Tucked into the corner of a bustling strip mall in Stamford, Peter Suchy Jewelers is, at first glance, your traditional jewelry store.
There are necklaces and rings, earrings and brooches, watches and objets d’art. Fashioned out of gold, platinum and silver, the pieces sparkle with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, opals and pearls in settings simple to elaborate.
But when you really start to peer into the glass cases — and talk with owner Peter Suchy — you realize his inventory of antique and estate jewelry is utterly unique.
As the jewelry merchant, designer and gemologist with more than 30 years in the field gave an impromptu tour of the treasure trove, it was apparent that these glittering windows into earlier eras represent more than adornment.
They are also filled with stories — and in a few cases, mysteries — that never fail to captivate Suchy.
“I always loved the old stuff,” he said. “I would describe my feeling about the old jewelry as a passion. I get excited about it.”
And that includes a necklace and matching earrings that carry an almond motif. Yes, an almond motif — but more on that later.
Right from the start
Suchy, who also actively sells through online outlets including eBay, 1stdibs and Ruby Lane, has built his reputation on the variety and quality of his antique and estate jewelry.
The inventory is bursting with delicate Victorian pieces, fanciful art nouveau work, elegant art deco statements and even a few groovy things from the 1970s.
“We’ve become experts on identifying” the different time periods and styles, he said.
For Suchy, it all began back in Norwalk.
“I started as a hands-on jeweler… a repair person,” he said of working with a Norwalk jeweler before going out on his own.
That introduction, he said, allowed him to “develop a keen interest and love of antique and estate jewelry.”
Today, he not only sells that jewelry but has fulfilled a longtime dream of becoming a jewelry designer as well.
And when working on his own designs, Suchy is influenced by the past, creating new work that is also “keeping the old designs alive.”
His is a hand of restraint. He shows how a particular setting he created allows a diamond to truly shine.
Others, he rightly noted, might have given in to the temptation to “go big.” Sure, you’d have had a show-stopping piece but the understated beauty of the stone would have been lost.
Suchy said that often, contemporary makers influenced by the past don’t quite translate the original feel. His goal is to “try to be true” to the original forms and methods – no matter how long it takes.
One project, he said, is waiting “for a stone that I feel is appropriate. … As far as I’m concerned, it can sit here another five years.”
At your service
It’s no surprise that Suchy’s retail shop, which also offers full appraisal services, has a devoted following.
“It’s not unusual for me in this store to have a couple make an annual or biannual trip from South Carolina or Texas,” he said.
Being online may raise the profile, but Suchy said having an old-fashioned brick-and-mortar store adds another dimension to customer confidence.
“We have an established business,” he said. “We are real people, and they can look up who and what we are.”
Suchy is often tapped to see if he’s carrying prestige pieces from Cartier or Van Cleef & Arpels, for example. It’s no surprise with such a diverse inventory.
“We have jewelry from $100 to jewelry over $100,000,” he said.
“I think we’re also known for having eclectic pieces. … I get calls from dealers from all over the country looking for pieces for their customers.”
Being so established in the field, Suchy no longer has to go out hunting for inventory.
For the most part, he said, “it comes to me.”
And dealing with such a range gives Suchy a keen perspective on trends.
“I would say that anything old and vintage is very much influencing current buying trends,” he said. “Art deco would probably be the strongest of the trends.”
Varied items from the 1930s through the ’50s continue to do well, he added.
“I’m also seeing a trend back to quality. People don’t necessarily want the biggest. They want the best, something that’s one of a kind.”
A most glittering tour
For a jewelry lover, there’s nothing more fun than hearing all about a piece that has caught your eye.
And Suchy feeds right into the enthusiasm.
“It’s not hard to get excited about it,” he said, sharing details of one lovely piece after another during a recent afternoon visit.
He might focus on technique.
“This is something you wouldn’t see done today, because it costs way too much money to do,” he said of an intricate work featuring natural pearls.
Or he might dwell on the impact of a refurbishing project, such as the one that added a colored face to a 1950s wristwatch, “making it into a fashion watch.”
“We’re trying to give this stuff a second life,” he said. “The idea is to try to preserve the whole essence of the original.”
Suchy’s authority extends to materials as well.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, “the number of people who could afford anything but the thinnest gold band were few and far between,” he said, noting a particularly thick band from that era signals it was made for someone of wealth.
The surprises, though, are the best.
A 19th century necklace features what at first appeared to be charms, but on closer inspection were revealed to be needlepoint miniatures set under crystal.
“I took out my loupe,” he said.
His reaction was one of amazement: “It’s hand-stitched, for God’s sake.”
The piece, he knows, is from France “because of the letters on the clasp.” That the needlepoint jewelry, featuring the tiniest flower motif, has no water damage “is almost a miracle of jewelry.”
Next, Suchy talked about the Montana sapphires from Yogo Gulch that join moonstones on a 1940s choker, likely fashioned by one of the suppliers to Tiffany & Co.
Elsewhere, there are Victorian tassels made with rose gold, a 1950s brushed crescent featuring small diamonds and a brooch of his own design.
For the elegant piece that resembles a tortoise-hued leaf, Suchy took a natural agate, “picked up from the estate of a gem collector,” and found the ideal setting and finished it with tiny sparkles.
For every delicate work, there are the major pieces, too.
With flair, Suchy shows off a true showstopper, an Emile Perret 18-karat gold minute-repeater pocket watch once owned by Joseph Henry Ramsey.
Suchy shared the elaborate story of the watch that belonged to the 1860s railroad magnate, something so personal but that also offers a vivid glimpse into the fashions, politics and social customs of more than a century ago.
“You talk about history — it’s all right there,” he said, capping the twists and turns of the tale by allowing the watch to chime in its uncanny re-creation of a railroad whistle.
The sweet mystery
And as detailed the background is for that Ramsey watch, some other favorites, Suchy said, are “the pieces that have me wondering.”
And that brings us back to that almond jewelry.
“I’ve been in the business a number of years, and I’ve never seen almond jewelry,” Suchy said, drawing attention to a mid-19th century green gold necklace and matching earrings.
“Obviously to me, this was privately commissioned,” he said.
Perhaps it was a gift from an almond merchant to his wife, a tribute to someone’s favorite snack or even a sly comment on someone’s “nutty” personality?
Though Suchy said while he knows the origin may never be discovered, it remains a one-of-a-kind creation well worth preserving. He has, in fact, already refused offers to split the set.
“That piece has been together for 170 years. Let it stay together,” he said. “I’m not going to separate it.”
After all, the store that Suchy said has been compared to a museum is not only a place to find something dazzling, but also a place to fuel daydreams, including Suchy’s own.
“What I would love is for any one of these pieces to tell us whose neck it’s been on, what it’s seen,” he said.
This article was first published in WAG magazine, the Business Journal’s sister publication.