12 July 2018

Sheldon Shapiro: 'Jewellery is Like Engineering in Miniature...'

Sheldon Shapiro has been trading for over thirty years from Grays Antique Centre. Sheldon deals in Russian art, jewellery, silver, objets de vertu, and objets d’art including Fabergé. He has developed his own particular style with emphasis on high quality and intrinsic value. We caught up with him for an exclusive insight into his business..


A small sample of the fabulous jewels on offer at Shapiro & Co...

How did it all start for you?

We originated in Portobello Road in the late 1950s. I was a second generation dealer and when Grays Antiques opened in 1977 my father was offered a stall here. By then my father had a shop in the suburbs and he decided he wanted to stay where he was. He never came in. He established shops. So I took over and moved in. I thought I would try it for three months and make up my mind afterwards. I still haven’t decided yet. And it’s been 36 years. Quite a long time! But it’s such a great place. You just never bore of it.

Have you seen many changes during this time?

Grays is in a strategically placed location and that makes it a marvellous place to come and shop. We stopped exhibiting at Olympia, which we used to, but now we do it from Grays twice a year. Its position is an intricate element to the success of the market. And our success. It’s terrific. And because we offer such a wide range of merchandise you have collectors coming here from all over the world. It’s an Antique’s Fair in a building. And that’s why it works. We share the expenses and we all have a shop presence in central London. When people come to London, they come to Grays.

How would you describe your collection?

I specialize in fine jewellery, Russian works of art, rare and beautiful gemstones, objects vertu. The way we choose objects is very much dictated by our market. We are dictated by fashion, our collectors and what’s available, though you never fully grasp the market. That what is so wonderful about it. I like beautiful things. Pieces with history excite me and I love gemstones and gold boxes, fine precious items, things of quality.

What is your background and what would you say informs the way you choose items for your collection?

I grew up in the business as a child and learnt as I grew up. I was trained as an engineer. Jewellery is like engineering in miniature. My engineering skills really help me in my business. In communication, display, design and in projects, I have utilised my engineering skills over the years. My skills in design and display complement my business to compete in a sinking market. But we are rising above the norm. We have a presence in London and we sell on line. But our physical presence is our life blood because it offers the face to face element you need to feel things. We are selling man made things that are very personal. Jewellery is personal. Women need to feel things and need to see how things look on them.  You can sell cars and fridges on the internet. It’s fine. But we sell art objects and fine items that need the physical contact. Our clientele is very varied. We sell to professionals, tourists, collectors, private individuals, other specialists in fine objects and gems.

If you had to choose a piece in your collection that is special to you, which one would it be?

I would choose this English Art Deco 1910-1920s, platinum and old cut diamonds bracelet. It came from another dealer’s collection. Clean cut and intricate in style, it is a beautiful example of quality and craftsmanship. And typical of a bygone era, has everything going for it. It’s a piece of history.

English Art Deco 1910-1920s Platinum and old cut Diamond Bracelet

For more details on items available from this wonderful dealer, visit Shapiro & Co at Unit 380. You can also take a look at their website, or check out our top picks below...

Amethyst and Diamond Ring, c1970

Gold And Sapphire Cat Brooch, c1960

European 18ct Gold Bracelet c1950

Collectable Russian Miniature Pencil, Contemporary

Amaldine Garnet and Diamond Pendant, c1980



5 July 2018

ALFayez at Alfies Antiques

The Ground Floor entrance to ALFayez

Those of you who shopped in the Mews at Grays will be familiar with the collective of dealers trading in Middle Eastern Art, Antiques & Design. Friday 1 June 2018 saw Alfies Antique Market launch AlFayez, a new department showcasing antiquities and museum worthy pieces to textiles, ceramics and jewellery from more than 25 professional Middle Eastern antique dealers previously based in the Mews at Grays Antiques. These new shops occupy the whole of the lower-ground floor as well as a newly refurbished area of the ground floor at Alfies, to setup a new collective called AlFayez.

Spanning two floors and spread over 4,000 square feet, ALFayez boasts an architectural staircase, large sculpture of a Roc bird of Arabian Nights legend and a styled water feature.

Left: Large Roc bird sculpture | Right: Roc bird viewed from the ground floor entrance of ALFayez

A shop at AlFayez & the bottom half of the Roc bird sculpture in the background, on the lower ground floor

Dealers include Yaseen Oriental Ltd specialising in fine quality Oriental and Islamic antiques, M & D Arsin Carpets who provide cleaning and restoration services and also sell antique rugs, carpets and kilims, Bakhtar Art specialising in ancient beads, jewellery and textiles, and Garo Kürkman an expert in the field of Ottoman Empire era art and artifacts.


Turquoise at Yaseen Oriental Ltd

Antique hand made rugs at M & D Arsin Carpets

Textiles at Bakhtar Art

Chinese Kangxi period rose water sprinklers at Garo Kürkman

AlFayez will be unique as the UK’s largest permanent collection of Middle Eastern antiques and will provide the perfect meeting of East and West design.

Live music at the ALFayez grand opening

A grand opening party was held on the 21st of June, where exclusive guests, such as Westminster Council officials, local antique dealers and Antiques Trade Gazette members had the chance to peruse the stock whilst sipping bubbly.

Live music was provided on both floors - a lively band on the ground floor performed traditional Turkish music, with Gizem Altinordu on vocals,  Kostas Glynos (Kanun), Ercument Ibrahim (violin) and Baha Yetkin (oud). Whilst Garsaaidi (oudist), provided a more ambient feel to the lower ground.

Alfies' founder Bennie Gray with ALFayez dealer Faisal.


Guests at the launch party

Alfies dealers, Monica of Vincenzo Cafarella (left), and Emilia of Thirteen Interiors (middle) and friend


28 June 2018

The Mystery of the Medieval Manuscript and the Australasian Cockatoo

The recent discovery of four illustrations of a white parrot in a medieval manuscript may seem fairly unimportant, but researchers believe it may re-write the history of global travel and trade.

Left: A sketch from the pages of Arte Venandi cum Avibus Right: A Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II was a keen collector of exotic animals, and his extensive Falconry Guide Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds) had been gathering dust in the Vatican Library since its creation in the 13th Century. Finnish biologists have recently poured over the aged parchment and identified four previously unnoticed sketches seeming to depict the Sulphur-Crested Cocktaoo.

The distinctive white bird with yellow tipped feathers and red eyes is a species native only to the northern tip of Australia, New Guinea and the islands off Indonesia.

Until now, the earliest known depiction of the species in European art was Andrea Mantegna’s 1496 Altarpiece Madonna della Vittoria. The discovery of a native Australasian species in a work of art pre-dating Mantegna’s by at least 250 years forces a radical re-think of the history of global trade.

Researchers are now examining the possibility of a vibrant trading network which brought commodities such as exotic animals from the islands around Australia to the Middle East and beyond. It has been suggested the bird was likely purchased in Cairo and brought to Sicily by the Sultan of Egypt Al- Kamil, who is known to have gifted a parrot to the Emperor.

The presence of animals and plants from one continent in the art of another plays a key role in the exploration of their shared history. Creatures depicted can be explanatory sketches, botanical studies, or imagined mythical hybrids. The study of these artworks can provoke revelatory discoveries – as the story above shows - or can simply provoke further tantalising questions.

Inspired by the curious qualities of birds in antique art, we’ve tracked down the most intriguing specimens currently available at Grays.


Chinese Pith Paper Painting Depicting Chinese Birds on Rocks with Flowering Japonica.
19th Century. Available at Guest and Gray
German Solid Silver Parrot. 20th Century. Available at Pushkin Antiques


Chinese Framed Rank Badge, Depicting a Crane with Crysanthenum. 18th Century. Available at Guest and Gray.



Corinthian Jug Depicting Mythical Bird Hybrid, Greece or Italy, 6th Century. Available at Guest and Gray

Iranian Safavid Kendi Depicting Birds and Foliage, 17th Century. Available at Anita Gray

European Art Nouveau Bird of Paradise Brooch, Silver and Enamel, 18th Century. Available at Moira Fine Jewellery

Asprey Silver-Gilt Parrot on Malachite Stand, c1980. Available at Pushkin Antiques

25 June 2018

Meissen Porcelain: From the Colours of the Rainbow to the Flowers of the Land, or Alchemy, Diplomacy and ‘White Gold’

Meissen is a historic and picturesque town in Saxony. Sitting on both banks of the river Elbe, it is also one of the northernmost wine regions in Europe. But alchemy and diplomacy have made Meissen synonymous with one of the finest and most highly prized wares and sculptures of European production. Meissen porcelain remains today one of the most sought after names in European ceramics. And it has its origins in the eighteenth century, when trade in porcelain ware, known at the time as ‘white gold’, was booming. 

Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony at the time, was passionate about porcelain. He saw great potential in it, and a way of using style and fashion for diplomacy. He set up a court porcelain factory, initially, driven by the desire to emulate Chinese imports, which commanded high prices. The method for making porcelain remained a mystery to Europeans up until then making porcelain the most coveted commodity. So, Augustus founded the factory in order to supply himself, sell to the grand families in other European courts and commission a significant number of gifts, marked A and R, for Augustus Rex. 

Based on Johann Bottger’s discovery of how to make hard-paste stoneware and ‘true’ porcelain, the factory developed its own style and aesthetics. There was experimentation with glazes and forms, and glass-cutters from Bohemia joined in. Originally copying oriental designs, production grew into decorative fantasy chinoiserie scenes often combining them with baroque European forms. 
Much of the aesthetic inspiration for Meissen production came from the fashion for decorating dining tables of aristocratic houses all over Europe with sugar ornaments. The arrival of porcelain made them more permanent and increased their value. Now such ornaments could be collected and displayed in cabinets rather than dining tables. 

The variety of the output was quite staggering. It included figures (mythological or allegorical), temples, gardens, pastoral scenes, street traders. Drawing from Moliere’s theatre plays, and public entertainment, Harlequin and the commedia del’ arte characters became the most popular depictions. For its tea wares, vases and snuff-boxes, depictions of landscape and harbour scenes taken from seventeenth century paintings, and English flower and hunting scenes, were widely used in an interpretative way. Colours and styles were mixed with styles from China and Japan.

Soon Augustus commissioned a menagerie of porcelain animals for his Japanese Palace in Dresden, now part of the Zwinger collection. This is a stunning series of sculptures, modelled by Johann Kirchner and Johann Kandler, who were the two most important persons in the history of Meissen porcelain production. Their work is very much admired today. The earlier pieces that came out of the factory are not as refined or elegantly finished. Therefore the Meissen crossed swords mark, is not the only consideration when examining the quality of the porcelain figure. Provenance, condition, colour and the particular feel, are all factors determining value. 

There are many great collections of Meissen porcelain ware and sculptures in the world, including the Met in New York, the V&A in London and the Royal Collection. Augustus’ factory which dominated European porcelain production throughout the first half of the eighteenth century still exists and it is making porcelain today.


Fine pair of 19th century Meissen figures of seated couple, offered by K &  M Antiques

Pair of fine 19th century Meissen figures of girls with toys & dolls, offered by K &  M Antiques

Fine quality 19th century Meissen group of mother with 2 young daughters, offered by K &  M Antiques

A very rare Art Deco Urstück (meaning example) group of a lady holding a golden ball behind her back in her right hand, which the Moor boy is appealing for her to return. Signed and dated by Scheurich for 1921. Offered by Serhat Ahmet

Antique Meissen Saucer, offered by Serhat Ahmet

Rare and delightful group of lop eared rabbits, designed and modelled by Ivar Tillberg for Meissen between 1905-10, offered by Serhat Ahmet


14 June 2018

Dealer Spotlight: Amber Fortuna

Amber Fortuna is a unique specialist dealer based within Grays, who deals exclusively in the rarest and finest quality Baltic Amber.


1960s Owl Ornament Carved from Pure Baltic Amber


The Baltic region is home to the largest known deposit of amber anywhere in the entire world. Named ‘Baltic Amber’ or ‘Succanite’, this form of resin dates from 44 million years ago (the Eocene epoch) and it has been estimated by scientific study that this vast forest may have created more than 100,000 tons of amber. 

Amber Fortuna is an expert in the geological properties, as well as the cultural associations, of genuine Baltic amber. Baltic amber is neither a mineral nor a gemstone, but rather a form of tree resin, which has been recognised throughout cultures in Eastern Europe for many centuries for its supposed healing properties. 

Whether or not you buy in to the legend of healing associated with the mineral, anyone can be attracted by the hundreds of different shades of brown, red, yellow and orange which naturally occur in this charismatic, organic substance. 

Amber Fortuna offers a wide range of ornamental objects and jewellery in every colour permutation imaginable. We've picked out a few of our favourites below:

1960s Baltic Amber Beads
1960s Baltic Amber Brooch 

Baltic Amber Ornamental Horse


1960s Baltic Amber Beads


1960s Baltic Amber Multi-Faceted Beads


Amber Fortuna | Ground Floor | Stand 360-361 | amberfortuna.com

8 June 2018

Birthstone of June: Pearl

Pearls are a symbol of feminine style and sophistication. Audrey Hepburn famously wore a five-strand pearl necklace designed by Kenneth Lane in Breakfast at Tiffany's, which was featured in the poster to promote the film. Marilyn Monroe also famously received a pearl necklace: a Mikimoto necklace as a honeymoon gift from her second husband Joe DiMaggio in 1954.  


An iconic image of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Called “the queen of gems”, pearl is the birthstone for June, as well as for the star sign of Gemini. It’s the time-honoured gift given on 1st, 3rd, 12th and 30th wedding anniversaries. Pearls symbolise love and are said to bring fortune and wisdom to those whose birthstone it is, as well as joy and happiness to married couples.

At Grays there's no shortage of  pretty pearl jewellery. Here are just a few of our favourite picks:

 French brooch, platinum mounted bow set with diamonds and natural pearls c.1910, offered by Nigel Norman

Earclips with South Sea pearls, mounted in platinum and set with more than 15 carats of fine white baguette cut diamonds, offered by The Gilded Lily

Edwardian Caduceus in Enamel and Pearl Brooch, offered by Wimpole 

15ct yellow gold cabochon amethyst heart pendant surrounded by pearls, offered by Spectrum


South sea pearl necklace, offered by Michelle Payne

25 May 2018

Art & Antiques in the Age of the Grand Tour


In the rarefied environs of Georgian England's polite society, a young gentleman's education was not complete before he had embarked on The Grand Tour...

'A Water Party' Oil on Canvas by John James Salon. A Landscape depicting a traveling group in a classical landscape. English school. Available at Horton London

The Grand Tour was an extended travel itinerary, which took in the cultural capitals of Europe and provided the perfect opportunity for wealthy aristocrats to collect art and antiques destined for the finest country houses in England.

More than just a holiday, the Grand Tour was an artistic, historical and cultural education. Beyond that, it was a rite of passage and an induction into elite society. Its beginnings lie in the 17th century, as rich Europeans began to explore the world by sea, and reached its peak in the 18th century with travelers passing through the continent by boat and rail. Later in the century young aristocratic women followed suit, but the tour was always primarily the pursuit of sons and heirs.

A typical tour began in Paris and commenced south through France, taking in the Swiss alps on the way to Italy. Italy was the jewel in the crown, with Rome and Venice the pinnacle of any tour. Next, most travelers headed southward to the ancient ruins of Tivoli, Pompeii and Herculaneaum.

Those with the greatest means would visit the workshops of famous artists, commissioning elaborate works of art such as marble statues and family portraits. Those with less might pick up jewellery such as roman style intaglio's, or metal-ware and ceramics depicting Arcadian landscapes and classical temples.

Here at Grays you can browse the wonders of Europe's artistic past like Georgian aristocrats, without stepping foot outside of London!

We've picked out some of the most curious and beautiful items of the Grand tour era available now...


Swiss Gold and Enamel Brooch Depicting Children in a Rural Setting. Produced c1820 for tourists passing through Geneva on the Grand Tour. Available at The Antique Jewellery Company




Italian Maiolica roundel, produced in Castelli c1730. Available at Guest & Gray

Blue Sapphire Brooch in the shape of the ceremonial cap of the Venetian Doge. Italy, 19th Century. Available at Peter Szuhay


Carnelian Intaglio ring engraved with the faces of Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony and Octavius. Probably Rome, c.1770. Available at Peter Szuhay



Large Micro Mosaic depicting the Roman forum in Gilt Frame. Rome c.1820 . Available at Peter Szuhay 


Ring of Carved Coloured Lava from Mount Vesuvius, Sold in Naples c1820 to tourists on the Grand Tour. Available at The Antique Jewellery Company







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