Shelly Branch posts meticulously stylized photos of vintage jewelry on Particulieres every day. NYC, an Instagram account she created several years ago to sell the striking gold pieces she had begun acquiring. Even though she had no intention of becoming a jeweler.
“I definitely didn’t mean to do this,” Ms. Branch said in an interview near her apartment on the edge of the Manhattan clothing district. “If you had told me five years ago that this is the life I would have and the livelihood I would have for myself, I would have said, ‘Nuts.’”
Before starting her company — which is called Particulieres, although the Instagram label is a little different — Ms. Branch was a journalist and author. She worked as an editor and writer at The Wall Street Journal and was a staff writer at Money and Fortune. She also wrote a financial handbook and co-authored the 2006 book What Would Jackie Do, a lifestyle guide inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
In her spare time, she enjoyed finding and purchasing vintage decorative homewares such as a French ceramic Mithé Espelt box and a bulbous Italian vase by Aldo Londi for Bitossi. “I’ve always been in love with ceramics, glass, and vintage — mostly mid-century pieces,” she said. “I have a large collection of objects.”
“I’m an accumulator,” Mrs. Branch acknowledged with a smile.
After Mrs. Branch left The Journal in 2017, she was inspired to become a dealer when people repeatedly admired the jewelry she wore and asked if she had similar items for sale.
Her selections — sourced from flea markets, dealers and other contacts — are generally about 50 years old and are mostly statement pieces in gold: a Boucheron tiger’s eye and pavé diamond cocktail ring and a wide Van Cleef & Arpels onyx and diamond band, both from The 70’s; Georg Jensen’s oversized, textured gold disc earrings; link bracelets, necklaces and bracelets.
Prices range from just under $3,000 for an unsigned chunky gold ring to about $50,000 for a Jean Mahie heavy gold chain for Cartier, though Ms. Branch said she’s also sold more expensive pieces to some customers offline.
Ms. Branch’s selections require some confidence to succeed: they’re the opposite of, say, simple pearl knots. Yet she displays them in a way that makes them appear approachable and attractive. For example, a gold link bracelet was recently photographed draped over a scarlet Alsterfors vase. In another post, the outline of a boxy H. Stern ring was emphasized by the Stig Lindberg for Gustavsberg tray behind it.
“You can see right away that it has a very personal aesthetic and voice,” says Frederikke Moller, a client of Ms Branch and head of communications at the Danish Arts Foundation in Copenhagen. “The jewelry is very bold and non-fussy and very 70s, yet very fresh and contemporary.”
Reed Morano, a Brooklyn filmmaker who’s been a client for about 18 months, said, “She’s basically an art dealer.
“She gets such a wide variety of things, but they all feel, elegant, like they could all be in the same exhibit in a museum,” she said.
Ms. Branch’s outlook and professional background aren’t the only things that set her apart from her peers. “Of course I’m a black woman in this industry,” she said. “I can’t name another one anywhere, that is, that says a lot.”
“I find it depressing,” she said, “but it’s not surprising given the way the industry is structured: how most people come from a family jewelry business background; how it’s mostly a male-dominated field. There are very high barriers to entry in this industry.”
Still, Ms. Branch seems to be successful. Although she declined to disclose her annual income, she said she earned more than when she was a journalist. And fellow dealers and customers alike say her mix of enthusiasm, curiosity and determination to find and sell resonating pieces at fair prices has served her well.
The generally isolated world of vintage jewelry sellers makes these achievements all the more remarkable. “It’s hard to be successful and live sustainably because it’s a lot about relationships, and it’s a lot about suppliers and sources,” said David J. Bonaparte, president and chief executive of Jewelers of America, a non-profit. profit trading organization.
Ms. Branch said she purposely omitted prizes from her Private Messages to encourage people to get in touch and start a conversation. “I sell a lifestyle as much as a product,” she said. “My company is definitely not a transaction company. It is a relationship company.”
She said she tends to get very friendly with many of her customers and estimated that about 75 percent of them were repeat customers. “I feel like I definitely know them,” said Ms. Branch. “I know their names from their pets. I know their husbands, their boyfriends, their miseries, their problems.”
Some have expressed concern about her sleep patterns, she said, as she often gets up late and texts shoppers in Asia and Europe, with her dog, Porter, a terrier mix, by her side.
Ms. Branch’s personal taste fuels what her company sells. During an interview on a chilly weekday afternoon, her jewelry included a large, square Trudel diamond ring that resembled a precious piece of Lego, a long necklace, and an oversized, heavy gold link bracelet from the 1940s by French jewelry designer Georges L’Kindje. .
“It has all the things I really love in a piece of jewelry,” she said of the bracelet, describing it as “architectural” and “timeless.”
Coincidentally, Ms. Branch’s taste in jewelry just happens to be in vogue. “It’s gold, which is very important right now, whether it’s the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s,” said Lauren Santo Domingo, a founder and chief brand officer of retailer Moda Operandi, which launched a 2019 edition. Private women’s trunk show. Another is planned for later this year.
Ms. Branch — who will only say she’s in her 50s — was born in Nyack and grew up in the nearby village of Piermont, two commuter communities in upstate New York, about 45 minutes north of Manhattan. Her parents were teachers; her mother, who later became a lawyer, was a fan of Persian carpets and squash blossom jewelry.
“She was always looking for the best for the best price,” said Mrs. Branch, “and she had a very strong, very curious eye.” She and her older sister often spent family weekends at flea markets and department stores so their mother could hunt for treasures and bargains.
Ms. Branch received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School.
While her current work has its challenges, she said the pressures were very different from what she faced as a writer and editor.
“The kinds of things that I used to have to dissect and sort out and research makes this very easy by comparison,” she said.