Tiina Smith Takes Vintage Fine Jewelry Seriously

Tiina Smith Jewelry’s Boston store looks like a well-appointed Beacon Hill living room. Courtesy of

You won’t find a plethora of diamond engagement rings and tennis bracelets – the mainstay of typical jewelry stores – at Tiina Smith Jewelry. The assortment at the Boston store-cum-gallery and e-commerce site is a reflection of founder Smith’s taste and knowledge of important vintage fine jewelry.

“I wanted to create a brand that had a little bit of an artistic nature to it,” Smith said of the business. “Vintage jewelry was an obvious choice because I have a vintage jewelry collection. It’s something I’m passionate about. I wouldn’t start a business in my 50s, if I wasn’t passionate about it.”

Smith searches for vintage fine jewelry with interesting designs from the 20th and 21st centuries. Drawn to unique items that aren’t available elsewhere, she homes in on scarce and one-of-a-kind pieces with prestigious signatures such as Cartier, Tiffany
, David Webb, as well as second-tier names.

Putting together a jewelry collection is like creating a successful stock portfolio, said Smith, who approaches vintage jewelry with the same rigorous research she brought to her previous career as an asset manager for high-wealth clients.

“If I’m looking for a retro 1940s Art Deco bracelet, I ask myself, ‘Is this the best one.’ I’m thinking long-term as an investor. We saw what happened with GameStop
GME,” Smith said about the recent event when retail investors banding together on Reddit forum WallStreetBets, drove up the stock by 1,500{409126f2c1f09c9e510a010c163a4bce2c3ccfc4019bdf864d6cb2d5d8752f38}. “Like stock, we don’t take pieces that are escalating in value at the moment.

“We’re looking for design and craftsmanship, and we think globally,’ Smith added. “We have sources at jewelry houses that we buy from. Some jewelry is overvalued and some is undervalued. We need to get the pieces that are best investment. That’s exactly how I put together my stock portfolio, which I continue to play with.”

A connoisseur, Smith brings everything she’s learned to the black velvet trays used to display jewelry during private appointments, and educates consumers through exhibits online and in the store, and accompanying catalogues raisonné-style publications.

Tiina Smith Jewelry’s first exhibition was created by former Boston Museum of Fine Arts curator Michelle Finamore. “Jewelry as Fashion as Jewelry” featured period clothing and accessories, with pieces from the retailer’s collection, including items from Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, Tiffany & Co
, Vedura and Cartier, among others.

“Michelle wrote a scholarly essay,” Smith said, referring to the catalog. “The clothing and accessories came from man who loaned period clothing to big movie studios. Before that, we presented a conversation between the Oscar Heyman company’s Tom Heyman and Emily Stoehrer, the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan curator of jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts about Heyman’s important place in the history of exceptional American jewelry.

“We did a similar exhibition where we brought in $5 million in new creations from David Webb, and the company’s biographer made a presentation about why the designs are so emboldened,” Smith said. “We really want to put jewelry in a context.”

Smith cited Webb’s amethyst and diamond, green enamel bracelet, earrings and ring suite – one of six in existence – as the type of jewelry she specializes in. “We don’t want to be competing with other people on price for things that come off the assembly line,” she said. “Vintage means 1920s, which now is 100 years ago. We have a lot of people who are looking for something specific and hire us for our research and skill and breadth of knowledge.

“Famous for his bold use of color and his extraordinary statement jewels, David Webb also made beautiful pieces for everyday wear,” Smith said. “The amethyst, diamond and enamel suite, while rare, is chic, easy-wearing jewelry.”

The Webb bracelet is composed of alternating carved amethyst links and green enamel and 18k gold links. The ring features an oval cabochon amethyst surrounded by round brilliant-cut diamonds and accented by green enamel. The ear clips combine a smooth carved amethyst oval framing a central cabochon amethyst with a diamond border accented by green enamel.

While Valentine’s Day has been a source of anxiety for some women hoping to receive proposals from their significant others, Smith said her clients don’t hesitate to purchase what they want.

“About 70{409126f2c1f09c9e510a010c163a4bce2c3ccfc4019bdf864d6cb2d5d8752f38} of women are buying jewelry for themselves,” Smith said. “The men who buy gifts for the holidays or birthdays of women tend to be over 60 years old. Our client tends to be very well-educated. If not, they want to be educated. They say, ‘I want to learn about vintage jewelry and start a collection. eCan you help me.’

“About 65{409126f2c1f09c9e510a010c163a4bce2c3ccfc4019bdf864d6cb2d5d8752f38} to 70{409126f2c1f09c9e510a010c163a4bce2c3ccfc4019bdf864d6cb2d5d8752f38} of our business since the pandemic has been online,” Smith added. “We know the people shopping on our web site and following our Instagram account are in their mid- 30s- to-40s.”

Smith takes a high-minded and clever approach to advertising for Valentine’s Day, the most commercial of holidays and often called, a greeting card holiday. Her Valentine’s Day edit “is really cute. We’re pushing it out on Instagram. It looks at historic love and love letters, and pairs the letters with pieces of jewelry we think are appropriate,” she said.

For example, Georgia O’Keefe’s letter to husband Alfred Steiglitz, “Dearest — my body is simply crazy with wanting you — If you don’t come tomorrow — I don’t see how I can wait for you — I wonder if your body wants mine the way mine wants yours — the kisses — the hotness — the wetness — all melting together — the being held so tight that it hurts — the strangle and the struggle.”

Michele Della Valle’s sapphire and diamond gecko brooch, $17,000, and Moussaiff’s yellow and orange sapphire flower ear clips, $32,oo0 represent O’Keefe, who painted in the desert, and for whom flowers were a central theme of her work.

Bulgari gemset and pearl ear clips, $13,500, and a Chanel fine jewelry amethyst and tsavorite large flower ring, $13,500, bespeak Wolfgang Amadeus Beethoven’s passion for his “immortal beloved,” the identity of whom historians can’t agree upon.

‘Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, Be calm – love me – today –yesterday – what tearful longings for you – you – you – my life – my all–farewell. Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.”