Jewelry to Dream About

Museum-quality antique jewelry probably isn't the first thing you think of when you think of Austin, Texas. But Rhianna and Cyrus Shennum—the husband-and-wife team behind Bell & Bird—are hoping to change that.

Tucked into an unassuming shopping center in Austin is a treasure trove of rare, antique jewelry. Rhianna and Cyrus Shennum, who run Bell & Bird, realize that Austin isn't the first place that comes to mind if you're looking for the kind of ultra-special 18th- and 19th-century jewelry they deal in. "A shop like ours definitely seems unlikely in Austin, Texas," says Rhianna, "but we make it work, and it's a great place to live."

Rhianna and Cyrus Shennum outside Bell & Bird.

The couple met in Austin when Rhianna was working at the city's best fashion boutique, By George, and Cyrus was shopping for shoes. Rhianna had a few pieces of antique jewelry that needed to be repaired, and a friend at the shop got Cyrus's business card for her. "I waited six months before I called," she recalls. "I'm so glad I didn't lose that card!" Since then, they've established themselves on the global antique jewelry scene, and showed at the esteemed Lapada fair in London this summer.

We'd love to stop by and try some things on, too!


Their store, which has dark walls and floors (all the better to let the jewelry shine), is a hub for experts and enthusiasts alike. "We have clients who will stay for hours talking about piece after piece. By the end of the visit, jewelry covers every surface," she says. "We tend to open up the bar on those occasions!"


The couple meeting with clients in their boutique.


And what exactly can you expect to find there? On a recent visit: a Georgian era ring with a miniature carved ivory ship under a crystal dome, and an 18th-century necklace made of lace-like woven Silesian iron. It's astonishing that some of their pieces are available for purchase, and not on display in a museum. However, visiting Bell & Bird is infinitely more fun than seeing jewelry in a museum because, if you ask nicely, they'll let you try a few things on.

Here, Cyrus shows us his favorite pieces currently in the store, and discusses what makes them so special:

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Portuguese Demi-Parure (earrings and necklace), circa 1780

This set was made towards the end of the 18th century in Portugal. The stones in this piece are a mix of glass and white topaz, often referred to as "minas novas," since the topaz was sourced in the "new mines" of Brazil. [Ed note: the "new mines" were fresh mines in areas of Brazil that Portugal colonized in the 16th century. They were "new" because the empire had only recently gained access to them.] This piece is also convertible: the necklace can be worn as is, or more simply as a choker; the pendant can be worn separately as a brooch.

Lover's Eye Ring, circa 1800

This genre of jewelry has had a surge of popularity recently. Many fakes have flooded the market in the past few years making examples that are authentic, like this one, even more sought after.

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Point Cut Diamond Ring, circa 1580

This ring is over 400 years old, and diamonds from that period are very rare. Point cut diamonds are left in their natural octahedral form, and set with the point of the stone facing up. In this time period, diamonds were believed to hold supernatural powers, and a ring like this would have been treasured by its owner.

Victorian Gold Earrings, circa 1870

These earrings were made in England in the 1870s, but the Machine Age design details ensure they still feel modern. Those details, plus the matte gold finish make them a favorite of ours.

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Rose Cut Diamond Earrings, circa 1850

These earrings are in silver and gold with foil-backed rose cut diamonds. The foil backing of the diamonds makes them especially bright and lively, even in darker settings. These earrings are big for the period, and I can imagine how ethereal the sparkle would have been in the gas light of that time.

Gold Snake Bangle with Rose Cut Diamonds, 1863

There is so much that makes this bracelet special. There are two secret compartments in the bangle, one in the head, and another hidden in the body. The compartment in the body still holds a lock of blonde hair, which makes sense considering the bangle's Scandinavian origins. The bracelet also remains in the original box it was sold in from Stockholm, Sweden, with marks that reveal it was made 153 years ago.

To see more jewelry, or to buy some of your own (lucky you!) go to bellandbird.com. Or, visit the shop in Austin at 1206 West 38th Street.

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