Eleuteri, a Vintage Jeweler, Brings Italian Glamour to New York


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Wagner Eleuteri, who comes from a family of jewelers, opened Eleuteri, a boutique on East 69th Street, near Madison Avenue.

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Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

In the modern electoral circus, politicians need pop stars, and pop stars need bling.

So when Katy Perry took the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer, she wore an eye-catching diamond necklace in patriotic red, white and blue.

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A Bulgari stars-and-stripes necklace in 18-karat yellow gold with blue and red enamel spheres decorated with pavé-set diamond stars; it costs $800,000. Katy Perry wore it (on loan) at the Democratic National Convention this year.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

The $800,000 necklace wasn’t new. The rare vintage piece was created in 1971 by Bulgari and was on loan from Eleuteri, a new jewelry boutique on East 69th Street that has become a favorite among celebrities, socialites, visiting San Francisco technocrats and others who don’t bother consulting the price tag before buying.

The 100-square-foot storefront, near Madison Avenue, was opened last year by 28-year-old Wagner Eleuteri, a third-generation jeweler whose family operates an exclusive chain of vintage jewelry stores in Italy, including in Rome, Venice, Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Asked how New York customers differ from their European counterparts, Mr. Eleuteri replied with the mix of diplomacy and candor that is his signature style. “I wouldn’t say ‘demanding,’ because it doesn’t sound nice,” he said the other day in a courtly accented English refined at the Sevenoaks School in Britain. “But they know what they want.”

Dressed in suede moccasins, pale blue shirt and Ecru linen pants, Mr. Eleuteri stood just over six feet tall, with cheek of tan, an impeccable manicure and a string of teeth that stand proudly apart from one another, like islands in the Tuscan archipelago.

He lives nearby on the Upper East Side, plays soccer in a Thursday night league, and sometimes pins a diamond brooch to his velvet gondoliers’ slippers before going out in the evenings. He described his romantic status as “to be frank, quite liberal.”

The other pretty thing in the store is the jewelry. “What I decided to bring here is a collection which differentiates us from the competition,” Mr. Eleuteri said of his flashy inventory. “It is Italian-based and also colorful, bold, unusual and extravagant.”

That includes, he said, “forgotten old Roman masters such as Cazzaniga” and “northern Italian jewelers like Fasano and Frascarolo,” and Art Deco pieces, and international names like David Webb, Van Cleef & Arpels and Cartier. If you can picture a small dressing room shared by Marlene Dietrich, Jacqueline Susann and Mr. T, that’s this store.

Visitors have included Mary-Kate Olsen and Grace Hightower, and staff members report having seen Amal Clooney and Kris Jenner browse the window. The society philanthropist and noted jewelry collector Susan Gutfreund recently went in to look for a present for her daughter-in-law.

“It’s so small, it rather presents itself as a cave of Ali Baba,” Mrs. Gutfreund said of the tiny quarters. She praised the Eleuteri family for curating high-quality but unusual pieces, in contrast to the globalized brands available elsewhere on Madison Avenue. “Their eye allows them to have things that are interesting, but not that important,” she said. “And next to it will be something that’s very important.”

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A “gown holder” in gold and silver with enamel and mine-cut diamonds from the estate of King Farouk of Egypt.

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Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Curiosities currently for sale include a $10,000 “gown holder” from the estate of King Farouk of Egypt. (A gown holder is a diamond ring with attachable tweezers, so that a lady may lift her hem off the floor as she dances — arm outstretched, like a Disney Cinderella.)

A pair of opera glasses, decorated with diamonds and rubies, recently sold for $70,000. And Mr. Eleuteri said one woman recently diverted her private jet to Rome (on the way from Moscow to London) because she had to have a diamond tiara for 50,000 euros (around $54,400) that she had seen weeks earlier.

Prices in the collection range from about $1,500 for a pair of cuff links to almost $3 million for a 1905 Cartier diamond stomacher bow-brooch, unusually large at 10 inches wide. But the median price, or what Mr. Eleuteri calls “the magic number,” is $20,000 to $30,000. “Because up until that range, wives don’t have to get permission,” he said. “They can swipe the card without saying anything.”

Like the Bulgari family, the Eleuteris were Greek immigrants to Italy. Their business started in 1897 as a lavishly furnished Gran Bar in Rome, but retailing the antique décor proved more lucrative than serving espresso and Negronis.

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A snake necklace and belt in gold and silver with turquoise half-spheres and old mine-cut diamonds, from Austria, circa the late 19th century.

Credit
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

During the 1960s (the heyday of Cinecittà glamour, when customers included Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani), Mr. Eleuteri’s grandfather Pietro closed the bar and refined the trade to vintage jewelry.

Mark Emanuel, a noted New York gem dealer who has worked with the family for 30 years, said that Eleuteri’s opening on East 69th Street represented the arrival of bella figura, a term used by the Italians to express an extravagant or showy style, whether in clothing, jewelry, cars or lifestyle.

And in the vintage jewelry market, ostentatious ‘80s style is making a comeback. “Up until 10 years ago, something from the ‘80s was just old or secondhand,” Mr. Eleuteri said. “But then, after 20, 30 years, they start gaining value.”

That is the nature of the vintage jewelry market, he added: Recently outmoded fashion is considered undesirable, but the passage of time restores its allure.

Mr. Eleuteri said that customers sometimes ask for a discount on unsold stock becalmed in the passé doldrums between new and vintage, but he always declines. “No, it’s not like a sale of bags,” he said, his tone making clear his opinion of the relative status of vintage jewelry versus mere accessories.

“The fact that it hasn’t been sold for 20 years doesn’t mean that it’s not nice,” he said. “It just didn’t meet the right person yet.

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