Story: Paulette Pearson | Styling: Mandy Keener |
To Jessica Graham, owner of Mae’s Emporium in Fayetteville, vintage jewelry doesn’t belong stuck away in a box. When not being worn, and especially during the holidays, it should also become a focal point of your decor. Graham, with the help of business partners Lynlee Critz and Emily Digby, even uses it to trim her store, hoping to encourage customers to rethink the role of vintage jewelry within their homes. “Creating visuals is one of the things we like best,” she says. “We change our store window depending on fashion trends and seasons, and we always decorate for Christmas.”
Graham has built her collection over the course of a decade. She gathers pieces based in part on notes she keeps in a “little black book,” for clients who may be looking for a locket with their initials, or brides seeking special earrings for bridesmaid gifts. Otherwise, what she brings back to Mae’s depends on her discerning taste, and the invaluable knowledge she has gathered from experts while buying in California, New York, and the 28 flea markets she frequents across Arkansas.
Graham prefers jewelry made during the 1930s, when “they used a lot of brass and poured glass, intricate carvings and hand-wiring,” she says. Though rhinestones come in every shade of the rainbow, she opts solely for clear because “it’s classy and pretty,” she notes. Her collection includes designs from names like Kramer, Weiss—whose brooches “had some flash to them,” she says—as well as Eisenberg, which produced some of the most renowned rhinestone jewels of the mid-1900s.
When on the hunt for vintage finds, Graham chooses rhinestone jewelry that has foil backing adhered to the stone because it seems to most resemble diamonds and has the “best sparkle,” she says. Graham also checks that the clasps are in working order and searches for signs of corrosion. And she’s learned when to let things go. Once a rhinestone piece has been exposed to moisture and gets cloudy, she notes that it’s very difficult to reverse that process.
Graham began decorating with vintage items within her own home to fill a void. “When I married,” she remembers, “I didn’t have the sense to register for things I could use to host a nice dinner party.” But rather than purchase new, she became creative. One of her first projects was turning a pair of earrings upside down to use as place card holders. Since then, one idea led to another, and she’s also acquired vintage glass ornaments, ideal on a tree or in vintage hats as centerpieces. “There’s an air of romance to it,” she says, “of wondering who in the past wore it, who gave it to them.”
Tips from Jessica Graham of Mae’s Emporium:
• Set a low tablescape featuring lots of glass, china and plenty of shimmer—I love to add glitter too. And use things you can display after the holidays to remind you of your dinner party throughout the year.
• I fill hurricane globes with my vintage ornaments year-round—there’s just something so pretty about the soft colors of old ornaments.
• The most economical way to buy vintage Christmas decorations is to purchase a group and ask for a price break. Otherwise, the prices can become astronomical.
• Using a vintage brooch to embellish wrapping paper can make a $2 gift look like it cost ten times more, and there’s so much broken jewelry out there you can use that needs a home.
• A vintage hat turned upside down and filled with ornaments is a great way to add an extra punch of color or texture. I also like to insert hatpins into low floral arrangements for a creative centerpiece.