A collection goes online

BRADFORD, Pa. – Patricia Demjan can’t say for sure how many pieces of vintage costume jewelry she’s bought over the years. She just knows her collection, which numbers in the hundreds, has a retail value of more than $10,000 and is the creative force behind her online storefront, myjewellust.com.

“They say you should follow your passion, so that’s what I did,” said Demjan, a Steubenville native who launched the virtual storefront in December. The daughter of Bill and Priscilla Demjan and a 1976 graduate of Steubenville High School, she said she’s been hooked on vintage jewelry since she was a child “looking into my grandmother’s jewelry box and seeing all the glittery gems in there.”

“She didn’t have many pieces, but what she had was good stuff,” Demjan said. “She bought the finest.”

Demjan defines vintage as “pre-1980s,” though just because a piece is old doesn’t necessarily make it irresistible. Demjan said she looks for high quality pieces. “in pretty much perfect condition.” with plenty of bling appeal.

“Of course, I like to buy from people who don’t know its value, at garage sales and Goodwill stores,” she admits. “And I got many of my most valuable pieces from my cousin – my aunt was a society lady in Pittsburgh, she and my uncle had a box at the opera and everything. She really liked to dress up. When she died, my cousin gave her jewelry to me to sell. That’s where I got many of my most beautiful and rare and pricey pieces. I have a bracelet of hers that I have never seen for sale on the Internet. … I recognized it when I saw it, it was featured in a famous Trifari ad. It was made by an artisan whose work is rather rare – he was proud of his craft and ended his relationship with Trifari because he couldn’t crank them out at the rate the company wanted him to.”

She’s also had some great finds at antique stores and flea markets, “because I know the value of the pieces.”

“The bigger and weirder the better,” she adds. “Something ghastly, like a big spider or snake, is golden – there’s definitely going to be a buyer for that.”

She said a good costume piece can be worth as much, or more, than “the real thing.”

“You always hear people say this ring is 14K gold – heck, I have a necklace worth $500 and it’s not even made from gold,” she said. “If you tried to sell that ring, you couldn’t get that much, except for the gold.”

Condition is everything with vintage pieces, she said, “but that’s the beauty of quality costume jewelry – it was made of such fine materials and with such care, if you store it properly it lasts forever. A little known fact is that many of the pieces made after World War II had a shiny silver-colored finish – rhodium – and one of the reasons it lasts … is because it contains platinum.”

Sparkly rhinestones are always en vogue, but the key is to “make sure they’re all there and it has lots of bling. Sometimes the ‘bling’ doesn’t show up until you take it home and clean it up, but bling definitely sells.”

Demjan said she’d originally started out selling antiques, “but I realized I couldn’t know about everything. I found my niche when I really got into jewelry.”

“It’s my passion and it’s my business,” she adds. “I still have my day job, though.”

That day job is as a guidance counselor at a high school in Bradford, Pa., where she’s lived since graduating from Duquesne University with a master’s degree in clinical psychology 27 years ago.

“I came here and I liked it,” she said. “It’s just like Mayberry. In some ways it still is – everybody knows everybody else, and if you see somebody walking down the street you can pick them out. You just know (they’re strangers). It’s really a little pocket of peace, that’s a good way to describe it.”

She’d earned undergraduate degrees in English and French from Ohio University at Athens, where she also studied art history.

“That doesn’t hurt in this business – in art history, you learn to recognize styles of painting and sculpture from different eras. It’s the same with jewelry.”

And before opening her online store she sold on eBay, though she wasn’t happy with the results. “People go to eBay when they’re looking for bargains,” she said. “I wanted the independence and I wanted to set my own prices.”

She said she doesn’t mind selling items from her collection, “because I’ve just amassed so much that I can’t possibly wear it all.”

“I usually only wear the stuff I get very cheap,” she adds. “If I pay more for it, I’m going to sell it. I’d rather pass it on to somebody else who can really use it and love it.”

(Harris can be contacted at lharris@heraldstaronline.com.)