidelines too.

If it's fine jewelry and comes from a known source -- be it Tiffany, Cartier or a small local designer -- that's where to take it when it breaks, whether the piece is recent or vintage. "If something I've made breaks, I want to be the person who repairs it," says Liseanne Frankfurt, a jewelry designer who opened a new boutique on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. "I think all designers feel that way."

If the maker is unknown, find an expert: "If it's an estate piece, find an estate jeweler," Proddow says. "If it's Byzantine, find a designer or dealer who makes or sells that style of jewelry. That's where you start." And if you find yourself at sea regarding whom to trust, go with seniority: "My quickest rule of thumb is if someone has been in the neighborhood forever, they're not ripping off the neighborhood."

Vintage costume jewelry is trickier, says Christie Romero, director of the Center for Jewelry Studies in Anaheim.

"Costume was never made to last," Romero says. "The metals are much softer and are usually alloys, which are much harder to work with. People take much better care of fine jewelry than they do costume and actually, fine jewelry is sturdier. Precious metals and real stones can take a lot more abuse."

One of the biggest innovations, Proddow and Romero say, is using a laser to weld. Because it heats quickly and precisely, "it won't burn the plating off, and you can get really close to stones if you need to," says costume specialist Victor Weyrich. "It's very hard to tell where a repair is on a finished piece. You can do a lot of things you just can't do with a torch."

It also eliminates the need for solder. And speaking of solder? "Avoid lead solder," Romero says. "In some cases, you have to use it for costume, but it should never, ever be used for fine. It will seep into the other metal and damage it."

Of course, even better than knowing a good craftsperson is not needing one in the first place. So store pieces with care: Romero uses upholstery foam to separate and protect her own costume jewelry and advises tucking silicon packets to prevent the verdigris caused by moisture.

"Some costume jewelry is worth four figures," she says.

"You want to treat it right."

And remember: Jewelry is the last thing you put on before your coat. "I've seen really wonderful pieces that were completely beyond redemption," Romero says, "because they were damaged by repeated dousings of cologne and hair spray."

Regency Jewelers

Sixty years in the same location, always owned by the same family -- this shop looks like they haven't changed a thing (and we mean that in a great way). Owner Bob Goldman enthusiastically restores, re-creates and repairs fine and costume jewelry, though he specializes in repairs of American Indian jewelry and can replace stones and do enamel work. The shop also re-strings pearls, repairs Art Deco-era clocks, high-end watches, and even restores flatware. And while you are waiting in line, you can browse cases of estate jewelry from the 1940s to modern day, all for sale. Goldman doesn't charge for simple repairs, such as tightening an ear clip, and most repairs cost less than $100. Though he once had a multi-strand necklace of pearls that had to be restrung. That was $1,800.

Regency Jewelers, 8129 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (888) 393-7077

Drucker's

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