My name is Chloe and for as long as I can remember I have adored jewellery. This section of my blog is how I started in jewellery. As a child my nose was always pressed up against the jeweller’s windows. I graduated from there to Portobello market in London and bought bits of jewellery with my earnings from Saturday and holiday jobs.
Later I realised I wasn’t so keen on the earlier pieces so I rented the smallest stall in the market and sold what I didn’t want and bought more. My great joy was I could wear all the jewellery in the week to work and buy and sell on Saturdays and have something different to wear the rest of the week.
The only drawback was that I had to continually tear off the sticky price labels and sit and re-do them Friday evenings for Portobello on Saturday. One Friday night after re-writing 25 tiny labels I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to wear my stock. I became a dealer.
I soon discovered the really early Bermondsey market situated south of Tower bridge. In the early days I got the first train to Tower Hill station, raced over Tower bridge, passed the vinegar factory to the open air square filled with stalls. In the winter it was bitterly cold.Tower bridge would look ghostly and magical as it sparkled with frost – even then I loved the excitement of going over the bridge – it meant I was near. Officially, selling started at 7am but lots of wheeling and dealing went on long before this by torch light, whilst dealers were unloading. The beauty of Bermondsey was that many of the stallholders were from outside London, so their stock was unseen – it hadn’t ‘done the rounds’. It was fresh. There were greater chances of bargains.
Then there were the ‘grabs’. When the stallholders opened up, they would have their new stock in a separate bag and as they opened it all hands literally grabbed anything. Of course, only known buyers were part of this. It was fierce. The ‘grabs’ were incredibly exciting and looking back really primitive. Some dealers thought these early mornings all rather crass. I loved them. Even waiting in the huddles around the stalls for the ‘grabs’ to start was exciting. The chatter would be of E type jags, dirty jokes, endless sexual innuendo and how dreadful the government was.
And it was so cold and dark. Bermondsey on a winter’s morning, with the wind from the Thames whipping over it, took a long time to warm up. Even in our long Johns and moon boots we all shivered. The full English breakfast at Rosa’s was well deserved. It was so much more exciting than teaching which I soon left.
I loved buying and selling. It wasn’t the profit per se that excited me but knowing that if I bought something and sold it almost immediately it meant I had ‘done well’. Of course,it also meant that more than once I virtually ‘gave away’ the odd Faberge pieces.
But there were good deals, like the time a German dealer who bought diamond rings (turn of the last century, lots of diamonds, set in platinum for under £50-00). We would meet at the airport and hidden behind ‘The Times’ I would sell him my diamond rings. Sometimes he bought 50 at a time. I would float home on the underground after these encounters.
Then there was my stunningly handsome Austrian who for years bought hearts from me. Gold hearts set with stones, pave-set with pearls,some times all diamond hearts. I adored him. And then….and then….but one could go on and on. It was all gorgeous fun.
Bermondsey was a dealers market. For me the joy of Bermondsey was it was so cloak and daggerish and slightly seedy. (Buying jewellery in the dark, by torch light has a distinctly seedy air about it). By the time the public arrived at 9 or 10 am, many of the early morning dealers had gone home. I usually left by midday walking back past the now open vinegar factory, its sweet sickly smell making me feel quite nauseous, back over Tower bridge to Tower Hill station and to a few hours sleep.
Saturday was Portobello. It was a different sort of market. Not quite so early, more inside stalls. Less raw than Bermondsey. I always thought of it as a tourist market and after the usual early morning wheeling and dealing amongst the dealers, the same dealers would then open up their own stalls to sell to the public.
The public could be so beautiful – foreign women in their fabulous fur coats with stunning tanned husbands. I loved selling to them. I had long since decided that I would only sell what I liked so it was easy. I sold what I called small pretty pieces, so no boring gold chains, (unless they were Georgian when they ceased to be less uninteresting) and no large clumpy diamond rings. Actually, I just didn’t have the money for expensive items. My aim was always to buy and sell immediately so I could buy more. And there was so much more one could buy. There was Camden Passage on Wednesdays, Sunday Fairs and Auctions.
I also bought out of London so then I didn’t sell things quite so quickly – I could look at the pieces and stroke them. I really physically loved holding the jewellery – the wonderful patina of old gold, the beautiful creamy sheen of the half pearls set in a Victorian necklace, the worn corners of a silver object, the look of old cut diamonds – like raindrops on a ring were magical to me. In the days before a market I would take the jewellery out and just gaze at it. I never even put it in the safe (as it took too long to open). I used to hide everything in my bra and knicker drawer so at odd times I could have a quick peep at it. The night before a market the new pieces came out and were priced and packed up. Sometimes, lying in bed I would realise that I hadn’t labelled a particular piece so I’d shoot out of bed and start hunting through all my underwear until I found it to the sounds of my husband’s snorts of exasperation. (It did happen many more times than once).
For years my world was jewellery. It was an all consuming passion.
Although I bought and sold for years. I had a love hate relationship with some stones. Turquoise was one of them. My first disappointment with it was when I discovered at 10 that it was my birthstone. How had I managed to have a birthstone that didn’t sparkle?. As a dealer I had problems selling the stone which was frequently found in the jewellery I sold. Gold Victorian necklaces set with turquoise looked very harsh against the white throats of the of English, so they didn’t want to buy them – but wonderful against the tanned necks of the Italians who flocked to Portobello market at that time. Unfortunately, they had no money. So (to my eternal shame) I gouged out the turquoise stones and glued in opals or garnets which sold better.
Years later I found out that Cleopatra had used ground up turquoise as eye liner. I was entranced. Turquoise came alive for me. My dull birthstone, that solid lump of blue had a background. It wasn’t quite an epiphany but very nearly so.
Hence the name Cleopatraseyes.
Since then I have been more interested in the myths and stories behind the stones and jewellery . This blog is just that – sharing my fascination with the quirky bits behind the gems. After all they are the oldest thing one wears. Some stones come from outer space, (literally) embedded in meteorites. Most are millions of years old. As you see the passion is still there.