After nearly a decade of E-commerce business, Jean Jean Vintage needed a physical space. The vintage and antique jewelry store had previously lived exclusively on Etsy, but owner Emily Duffelmeyer was constantly fielding requests for in-person appointments. In a phone interview with The Daily, Duffelmeyer opened up about her business.
“I was getting more and more requests for appointments, especially from people who were wanting to invest in higher priced items, and they really wanted to see them first and try them on first,” Duffelmeyer said. “And I really had no way of hosting appointments because I was working out of my house.”
But Duffelmeyer’s motivations for breaking ground extend further than run-of-the-mill growing pains. She also cited a strong desire to be a visible part of Lansing’s small business community, and to have a space “where [she] could sort of continue to build the brand identity of Jean Jean visually, so the store could start to be associated with the brand; what are the colors, what does it smell like, what’s the music like, what’s the vibe of the store?”
As someone who has made the pilgrimage to Jean Jean’s physical location — and very nearly got stuck in Lansing in the process — I can speak from experience about the store’s affect. The place looks as crushed velvet feels. It is dark, moody and has a quiet opulence. The walls are painted a forest green and exquisite glass jewelry cases line the edges. It is clear to all who step foot in the premises that the store was designed by a masterful eye.
When asked about her inspiration for the space’s design, Duffelmeyer confessed an interest in creating a place reminiscent of the natural history museums of her childhood. “I remember going to old natural history museums on college campus when I was a kid — my parents worked at Iowa State University, and my grandparents were at (the University of Kansas). Those dimly-lit natural history museums from the ’60s, where the colors were sort of dark and the lights were low, and you had this sense that you were going back in time a little bit. So, I wanted the space to be a luxurious museum feel.”
In our conversation, Duffelmeyer also expressed a wish to diverge from the normal when it came to Jean Jean Vintage. “(Jewelry stores tend to be) really bright and sparkling and there’s track lighting everywhere and everything is shiny and sparkling, and I wanted to basically do the opposite of that.”
The store houses Jean Jean Vintage’s extensive vintage and antique jewelry collection, although most of the items can still be found on the Etsy shop that started it all. In both locations, one can find incredible one-of-a-kind items such as an antique Russian Imperial gemstone insect brooch or a vintage ’30s Art Deco onyx and diamond cocktail ring, although Duffelmeyer tends to stock pieces that are between 70 to 120 years old.
“I would say that what I’m known for is Victorian and Art Deco costume and fine jewelry,” Duffelmeyer said. “And in the last couple of years I’ve started shifting my focus to bridal jewelry from the same period.”
However, this was not always the case; when she was first starting, Duffelmeyer sold primarily costume jewelry, and initially built a name for herself through her collection of Czechoslovakian glass jewelry. She explains, “in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s the United States imported a lot of glass jewelry from Czechoslovakia, [then the] epicenter of fine hand-faceted crystal and glass. Czech glass jewelry is something that collectors love because it is very intricate, and the glass is beautifully cut and it’s usually brightly colored and set in brass — but there’s oftentimes beautiful enamel accent. It has a lot of defining characteristics and it’s not made anymore.”
However, unlike other vintage and antique jewelry stores, Jean Jean Vintage paradoxically does not exclusively sell vintage and antique jewelry. In addition to acquiring and selling archival pieces, Duffelmeyer produces her own signature collection, the Jean Jean Vintage cachet collection. The cachet collection is at once new and antique: The pendants, rings and cufflinks are cast from letter seals from the 1800s.
“If you were living in (the) mid-19th century and writing letters you probably had some wax seals at your desk,” she said. “You may have used a family crest, like in ring, to seal all of your correspondence, or you may have had sort of a set that you could rotate through to pick the right seal for the right letter. And the idea of sealing, besides being utilitarian way of closing a document, (was that) the seal on the outside was the first thing the recipient would see. And so, whatever you chose to stamp in that seal was kind of like a preview to the content of the letter or the message.” An old-fashioned email subject line.
The collection is captivating, in large part because the sentiments expressed on the pieces still resonate in a modern context.
“I love that it’s made from 200-year-old artifacts that — even though they’re old sentiments —they’re Victorian sentiments — (are) still really relevant today,” Duffelmeyer said.
The pieces bear an image and an inscription, either in French, Italian or Latin. One popular piece features a sailboat on a turbulent sea, with the phrase “e cosi la mia vita,” or “such is life,” on one side, and a butterfly approaching a flower with the word “attendo,” or “I am waiting,” on the other. “As if the flower is talking to the butterfly (saying), ‘I’ve been waiting for you to come land on me,’” she said. “It would be the kind of seal you would use to seal a love letter.”
As for the name, Jean Jean Vintage comes from Duffelmeyer’s middle name. “My dad called me Jean Jean when I was a little girl. He died before I started the business so when I was thinking of names, that just kept coming to mind. My mother’s middle name is Jean, too, so it’s kind of like the doubling of the name with my mom as well as the happy memory of that nickname from my dad.”
When listening to Duffelmeyer describe the origin of the name, I was struck by the poetry in it; a name handed down from older generations has come to represent a business that hands down heirlooms to individuals who wish to connect with history.