Glitz, high prices, but where’s the (decorative arts) beef? The Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antiques Show over President’s Day Weekend was just that: magnificent jewelry, beautiful art, but what about furniture and decorative arts. The show’s title gave equal billing to that aspect of the trade, but from what I saw, it was sadly lacking any real presents at the show.
There was a smattering of decorative arts dealers in attendance, representing a limited number of styles and periods, with little or no duplication of dealers showing similar periods. Compared to the many jewelry and painting dealers that offered works of art that one could put side by side to judge before buying, it was a big disappointment. Does this imply that furniture is too difficult to sell, or is there a lack of dealers able to prepare and finance the cost of this type of show? I don’t quite know the answer, but having a booth with 500 pieces of jewelry should be a lot easier to set up and transport. It allows more items for buyers to see than stocking the same space with clunky furniture items that are difficult to prepare for shipping, and take up space that limits the number of items available to sell.
But there is another side to this dilemma. We see that shows that don’t cater to the well healed Palm Beach crowd do attract furniture dealers, abet mostly 20th century dealers. The Stella Pier Shows in New York City seem to have vast quantities of furniture, jewelry, and all sorts of decorative and fine arts, but not necessarily the great quality that you see at Palm Beach. There is a significant division of the trade and its clients between the two types of fairs.
I have a theory why this is the case. When you examine the type of person who walks the aisles of a Palm Beach Show, you have a real “moneyed” crowd who are for the most part collectors and or have consultants or decorators who they rely on for an affirmation of what is appropriate. Of course you also have the rich guys who want to embellish their wife (?) or significant other with a spontaneous and impressive gift of a necklace or ring. No consultant necessary here! But for these same people, buying a Georgian dining table for a couple of hundred thousand dollars would require a decorator’s nod.
You see this aspect at every upscale show where expensive furniture is on display. Jewelry and art have a much more emotional pull at the point of purchase. That feeling isn’t so prevalent with English, French and furniture styles in general, as the collectors of those styles have given way to the decorator’s preference of what is appropriate.
While I enjoy going to show, both upscale and middle of the road, my goal is to see what’s available and at what price, similar to how I look at auction results (once I add on the buyer’s premium). The second reason is to get a sounding board as to how dealers are doing and what fields are doing well and those that aren’t. Conversations with the dealers of all price and style points can sometimes be more valuable than a good purchase. It may well prepare me for understanding the future trends and sentiments in the industry, and the knowledge of what is really best for the direction of my business. For me at this show, dealer conversations were more enlightening than the potential for purchases.