Lang Antiques: where jewels move with the times

Discover how Lang Antiques of San Francisco has taken on the world as the leading seller of estate jewels.

Lang antiques diamond rings

Do you know where to find one of the world’s most impressive and dazzling displays of fine antique and vintage jewellery under one roof? You may be surprised to learn that it is not on Bond Street, Place Vendôme, Madison Avenue or Rodeo Drive, but at Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry of San Francisco. Founded in 1969, the house is recognised as one of the premier vintage jewellery sellers worldwide, with an added emphasis on education and expertise. 

Art Deco engagement ring sold by Lang Antiques
Lang Antiques at any one time can delve into its safe and offer thousands of expertly sourced, one-of-a-kind pieces, 3500 of which are available on their website.

Owned for the past three decades by Mark Zimmelman, a third-generation jeweller and Suzanne Martinez, jewellery historian, senior gemmologist and appraiser, Lang is based in the heart of San Francisco’s historic Union Square shopping district where its shimmering showcases offer an unparalleled selection of European and American vintage jewels. 

And Lang does not disappoint. Brimming with literally thousands of expertly sourced, one-of-a-kind pieces, 3,500 of which are available on their website: www.langantiques.com, the sheer number of options and the quality of the jewels set this landmark San Francisco Legacy Business in a league of its own. To put it into perspective, at any one time Lang can delve into its safe and offer couples some 600 vintage engagement rings, Lang’s specialty.  Their inventory includes 300 bracelets, 400 earrings, 700 brooches, and similarly impressive choices in every category.  If variety is what you’re after, no fine jeweller, vintage or otherwise, can compete with Lang. Cursory searches yielded 119 jade pieces, 96 aquamarines, 73 opals, 169 Retro pieces (from the 1940s), 134 animal themed pieces, 69 pairs of cufflinks and on, and on. 

Emerald cut diamond engagement ring sold by Lang Antiques
Selling 50 to 75 engagement rings, and over 200 individual items per month,  Lang Antiques buy right and price right. They don’t mark-up in order to mark-down’.

It is common for engagement couples from all over North America, after having perused Lang’s overwhelming selection of wedding rings online, to sojourn to San Francisco for a romantic weekend to make the purchase of their rings a memorable experience. Lang has also had more than one in-store proposal, including one with a very enthusiastic serenading groom. The Lang staff was happy to share the moment and celebrated the couple with a Champagne toast.

From a simple vintage solitaire engagement ring for under $1,000 to opulent six-figure masterpieces, Lang prides itself on catering to a wide range of budgets  and tastes. ‘We aren’t snobbish’, says Suzanne Martinez, ‘we can appreciate a finely made stickpin as well as an opulent diamond necklace’. And with the rise in conscious consumerism, Lang’s vintage offerings, eco-friendly by definition, are ever more appealing. 

The house specialises in pieces from the early-1800s to the latter-1900s with emphasis on the Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian or Belle Epoque, Art Deco, Retro, and mid-C20th periods; Lang has  recently added high-quality estate pieces from the latter 20th century at incomparable prices. 

Lang’s ongoing popularity is in no small part a result of their savvy acquisition practices, which are reflected in their refreshingly restrained retail pricing. According to Mark Zimmelman, ‘When you sell literally 50 to 75 engagement rings, and over 200 individual items per month, negotiating the agreed selling price on each and every piece would require a small army of professional hagglers on our side, which would be both unfeasible and unwise. So, Suzanne and I decided long ago to buy right and price right. We don’t mark-up in order to mark-down’. As both a seller and buyer of jewels, Lang offers the assurance that they pay fair market prices with no middlemen inflating the final sale price. Patient customers, however, may take advantage of Lang’s bi-annual sales, during the month of July and the holiday season, when the entire collection is reduced up to 15 percent. 

Knowledge is also at the heart of Lang’s success. The firm is so committed to acquiring and sharing know-how, that Suzanne Martinez set up the Antique Jewelry University (AJU) (www.antiquejewelryuniversity.org) to catalogue and share the treasure trove of information that the team has amassed over the decades. When an archivist or historian at an American or  European jewellery house is stumped or looking for a learned second opinion, they will often turn to Lang. A recent case in point, the AJU helped to resolve a query involving Tiffany jewellery markings, that are notoriously inconsistent. Suzanne will soon be offering an extensive online educational course to share a lifetime of accrued hands-on knowledge.

Eternity wedding band sold by Lang Antiques
From a simple vintage solitaire engagement ring for under $1,000 to opulent six-figure masterpieces, Lang Antiques prides itself on catering to a wide range of budgets and tastes.

It is this cache of collective wisdom that is behind the judicious appraisal of each and every jewel that is personally curated by Mark Zimmelman and Suzanne Martinez, be it a relatively inexpensive Victorian cameo or a rare gem Kashmir sapphire. Once a jewel has passed their rigorous assessment the in-house restoration team is on hand to ensure that, with minimal tampering, the jewels are ready to endure the demands of modern life. In-house gemmologists check and grade the gemstones, assuring the buyer’s full confidence. 

Add to the mix a warm, American-style service and you can understand why Lang is such a magnet for jewellery lovers.  Their personable and highly knowledgeable staff actively encourage visitors to try on jewels, and the attitude is: the more the better. Lang  welcomes any chance to share their experience and well-trained eyes to help find that perfect jewel. And with antique jewellery, each piece has a story to tell, so make time if you want to hear the full narrative. Like the look of the $325,000 Art Deco Golconda D IF diamond ring in Lang’s mouth-watering Extraordinary Jewels section, or maybe the $975 Art Nouveau citrine ring? You will receive the same level of attention in-store or online. 

Lang’s reach has extended beyond San Francisco thanks to the early adoption of their website and e-commerce platform. ‘Luckily for us’, explains Mark Zimmelman, ‘our e-commerce site has been up and running for two decades’. This means that anyone from anywhere in the world can spend many happy hours browsing the magnificent and staggering selection of jewels as well as honing up their knowledge on the Antique Jewelry University, or on Lang’s vast, searchable Archive section with over 20,000  one-of-a-kind ‘sold’ pieces available for research purposes or leisurely perusal. ‘Although we’ve had an online presence since 1998, at the time we were seeing our in-store inventory growing, but we just had one little provincial shop in San Francisco with a finite number of walk-in customers. After the big tech crash in 2000, we decided now’s the time to expand to a full-fledged ecommerce site. Back then the idea of selling expensive jewellery online seemed far-fetched and we were apprehensive ourselves. Fortunately, since then we have grown, and grown.’

Chaumet sapphire pin, bracelet and earrings sold by Lang Antiques
When an archivist or historian at an American or European jewellery house is stumped or looking for a learned second opinion, they will often turn to Lang.

Over the years, the Lang team has refined the art of e-commerce. Not only are the jewels beautifully captured by a fine arts trained photographer, each piece is informatively and often entertainingly described, ensuring that online purchases meet expectations and that there are no surprises, thereby minimising returns. 

More than a few remarkable pieces have passed through Lang’s collection, from the whimsical, to the historical, to the rarest most coveted collectables. Jewels that have passed through Lang’s hands have found their way into prestigious collections including the Smithsonian and Metropolitan museums.  

Mark Zimmelman recalls what may be his most memorable sale. ‘Probably because it happened so soon after I took over the store in the early ‘90s, we sold an amazing bejewelled make-up compact by Van Cleef & Arpels to a famous classic rock star, whose identity for obvious reasons I am not at liberty to reveal, in which to store his own preferred brand of powder’. Then, there was the time a rather burly gentleman dressed in overalls opened a tattered valise only to reveal an astounding collection of natural gold nugget and gold-in-quartz jewellery, mementos from the California Gold Rush days. The collection included a long necklace composed of 20 or so sizable nuggets totalling over 3 lbs, and the pièce de résistance: a working Colt revolver, circa 1850, with an inlaid gold-in-quartz handle outlined in diamonds and rubies. 

‘Where do you get your jewellery?’ is a query commonly posed to Mark and Suzanne. ‘Fortunately, due to our longevity and reputation, it tends to find us’, replies Suzanne. ‘Not a day goes by that we don’t receive text and email photos, and often unsolicited packages from all over’. One fine day, a museum-worthy necklace by Castellani, once owned by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne (America’s foremost husband-wife acting couple of Broadway’s Golden Age) and featured on the cover of the November 1949 edition of Life Magazine, arrived unexpectedly.

Natural pearl and diamond ring sold by Lang Antiques
Lang Antiques specialises in pieces from the early-1800s to the latter-1900s with emphasis on the Victorian, Art Nouveau, Edwardian or Belle Epoque, Art Deco, Retro, and mid-C20th periods; Lang has  recently added high-quality estate pieces from the latter 20th century at incomparable prices.

What’s trending? ‘Some things never change’, says Nicole Corsini, Lang’s Manager of Marketing.  ‘Affordable casual earrings from all periods are always popular. Long diamond chains sometimes accented with coloured gemstones, and long fancy gold chains from France sell well. Any high-quality snake themed jewellery, particularly rings and necklaces, seem to fly out of here. Our recently added Estate Jewellery, especially coloured gemstone rings, has been a huge success, mainly because of the pricing. We’ve also noticed a simplification of engagement ring styles. Whereas intricately ornamented mountings used to be all the rage, Millennials seem to prefer a sleeker minimalist look. And yellow gold has supplanted white gold and platinum to a large degree’. In order to cater to the tastes of Millennial and GenZ couples, Lang produces their own signature mountings utilizing recycled precious metals and conflict-free melee (small accent stones) to reset original vintage old mine and European-cut diamond centre stones. GIA certificates are offered with diamonds of over one carat. 

Whether it is a standout Art Deco necklace, a sustainably sourced engagement ring or the rarest coloured gemstone, Lang is open around the clock, and around the world to share its bounty of exquisite jewels and formidable knowledge. And in this case, it seems that the Americans can do it bigger and better than the rest.

 

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