In recent years, there has been a handful of time periods that have made a resurgence in the fashion world. Thanks to Mad Men, the 60s are back, and it is sexy for men to wear tailored suits and for women to show off their tantalizing figures without giving too much away to the spectator. With Downton Abbey, the furnishing of the Edwardian period began to pop up in numerous furniture stores around the country. While everything that has been replicated has been wonderful to witness, the thing that each of these pieces is missing is the history of the original era. Lucky for the jewelry business, Bell and Bird is here to bring you breathtaking pieces that are true antiques.
Bell and Bird is a picturesque boutique in the heart of Austin, and is run by partners Rhianna and Cyrus Shennum. Bell and Bird specialize in jewelry from the Victorian and Georgian time periods. What sets this shop apart from the others is Rhianna and Cyrus’s expertise. Rhianna has been selling antiques on a wholesale level and to boutiques, which means she’s the one to look for the aesthetic when it comes to fashion. Cyrus, who is a GIA certified jeweler and makes beautiful custom pieces, is the one who confirms that the pieces they find are quality antique treasures.
“I had been introduced to him (Cyrus) through the antique jewelry business, and as years passed, our relationship evolved. We talked about opening a store together and combining my antiques and his custom pieces.” Rhianna states. This is a true fairy tale in life and business.
While vintage is a hip word nowadays, antique has yet to have all the cobwebs dusted off of it. “We like the word antique, and we feel we have shaken the me-ma connotation of the antique jewelry,” Rhianna jokes. The word antique fits their jewelry, as all of their items are over 100 years old (they even have an item that is over 300 years old). The passion that surrounds Bell and Bird has helped to slowly change the attitude attached to the word antique. All one must do is spend an afternoon talking to the owners about their merchandise and the cobwebs fade away.
Bell and Bird is named after two prolific nomadic Victorian women, Gertrude Bell and Isabella Bird. This is a perfect name, as Rhianna and Cyrus are themselves travelers, searching out the unique and beautiful wearable art. The journey for new pieces will usually bring them to France (self-described Francophiles) and Britain, but will expand to several countries in Western Europe, including a first time trip to Belgium this fall.
Part of the fun of these buying trips is the hunt that ensues. Europe has a reputation of being a place where antiques are readily available at all turns, but sadly this is not the case. “The hardest part is when you go some place and you think there is an endless supply, and you buy everything there. If you go back too soon, there isn’t enough time for things to get back into the cycle,” Cyrus clarifies. Lucky for this pair, through their trips they have been able to form relationships with dealers, ones they continually return to for business.
When Rhianna and Cyrus start their search for perfect additions to their catalog, they are open to the treasure hunt that this provides, with the loot materializing into unique and beautiful pieces. This can also be contributed to their timeframe in which they buy from.
The Victorian era sparked their interest for several reasons. The Victorian era is an interesting period in jewelry history. Prior to the 1800s, it was rare for anyone outside of nobility to wear jewelry. Rhianna explains further, “With the emergence of the middle class, more people were able to wear jewelry so there were more people making jewelry.” Cyrus adds, “When you think about this time period, when people had nothing, and you see a piece with a particular stone, you know it was purchased for a specific purpose.”
Along with the plentifulness of the cache, the history and meaningfulness of the pieces began to emerge. While there are some beautiful creations at Bell and Bird, there are some speciality items that are no longer made, like a remembrance ring for someone who had passed. Cyrus said it best when he said, “Jewelry had much more of a symbolism in the past than it does now.”
Rhianna and Cyrus are happy to spend hours talking with you about the history of each piece, be it the category of the item or the significance of the particular stones used. They have been able to translate their hobby into a business, and they find joy in sharing this with others. Bell and Bird has been lucky to have a very supportive cliental, one that Cyrus can’t help but praise, “The jewelry business is a lot about relationships, be it with the vendors or clients. There is a lot of trust, and when you build that with someone, you can do amazing things. “
Jewelry is always the final touch to any outfit, it can turn a plain black dress into a elegant masterpiece, or a fun party dress. There are several stores around town where you can find the perfect piece, but not all of them has the history and passion that Bell and Bird exudes. The best way to turn your ensemble into something worth remembering is by adding a piece that has a story to tell. Rhianna said it best when she said, “There are no boundaries when it comes to good design. It (symbolic jewelry) is a lost art we are trying to revive a little bit. “ With your help, that can become a reality.
For more information on Bell and Bird, please go to their exquisite website www.bellandbird.com. Also, stayed tuned for a top secret, but much anticipated, new collection this fall.
Written by Lisa Mejia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Photos by Ryan Goodrich