There is a funny backstory that went along with the purchase of these earrings that I tell later in this post. Years later, it still makes me laugh.
These earrings I found at a weekly church sidewalk sale that at the time took place every Friday in the spring, summer, and fall (it might still be going on but I am not sure). The earrings were clip-on and made of a silver-toned metal (no sterling markings) and covered on front with what I believe were sky-blue-colored rhinestones of various sizes. As is noticeable in the picture above, one rhinestone in the middle section of one of the earrings was missing.
Though, as I’ve made clear in other posts, I am no expert in women’s jewelry, these earrings caught my attention, first and foremost, because they looked old and then, when I turned them over, I saw they were signed “Schiaparelli.” I knew from having worked and travelled with a jewelry dealer during my first few years in the business to always look for signatures on costume jewelry. I also knew that Elsa Schiaparelli was a famous designer during the 1940’s and 50’s and, several years back, the Philadelphia Museum of Art held an exhibition of her work. She was a contemporary, and rival, of Coco Chanel and, though less well known than Chanel to the general public, Schiaparelli was equally respected among fashion insiders for her creative talents. In fact, Chanel once somewhat begrudgingly referred to her as “that Italian artist who makes clothes.” Fittingly, Schiaparelli, during her lifetime, was good friends with Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp and, in 1952, appeared on the television show What’s My Line?
The Funny Story
When I found these Schiaparelli earrings, I also found a pair of race car-shaped cuff links that were nice (cute, a woman might say) but nothing special or particularly valuable. I was only mildly interested in them because cuff links tend to sell well at higher-end flea markets. These, I figured, I could turn quickly for a decent profit.
Having finished perusing the sidewalk sale, I cautiously approached the woman in charge to ask prices for what I had found. My fear was that she would immediately notice the earrings as being old and signed by a famous designer and then either deem them not for sale (that’s happened to me a few times) or she would want a very high price. Nervously, I handed her my finds and immediately she reacted. “Damn, _____ [she called me by my name and I jumped, a bit startled], how did you find these? These are really nice. You got a good eye!” She then went on to compliment me on my “great taste.” The funny thing however is that she was not raving about the vintage, signed, Schiaparelli earrings but she was reacting to the near-worthless, car-shaped cuff links. She went on and on about them; it was almost surreal.
After contemplating for a moment or two, she stared at the cuff links and seriously said “I gotta get $2 for these.” For the earrings, however (and thankfully), she casually and almost dismissively said “these, you could have for a dollar.” Though I believed $2 was too much for the cufflinks, I for obvious reasons did not haggle. I simply handed her three dollars and was on my way—quite quickly.
Upon arriving home, I headed right for my laptop to research the Schiaparelli earrings—I still of course had no idea what they were worth. They were not silver nor were the stones diamonds (as far as I knew) so I decided to list them in an Ebay auction for $49.99 with no buy-it-now. I figured to let them “find their price,” as I like to say.
At the end of the week-long auction, the earrings received two or three bids and were eventually won by someone in Italy for $55 plus shipping. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed as I believed they would go for much more but there was the issue of the one missing rhinestone and also my guess is that not a lot of people today, even those who think of themselves as being very hip, are familiar with Elsa Schiaparelli.
By the way, the cuff links I brought to several flea markets and originally tried to sell them for $5. After no luck, I lowered the price to $3 and still they did not sell. Then while set up at a Center City flea market months later, a young girl came by my space with her mother. The girl was about 12 years old and was looking for a birthday gift for her father. She was very polite and talkative and explained that she was interested in the cuff links because her father really liked cars. She asked me how much and at first I was going to give them to her for free but I didn’t want to make her mother feel uncomfortable so I said fifty cents. The girl’s eyes lit up and she said “that’s a really good deal.” I didn’t mind taking the 75% loss on the cuff links since it made the young girl very happy and I had already made a decent enough profit on the earrings.
Vintage Elsa Schiaparelli Earrings
Purchased: Church of Philadelphia weekly sidewalk sale/South Philadelphia
Shipping: $11.48 (not included in sell price)