Photo by Maejean Vintage
A well-made piece of jewelry can certainly last a lifetime—or even a few of them—but it may need a little help getting there. For sisters Laura Mae and Amanda Jean Hornberger of Etsy shop Maejean Vintage, saving beautiful pieces of vintage and antique jewelry from the scrap pile has become a bona fide mission—and a booming business.
The sisters, who grew up playing in ‘the antiques room’ at their grandparents’ historic home in Paradise, Pennsylvania, caught the vintage bug early, and dabbled in peddling vintage clothing and accessories out of their parents’ basement while both were still in school. But it didn’t take long for the pair to home in on what they and their early customers loved best: intricate jewelry from the Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco, and mid-century periods. As their inventory of classic baubles grew, so did their customer base, until they eventually upgraded to an office space large enough to house the thousands of pieces of inventory they’d acquired—and the requisite heavy-duty safe to store them in (“it took eight guys to get it through our second story window!” Amanda remembers).
It’s a treasure chest, for sure, but the real gem is in continuing the rich legacies of their finds. “The most rewarding thing is that we’re giving these pieces a chance to have another lifetime with someone who cares about them,” says Amanda. “Yes,” agrees Laura, “where they will be cherished for decades more.”
Read on to find out how the sisters discover, research, and celebrate the jewels of Maejean Vintage—then shop the collection.
Was jewelry always a shared passion for the two of you?
Laura: Yes, from a very young age. In fact, the first item that I reached for when I was a baby was a vintage ring, a family heirloom that my mother was wearing (and that I’ve inherited now). I’ve just always been drawn to jewelry—the beauty, the sentiment…
Amanda: The sparkle!
L: The sparkle, yes!
Is it the same for you, Amanda?
A: Yes, definitely—and vintage in general. When we first started selling on Etsy, we were selling vintage accessories and vintage clothing, and then we narrowed it down to jewelry because that’s the stuff we were most passionate about.
What is it about jewelry that sets it apart for you?
L: It’s the details…and that it’s so easy to wear. With clothing, it takes a more specific person to wear a full vintage wardrobe—like, genuine 1950s clothing—but my modern-day girlfriends are happy to rock a vintage locket. One of my best friends has a vintage engagement ring, and I don’t think she has anything else vintage in her life.
A: I think vintage jewelry can also look really modern when you wear it, so it appeals to a much broader audience.
What’s it like running a business with your sister? How would you describe each of your roles?
L: We both kind of do everything! We wear a lot of hats, that’s for sure. Amanda does a lot more with managing the logistics and the business details—she has a business degree from Temple. She also has more of a type-A personality, which is great, because it helps keep me focused and on track.
A: And Laura, because she was a kindergarten teacher before, she’s very creative. She does a lot of our photo shoots, and she’s also really good at researching the details of our pieces. We have a really good relationship, and I think we balance each other out.
You carry items from as early as the 1800s and as late as the 1980s, is that right? How did you determine which periods to focus on? And is there one particular style or era that stands out from the rest for you?
A: I would say that our specialty, if we had to pick one era, would probably be Art Deco. That’s definitely both of our favorite eras. We just love the intricate details, we love filigree…
L: The motifs, the designs. And we’ve also found that through the years, our customer base seems to have a lot of interest in Art Deco jewelry, so it’s a very good seller for us as well.
A: I think one of our shop’s top-searched terms is ‘Art Deco engagement ring‘.
Beyond your love for Art Deco, what else influences your shop’s aesthetic? Are there any style icons you look to, or other sources of inspiration that influence what you carry?
L: We try to keep up with the trends that are happening in modern jewelry, because modern jewelry very often has some element that’s pulled from vintage or antique jewelry.
A: It’s so true, what they say about trends repeating themselves.
L: For example, one trend that we’re noticing now in modern jewelry is crescent moon and star motifs, which you see in a lot of Victorian and Edwardian era jewelry. We’re finding that there’s a huge demand for that with our customers right now, too.
How do you source your jewelry?
A: We really go all over the place looking for jewelry. We go to flea markets, antique malls, estate sales, garage sales, auctions, coin shops, pawn shops, private estates. That’s our favorite part of the job!
L: We love the adventure of treasure-hunting.
Is there one place that’s especially rich with finds?
A: I would say local coin shops. A lot of the pieces that we look at, they plan on melting and scrapping. So we feel like many times we can go in there and save these pieces from being melted and give them another life.
L: Right, because a lot of the precious metal buyers, they don’t necessarily re-sell jewelry. They’re buying the jewelry just for the value of its precious metal, not for being an heirloom piece of jewelry.
You’re both studying to become gemologists. How does that training inform your approach to your shop, and your trade?
L: It’s been one of the most helpful things that I’ve done for the business. When I’m out in the field buying, just by looking a gem, I can usually tell its nature: whether it’s genuine—mined from the ground—or synthetic, made in a laboratory. It makes all the difference in buying, because those distinctions—we’re talking about hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. It’s something that even some people in the jewelry field are not informed about.
A: Whether people are trying to be dishonest or they just don’t have the knowledge, they often make mistakes and sell things as something that they’re not. And a lot of times, people don’t take us seriously because we’re young women in an industry that is still very male-dominated. That’s why it’s so important to have a background in gemology if you’re selling jewelry. Laura and I are both completing the full gemology program at the Gemology Institute of America, but she started with colored gems and I started with diamonds, so together, we have knowledge about everything.
Do you ever get requests from customers that send you out on a search?
L: Yes, we get those often! And we actually have a white board hanging on our wall with a list of user names and specific items that they’re looking for. And before we go out on our buying trips, we always take a glance up there and make sure we keep in mind what we’re looking for.
A: I can think of one example: A man contacted us, and he was looking for a specific Victorian amethyst ring with an etched flower. It was a ring that his wife had, and it was stolen from her. And we wrote it up on our board, and we came across a very, very similar ring when we were out in the field at a flea market, so we contacted him. He was so thrilled to replace that piece for his wife.
Jewelry is such a personal purchase. Can you think of any times when you were particularly excited about the home that a piece of jewelry found?
A: We get a lot of customers contacting us saying they either lost a family heirloom or a family heirloom was stolen, and when they find a piece in our shop that looks just like their piece, they’re so happy to have that piece back with them. We’ve also shipped pieces out to costume designers. We recently shipped a ring to an actress from Orange Is the New Black. We also shipped to Debra Messing from Will & Grace. It’s neat that our little pieces from little Lancaster, Pennsylvania, go all the way to Hollywood!
Photographs by John Williams, JDUB Photography.
Rachel Mosely is an editor and writer living in Brooklyn, New York.