Price is Right
Jewelry, History, and a Storied Career
Photography by Caryn Leigh Posnansky
Judy Price is president of the National Jewelry Institute; founder and former publisher of Avenue, a high-end real-estate magazine in New York City; and author of Lest We Forget: Masterpieces of Patriotic Jewelry and Military Decorations. And on November 24, on behalf of President Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Perrin presented Price with the Legion d’honneur, a French award created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. France’s charge d’affaires, Frédéric Doré, wrote to Price of the award: “It acknowledges your exceptional and exemplary personal commitment to the French culture. I am thinking in particular about your various publications on French jewelry.”
The award was presented in a grand ceremony at the Musée Carnavalet, France’s history museum. “It has a special meaning to me because in January 2006, I had my first jewelry show in France there,” says Price, speaking in her Pound Ridge home before leaving for Paris. “The person who delivered the prize to me was Jacques Perrin, a grand antiquer of Paris. We’ve known each other for over 30 years and he and his wife, Kina, introduced me to a whole circle of antiques dealers in Paris. In my acceptance speech, I talked about the symbols of success in emerging countries. In France they respect creativity and tradition. I really embrace that concept. In France what counts is that you are a creator.” Price is being awarded the rank of chevalier, which is similar to a knighthood in England.
Price spent much of her life as publisher of Avenue, chronicling interesting and wealthy people and their homes around the world. “Avenue wasn’t just about people with money. It was about people who made a difference—in business, in the arts, in literature or design,” Price says of the effort and attention paid to photography and design of the magazine—with a strong emphasis on black-and-white images. “I hate to mimic Woody Allen, but I see the world that way. That’s why it was so important to have photographers who specialized in black and white, and they had to be art photographers who exhibited in galleries, not paparazzi.”
There were some interesting times running Avenue, Price recalls, like the time she tried to convince Walter Hoving, who ran Tiffany, to advertise with her. Hoving told her, “Do you know why my ads do so well in The New Yorker? People reading The New Yorker only look at the cartoons. Then they read the ads.” He agreed to advertise in Avenue under the condition that Price would not make the editorial content of the magazine “too interesting.” She also remembers interviewing famed jeweler Harry Winston. A friend warned: “Harry’s a giant. When you meet him, you have to look right into his eyes.” Says Price, “I went straight to Saks and bought a pair of four-inch heels.” When she met Winston, she discovered he was less than five feet tall. “I was towering over him,” she recalls. “When my friend said ‘giant,’ she meant he was a giant in his field. I couldn’t sit down in my chair fast enough.”
Price sold Avenue just two weeks before the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. She made the decision for tax reasons, she says, but friends call her prescient since advertising and the high-end real-estate market collapsed after September 11. “People felt like I knew something,” she says. “But really it was more like being in a poker game. You have to know when to fold.”
Since then, Price has been running the National Jewelry Institute, which, she says, aims “to use jewelry as a metaphor to tell stories about people, events, religion, the military history of America, of France, and Great Britain over the past 250 years. It’s not about convincing people to buy jewelry. That’s not it. It’s about memories.”
Her book has evolved from the premise that people throughout history, particularly in war, have used jewelry to tell stories. “During the First World War, soldiers were fighting in the trenches and created trench art. They made rings. They made sweetheart jewelry and charms, which led to the creation of charm bracelets,” says Price. “You can tell a lot about a person by their jewelry.” A book-signing party was recently held for her at the new Hermès store on the Left Bank in Paris.