"Why Does This Cost So Much?" Value, Worth Versus Cost, Price--And Why You Must Know the Difference


My friend Paul is quite a guy.

These days, he works as the personal assistant to a man who is the wealthy CEO of a major brand--a brand just about everyone all around the world knows.  As you can imagine, it's a pretty cool job. But.....

Paul is and possibly always will be an antiques dealer first and foremost. Love of old stuff and the thrill of the hunt is in his blood.  Let's just say if it was curb day in your neighborhood and Paul was anywhere close by, he'd be out there, checking what you and all your neighbors had thrown out for pick up. He wouldn't be able to help himself!  Many a great item is found that way by dealers who aren't afraid to get dirty or too good to do humble work.

Years ago, Paul had a  little shop that specialized in antique lighting, fixtures and furniture. Yep, that's a picture of his storefront, above, and his little dog Bubba who was his constant companion.  Everyone loved Bubba, and Paul used to say his little dog was his best money-maker. Those were such happy times, too. Dealers who picked higher-end merchandise to sell to interior decorators or had wealthy clientele often shopped at his little place on Long Island, as Paul was known to have impeccable taste and the ability to ferret out some pretty amazing pieces.  For them, it was an essential go-to spot any time they were out looking for something special.

Paul's wares weren't a bargain, and they shouldn't have been, either. No matter where he found the things he had in his shop--whether on the last day of a big estate sale for next to nothing, at a flea market, auction, or yes--out at the curb!--he knew what he had and could tell you all about it. He spent time researching pieces so he could discuss the history of their design styles and construction. Not only that, he could repair and restore fine old lamps and fixtures to their former glory. Paul also had an eye for decorating, himself--so he knew just where to place things in his shop to get the most attention as well as the best price. 

Like most shops, Paul had his regulars, many of whom were also purveyors of great old stuff.  Antiques dealers love to snoop other dealer's shops looking for  items that might be under-priced or  under-appreciated--sleepers maybe they knew more about than the guy who owned the store.  They'd visit Paul regularly to spy out his latest finds, even though most of them knew he was savvy to new trends and was almost never fooled by anything.  In fact, my friend Paul was generally 110% sure about what he had in his shop, what it was worth as well as its practical value. Sometimes the regulars just came to learn what he knew about his treasures, his stories.

One gentleman in particular came to the shop regularly to see if he could wear Paul down on his price. He'd say, "Aw, come on, man!  You know you picked this up for chump change--give me a break!  I bet it didn't cost you anything! Don't be such a hog on your price." 

As you can imagine that fellow made 'no' points for his cause, talking down to my friend like that.  First, he was ignoring the fact that Paul had overhead---his shop was in a nice area where rents weren't cheap; not only that, his shop was his livelihood. Secondly, whatever the item is, it's not about what a dealer paid for it--or what someone else thinks you paid for it.  It's about its VALUE....what it's WORTH.  Maybe the lamp in question was out of the ordinary and unlikely to be found again in a lifetime of picking.  Why should it be let go as a bargain?  Most dealers will give another dealer or a good customer 10% off, but to expect more than that on a rare piece is a bit ridiculous.

This very subject came up just yesterday after I'd written my last blog post.  A long-time colleague, Nancy Jamar of Vintage Design Resource brought it up in  an email conversation, after she'd read my post.  Nancy is proprietor of a wonderful shop in Fullerton, CA called Gilding the Lily.  She has a beautifully curated selection of exotic and rare pieces, fabrics, trims, and stand-out jewelry components, some of which she has had cast from old pieces she's found in her travels. She also has clever, trendy things she's put together herself, such as her handmade rosary chain made of semi precious stones and vintage glass beads.


She's big on first considering what a piece is worth and discussing it with customers who ask, "Why so much?"  These folks often don't even realize the cost is already excellent on her inventory items.

Nancy likes to talk about how a new designer will visit her shop and comment on how beautiful her things are, yet lament they will probably never be able to use them, or must use them sparingly because of cost. Often they will simply buy something for the inspiration it gives them, rather than use it to build value into their own design work. While there's nothing wrong with that, Nancy feels the first job with that sort of customer is to educate them. It's not about what an item costs--it's about what it's worth!

There will always be stuff you really can't afford no matter what---high karat gold, fancy gemstones, rare items of antiquity. But that's not what we are talking about, here. It's all about unique items that absolutely can be worked into a design if done judiciously, things that increase its value and make it worth more; the things that will enhance a good design, a designer's skill and the other components in the composition!

If you work has all three of those essential elements, don't be upset when a customer asks why it costs so much. Take the positive view and realize they've just given you the opportunity to expand their horizons and explain. That's how Nancy Jamar looks at it. She takes advantage of every chance to advance her cause regarding  value/worth over cost/price.  She does it in an intelligent, informative way exuding enthusiasm  rather than taking offense to what some might feel is an impertinent question.

By taking the high road, she often she closes the sale, and the customer walks away with a bag full of goodies-- goodies they can't wait to tell others about!

I once had a shop in a small town where  artisan jewelry wasn't the first thing on the minds of the people living there.  Just the same, my shop was as cute as the proverbial box of chocolates!  The back wall of the selling space which separated it from our shipping and inventory, was made of old house doors, which my father hinged together for me, and then I mix-media painted:



Every day I came to work, I had to pinch myself--I couldn't believe this was my own little shop!



February shop 021


Since we also operated our online business from the shop, there was always a lot going on and it could get a little congested and messy. Still it was a great family place: All of those who worked there were family!  Donna, Rob, Jordan, Lauren, Javi and Shelley.  Here, Donna and Javi were making jewelry to sell in our little store.



One day a lady came in and asked me why this necklace we had on display, cost so much:

February shop 021

I'm not gonna lie.  It had been a long day with far too many interruptions, and I was in no mood.

But then I  realized she didn't know what she was looking it.  Here was a unique piece made with quality American-made historical stampings.  It had  a hand-applied finish, a tassel made with Czech beads,  charms and semi precious stones---all bursting from a vintage thimble I'd drilled out and hand-patina'd.  Everything was my own idea.  The design had good balance and was unique from anything you'd find in town---actually, probably for  35-40 miles from town, going in just about any direction.  

I also recognized the woman as a teacher from the school my son Jordan, once attended...someone well respected and loved in town.  Now it was my turn to educate!  She listened attentively and thanked me for explaining, but then she left.   Oh well....I tried!

The next day she came into the store early and bought the necklace.  She explained she might not ever wear it,  as she tended to be timid when it came to jewelry--but she just had to have it.  She'd never owned anything handmade before, and she said it opened her eyes to all the great stuff out there she didn't know about. 

I'll never forget that experience!

Mel Bernie of 1928 Jewelry began what turned out to be  a successful 50-year business from basically nothing.  His became a brand known worldwide, and there isn't much he doesn't know about the business of making jewelry people will enjoy for many years to come. If he's told me once, he's told me ten times that it's not so much what it cost you to make the piece, but the value you build into it as you go and ultimately what people will pay for it. Sometimes they will pay more than you realize. Where else in the world would you find a realistically priced design that has parts molded from  bits out of the Vatican Library, except at 1928? Or items inspired by rare pieces exhibited in the most famous museum collections all around the world? What company even gets to be privy to them?  But 1928 Jewelry has been, for many years.  YES--at the end of the day, it's not what it costs, it's what it's worth, why it's so special.

Below is a photo of some of the earliest 1928 Jewelry pieces made by the company. Even then, they were using a mix of new vintage and true vintage components in stand-out ways. Even the hardest nuts to crack when it came to costume jewelry---the old-school producers from Providence, Rhode Island---had to admit the infant company was on its way to making something in a league all its own.


#2 Chapter SIX Photo #2


In the end, how did my friend Paul the antiques dealer get his price from the most annoying customers?  

When given the opportunity he always told the piece's story and built up the worth of the lamps or fixtures he had in his shop to sell. If there was a good story about its provenance---where it came from---he was there to tell it in an engaging way you probably wouldn't forget. Telling those stories built value and worth, and they often often closed the sale for him even if the customer was tough.

Hopefully these short vignettes will help you understand why you should always educate yourself first, and then others, if they'll listen.  Don't give up too soon and let something go because you haven't found the right person to appreciate your story and what your jewelry is worth, yet.  Good salesmanship and an interest in people can help you sell to the most difficult customers--and keep them coming back, too.

Here's to Bubba, who helped my friend Paul make many a sale:


It never hurts to have a cute mascot!


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