Just when we think we’re happy with what we’ve got in our own jewelry boxes, we take a peek at what Jill Heller’s got on offer and we realize that we’ve a long way to go ’til we’re satisfied. The sought-after jewelry curator, collector, and dealer has the type of repertoire that makes our heart sing, and this season she’s got some of her prized pieces on display once again in goop’s Sag Harbor boutique. Heller, who cut her teeth as a fashion editor before following her love for collecting treasures around the world, tells The Daily about what vintage finds are always a solid bet and why your jewelry shouldn’t be hidden away in a safe…
How did you get your start in fashion media?
I’ve loved fashion since I was a teenager and had a beaded jewelry business with my best friend when I was 12. Later on, I went to NYU and studied art history. As much as I loved it, I always felt pulled toward fashion as it grew from a hobby to a passion. I started off styling my family, and realized it was something I could make a career of. I landed at Esquire, and that’s where my love of style and design really took off.
Tell us about your time there as fashion editor. Do you still lean on those skills in your current career?
I was at Esquire when Stefano Tonchi was the fashion creative director—he has the most impeccable taste and taught me everything there was to know about aesthetic and quality in fashion. He taught me how to look at styling holistically: each piece should look beautiful on its own but also be in harmony with everything that goes along with it. This is an approach that I’ve carried along with me in curating jewelry collections. I also learned what looks good on guys! That came in handy when I had to re-dress boyfriends over the years…
How long have you been collecting jewelry?
I come from a family of collectors. My father collected art, watches, and cameras, and my grandmother collected jewelry—I learned so much from her, and she is who inspired me to start building my own jewelry collection. She was a big David Webb collector (among other things) but that’s how I really started learning about signed jewelry and its historical importance. One of my earliest memories involving jewelry is when I was 10 or 12 and bought a few antique sterling silver bangles at a souk in Morocco. Those were the first pieces in my collection, and I’ve been adding onto it ever since.
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You credit your jewelry collection to a life spent traveling—what places are still on the bucket list?
Africa is one of my favorite places to travel, and although I’ve been there several times, there is so much more in the continent that I’d like to do. One of the first things I want to do is go gorilla trekking in Rwanda. I also would love to go to Asia and visit an orangutan sanctuary in Borneo. With every place I travel to, comes a different experience with the local people. I’m always interested to see how different cultures express themselves with jewelry and learn about the unique significances certain pieces hold for them. I try to bring a few pieces home from every place that I visit; jewelry is a tangible way to hold onto memory and reflect on special moments in time.
From what we read, your jewelry collection is “insane.” We need to know more!
The collection is super diverse, spanning from signed pieces by master jewelers like David Webb to unsigned work from the ‘70s and Moroccan silver. Even though each piece is different from the other, the common thread is that everything is sexy, bold, and timeless.
For the amateur collectors in our midst, what vintage pieces always retain their value?
I always recommend starting a collection with styles that are signature to a brand, but also wearable. You want to make the most out of your investment. Something like a Bulgari Serpenti watch or a Cartier Panthere will never go out of style and will hold its value for years to come. Van Cleef zodiac pendants are also rare and always in demand. If you find one in your sign, jump on it!
What vintage jewelry styles will always be in fashion? And what jewelry style icons do you always look to for ideas?
Yellow gold from the ’70s and ’80s will always be a staple. The weightiness and craftsmanship of jewelry from that time is inimitable. I like a look that’s decadent but not overdone. Elsa Peretti is a great example of a woman who mastered the delicate balance between boldness and simplicity in the jewelry she designed and wore, like her iconic Bone cuff. I just finished watching Halston and while Elsa has always been a reference for me, she is at top of mind at the moment! I’m a bohemian at heart so I’m always looking at images of women like Talitha Getty, Jane Birkin, and Marisa Berenson. There was something so effortless and sexy about each of them—nothing was ever too “studied.”
Tell us about what you’ve been working on so far in 2021.
I’m really focused on working closely with clients to build really relevant and unique collections. Last year and this year have been an outstanding time for the vintage jewelry market—I’ve never seen such a high demand. Clients are seeing collecting fine jewelry as a tangible investment, like art, and are looking to curators like myself to help them create a meaningful collection. And best part about investing in jewelry is that you can WEAR IT. I always like to remind people that jewelry is not meant live in a safe. Wear it, enjoy it, style it with your denim. Gone are the days of “black tie only.”
You’re often selling pieces on Instagram. How has social media boosted your brand?
My inventory changes almost daily, so Instagram has been an amazing tool for keeping clients up to date on what’s available. If they something they like, they’ll DM me and have me send it to them. Everyone knows that it’s a “first come, first serve” thing with me. Instagram is also amazing for discovery. I’ve found loads of pieces myself and connected with loads of dealers (and clients) from all over the world.
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You’re collaborating with goop, and will be Out East this season…what do we need to know?
Yes! Goop is amazing—I love their unique point of view and curation, so I’m thrilled so be in the mix. I think what’s cool about goop, especially in Sag Harbor, is that you have people coming in right off the beach. Maybe they are replenishing their moisturizer or picking up a cool dress for that night, but they unexpectedly stumble upon some vintage Cartier that they can’t live without. You never know what you’ll walk out with. It’s this incredibly laidback atmosphere, but packed with luxury—which really resonates with me. It’s also great because being a private jeweler, I have a very limited retail presence, so this is a really special and rare opportunity for clients to interact with the jewelry in a different setting for a limited time only.
What are your own summer plans?
I want to be in the mountains as much as possible this summer, so I’ll be spending some time in Colorado. I’m looking forward to spending time in the fresh air, hiking, biking and reconnecting with friends.
What does the future hold for Jill Heller Jewelry?
As the world keeps opening up, more travel to see more jewels and clients! It’s such a personal experience so I’m really looking forward to working hand-in-hand with clients new and old to really build out and curate their collections.