If you take a look at Emily Duffelmeyer, owner of Jean Jean Vintage’s (@Jeanjeanvintage) Instagram, you will get just a peek inside the trust she has built among followers, purchasers and antique enthusiasts recommended to her account. Like most small antique/vintage collectors turned dealers/store owners with a passion for jewels of the past, she started on a shoestring budget, promoted her wares on IG, opened an Etsy shop and finally, a small brick and mortar shop in Lansing, MI where she lives. She has built a strong follower and customer base due to her variety of merchandise, her often fun-filled and whimsical posts and her down-to-earth manner. However, don’t be fooled. She researches everything she sells until she gets down to the nitty-gritty of each piece and when she is unsure, her honesty is refreshing. Here she talks about how she turned her passion into a thriving business in small steps and then wider broad strokes.
How old were you when you realized your passion for jewelry?
“I think I am hardwired to love rocks, artifacts, and shiny things. I spent time as a young girl looking for fossils in my gravel driveway in Iowa (spoiler: I did not find many) and I studied archaeology in college. I spend a lot of time thinking about history, memory, and how objects manage to trickle through time and survive. Jean Jean Vintage jewelry represents this bigger, centuries-old story of adornment, preservation, and joy!”
What was the first piece of jewelry you ever bought for yourself?
“If we are going back to the very first piece, it was probably one of those ‘BFF’ necklaces at Claire’s Boutique circa 1988. But the first piece that was a harbinger of things to come for me was a Victorian hair work mourning band that I found on my lunch break at a thrift shop circa 2005.”
Any other stories of when you were young that would indicate you would be emersed in the world of jewelry?
My mom was stylish and she wore a pretty brooch, necklace, and earrings to work every day. I loved looking through her jewelry box, carefully opening/closing all of the little Avon boxes, and thinking that everything was so special, whether it was “fancy” (i.e. ‘fine’) or not. I still think that way—1930s glass Art Deco jewelry is just as intriguing to me as the precious and rare Georgian pieces.
Is Jewelry your first career or did you start out in a different profession?
“I dabbled in archaeology and French before landing a job as a specialty food buyer(chocolate!) for Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. I worked there for five years before opening Jean Jean Vintage.”
Can you tell us a little more about why you chose to buy and sell antique/vintage jewelry?
“Jewels can be powerful little vessels to hold whatever it is that we need them to hold: sadness, hope, love, remorse, desire and more. Although all personal objects from the past can be imbued with feeling (furniture, books, art), I think jewelry carries the strongest dose of sentimentality. I see antique jewels as beautiful markers of time and human experience. They take on life and feeling as they move through owners and through the years.”
What does the name of the company mean?
“When I was a little girl one of my dad’s nicknames for me was Jean Jean. He died in 2005 and that sweet name sort of died with him. It popped into my head when I brainstormed names for the business in 2010. It feels familiar and welcoming and that is how I want my business to feel.”
How did you start buying and selling merchandise and what were the first pieces you bought?
I started my business from scratch in 2010: no family or industry connections, no formal training. I had a little pocket camera for which to take photos. I saved about $1000 and used it to buy several pieces of modest jewelry. It was a slow and steady process, all based on Etsy for the first several years. I started my family around the same time as the business, so a slower pace of growth jived well with the demands of parenting young children. I mainly bought 1900s through 1950s costume jewelry in the beginning, scouring antique malls, estate sales, and eBay. My inventory was a bit quirky at the start but consistently high-quality and I always tried to take the best photographs that I could. I still take all of my own photographs today.
How did you elevate the collection into fine antique and vintage jewelry?
“I was lucky because Jean Jean was a side hustle at the start. I did not have any overhead or payroll; therefore, I could reinvest heavily into the business. I always bought the most unique and wearable jewelry the company could afford, eventually arriving where I am today. I try to stock beautiful jewelry at various price points and spanning several design eras, from Georgian to mid-20th century. I am currently focused on building my antique bridal inventory, which is rewarding and exciting!
Tell us about your brick and mortar store?
After several years of e-commerce and raising my sons, I opened a tiny jewel box of a shop in Michigan in 2018. My little 1939 Art Moderne building is complete with the original terrazzo floors, a giant geometric front window, and an ombré wall by Caroline Lizaragga! It is the perfect home for Jean Jean and its treasures.
Do you have a favorite time period?
“My favorite time period and provenance at the moment is the German/Austrian ‘werkstatte’ style jewelry of the 1910s.”
You seem to have great sources therefore accessible prices. How did you go about finding them in the beginning and now?
“I have built a small but mighty network of trusted sources over the years. Most of my sources are in Michigan: I rarely travel or buy outside the state, with the exception of a few very knowledgeable and trustworthy sources.”
Can you also talk a little about the designs you create and the Cachet Collection and how that has evolved?
“I started the Cachet Collection because I desperately wanted to find a way to wear one of the loose wax seals with those meaningful mottos, messages and rebus pieces in my personal wax seal collection. I wanted one as a talisman for myself and finally cast it into different metals, sterling silver, 10K and 14K gold. I loved mine so much that I made more for friends and eventually released them in the Etsy shop. The collection has grown over the years to include myriad sayings and sentiments as well as personalization options. It is a way to celebrate the lost art of letter writing and the timeless emotions that rule us all. It is pretty thrilling to take a functional object that was once used to seal letters and turn it into a piece of wearable art.”
“What are the most popular styles or time periods you sell?
“My clients, like many collectors, get most excited about the Georgian, Victorian and ArtDeco Eras. There is also a lot of interest in antique bridal right now, especially among my local guests.”
How do you learn about the history and makers of who you are selling? You have a great talent for that.
“I read and read and study and study! Writing factual, compelling, and exciting descriptions of the jewelry is very important to me and it requires some footwork. I spend equal time writing about the jewelry as I do taking photographs. It is all part of the process of marketing the jewelry. I want buyers to know as much as possible to inform their choices!”
Do you find you sell a lot on IG or that it drives customers over to your store and your Etsy site?
“I don’t do a lot of direct sales on IG and I am not set up for ‘shopping’ on the site at the moment. Instagram is the lift-off point for many of my ideas and new work, as well as an important point of engagement with clients, but I usually steer serious buyers to the spaces that feel more personal and less frantic.”
“How does the brick and mortar store differ from how you sell online?
“I opened my store about four years ago so that I could serve my local community and also have a home/headquarters for the brand. To be honest, what I sell is not that much different online versus in store. I see more couples, mothers/daughters, and friends shopping for jewelry together in the store, which is delightful. I am committed to intuitive, meaning-driven service regardless of the venue: I hope everyone experiences a spirit of generosity and care with me, whether online or in person.”