"They’re fantastic… inspiring,” says Oliver Rheinfrank of the Tiffany jewels showcased in the recent adaptation of The Great Gatsby. However, it wasn’t the diamonds in Carey Mulligan’s flapper headband that dazzled him, but rather that the jewellery was so perfectly in keeping with pieces from the period. “Sometimes I watch a film and think, ‘Oh no! What are they doing?’, because although it might be set in 1912, the actresses are wearing earrings that wouldn’t have been seen until 1925.”
If you haven’t already guessed, Rheinfrank’s passion is antique jewellery. An art history graduate, he opened his first shop 10 years ago in the centre of Berlin. “It was a very traditional antiques shop: small, dark and cluttered. I have always believed jewellery needs space to breathe and so, after seeing a modern antiques emporium housed in an old brownstone building in New York, I too moved to a much bigger location.”
Now based in the creative borough of Mitte, Rheinfrank arranges his collection – the biggest in Berlin – on brightly lit white podiums. Even his window displays are works of art, featuring everything from Victorian cameos set against a backdrop of 100-year-old Woman’s Weekly magazines, to bejewelled mannequins dressed in vintage Oscar de la Renta.
Most of the jewellery here dates from between 1750 and 1950, with prices starting at €29 for a pair of 1950s gold-plated brass cuff links to €15,000 for a platinum and diamond necklace in the garland style. The latter is a typical early 20th-century belle époque piece and is so beautiful that Rheinfrank sometimes takes it out of his safe “just to look at it”.
Among the shop’s clientele are vintage enthusiasts, men searching for the perfect engagement ring and soon-to-be brides from neighbouring designer boutique Kaviar Gauche (famous for its couture bridal line) looking for diamond earrings, pearls or statement pieces made out of cut steel – such as a pair of drop rosette earrings (€590) or a mother-of-pearl-infused bracelet (€990). “Cut steel was invented in the late 18th century and despite being a masculine material, it makes very good bridal jewellery because it can be cut to look like faceted diamonds,” says Rheinfrank. Other more unusual materials he favours include jet (popular between 1850 and 1900) and horn (specifically art nouveau pieces from 1900 to 1910), and he will travel all over Europe to find them.
Displaying these pre-loved wares in a contemporary setting has attracted a new customer base of young, style-conscious Berliners. But that’s not to say that Rheinfrank has made antique jewellery “trendy”. As he explains, “People who buy antique jewellery aren’t interested in having the latest designer bag. They have their own style and don’t want to buy mass-produced, modern pieces. Far more suited to them is a fuchsia blossom horn necklace [€2,500] or a pair of bow-shaped 1860s pinchbeck earrings [€350], which will allow them to look and feel unique.”