Though most people wouldn’t typically think that jewelry made from over a century ago is appropriate for modern-day use, Toni and Chloe Goutal see things differently. Their bold and beautiful line of jewelry proves that some antiques aren’t as frail or outdated as you might expect.
Despite the fashion industry’s fascination with looking to past styles for inspiration, those of the Victorian era are not typically recreated. A time of hoop skirts, corsets, and strong beliefs of propriety is not really something we want to go back to.
“The Victorian era is not a cool time at all, women were really covered and wore black dresses,” Toni Goutal says. But this fact hasn’t stopped her from traveling around the world in search of jewelry pieces from the 19th century period. “We just love [the brooches], and they were just old-lady-looking as pins. So we came up with the idea to make them hip.”
Toni has always been fond of jewelry, influenced by her mother’s amazing taste in jewelry and her sister’s career as a designer. Naturally, her own interests and collections of jewelry inspired her own children. “I remember when I was little, we used to fight over who organized my mom’s safe,” Toni’s youngest, Chloe, reflects. “It was just so fun. And it wasn’t all the same things, she had such an array of styles and time periods.”
“My mom and I have always had a really close relationship,” says Chloe; and clearly her mother’s interest in jewelry rubbed off on her. During a stroll through to London’s Portobello Road a few years ago, Chloe came across a small piece of Victorian jewelry, a diamond moon. Instantly obsessed, she bought it and put it on a chain around her neck. Back in her native New York, she found herself stopped on the street on numerous occasions, interrogated as to where she got such a beautiful necklace.
Eventually, someone asked Chloe if the necklace was of her own design, and before she realized what she was doing, Chloe said yes, it was her jewelry company. “I called my mom and was like, ‘I think I just did something really weird.’ And she was like, ‘No, I think that’s great, let’s do it.'”
And with that, Toni and Chloe’s jewelry company formed. The pieces from the Victorian era were brooches and tiaras, most commonly done in shapes of crescents, stars, snakes, swords, arrows, and butterflies. “We definitely wanted to find something our company different and special,” Chloe says. The mother-daughter-duo decided early on to stick to stars and moons. “People love stars and moons. And one thing we’ve been very sure of since we started is that this is what we’re sticking with. We love it,” Chloe continues. “We’re not branching out and being antique jewelry dealers,” Toni agrees.
Though Chloe’s first Victorian piece lived on a chain she already had, the pair knew it was important to keep the jewelry consistent with its era. Most of the 19th-century chains they find are men’s watch chains. “I’m equally in love with the chains and the original pendants,” Chloe confides. Surprisingly, the chains are somewhat harder to come by than the brooches and tiara pieces, as many of them have been melted down for the gold. And despite concerns that the finite supply of Victorian stars and moons might run out, Toni and Chloe continue finding pieces.
As most Victorian jewelry originated in the United Kingdom, that’s where the pair started. Their treasure hunting has lead the Goutals throughout Europe, to Australia, and through antique fairs across the United States. Throughout three years of sourcing their jewelry, Toni and Chloe have gained their share of adventurous experiences, from accidentally ending up in Munich’s Oktoberfest celebrations, where Chloe says, “We had the best night ever, the best meal of our lives, I made her go on all the rides, and had too much beer,” to nights that felt like scenes out of a horror movie, staying in creepy hotels in “the middle of nowhere” in Northern England.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not just with my best friend traveling, because it can feel like that,” Chloe shares. “And then there are those times where I have to remind myself that this is work and I can’t just be tired from walking around these jewelry stores. You’ve got to suck it up and work through it.”
Other more work-related adventures include Chloe’s quest to find a specific moon, filled with multicolored stones, which is quite rare for Victorian jewelry. “I was obsessed with it,” she says. “It was in Australia at the time, and I called the dealer and he had just sold it. It kept happening over and over—I would track it down to the next one and he had sold it, and four years later, I finally got it.”
Each piece Toni and Chloe find is completely unique, both in its one-of-a-kind make, and the story behind attaining it. Once they’ve found the stars or moons, they pair the pendant with a Victorian watch chain that they feel best complements it. Chloe has discovered various techniques to best craft the Victorian pieces into contemporary styles, whether it’s blending platinum and gold colors, or wrapping the already-wide watch chains around two or three times. It’s interesting to consider how such a historic piece can so easily be slightly adjusted to fit seamlessly into today’s trends.
“I very much feel that any of the pieces, you can dress down or dress up,” Chloe says. “We have certain pieces that are more modern than others just because of however the chain is made up or there’s a darker setting around the stones. They really make any outfit the only outfit in the room.”
The time spent with each piece of jewelry, from sourcing it to learning or imagining its history, and then to crafting it into a modern-styled necklace, gives Toni and Chloe’s necklaces and rings an added sense of value. Their jewelry has a history and a relationship with its jeweler that no other company can provide.
“Of course value is monetary, but it’s also how much something means to you,” Chloe explains. “And for me, there’s something really special about our company just because there’s a story behind each piece.”
With the rarity and high of the Victorian pieces, they do come with a high price tag. “I would like to come up with a line of maybe smaller, just less expensive pieces, but all original at the same time,” Toni says. “But it’s just hard.”
That being said, the prices are high for a reason. The 19th century jewelry exudes quality and value. Fortunately, the Victorian jewelry is rarely faked or recreated, because it would be too expensive to create such exquisite pieces today, yet another attribution to the high price. When each piece was made, it was crafted by hand. Diamonds and gemstones all cut by hand, then manufactured and placed into the gold and silver without the use of machine. The same went for the watch chains.
Toni and Chloe take every piece they find to an appraiser or jeweler to ensure authenticity, and are repeatedly pleased to learn that everything they’ve sourced is original—the stones have survived within their casings for almost 200 years. And every time a jeweler looks at the antique, he says that he couldn’t recreate that type of craftsmanship. That enduring quality surely adds to the jewelry’s value.
Despite the jewelry’s age, Toni and Chloe’s clientele reach a wide age demographic, from teens to mature women. Toni and Chloe each speak to their own generations, bringing in their own specific know-hows and grasps of age-related tastes. Chloe is a Millennial, and it shows. She understands up-and-coming trends, and values the enjoyable aspects of her job, whereas Baby-Boomer Toni knows the wants and styles of mature women. She says that though she’s loved embarking on this business with her daughter, the best part of the experiences has been earning a profit.
Chloe says, “I disagree with her, but that’s probably because I’m 25 and for me, I swear I’m not just saying this, my favorite part is working with her. When this started becoming quite profitable and recognized, I was super proud to say that I was doing it with my mother.“
That being said, both women recognize that their partnership has been as beneficial to their own growth as it is to the company’s success. “We deal with people from all over the world, so I think I’ve learned to become more personable, not only with clients, but with [antique] dealers.”
Toni sees this growth in her daughter as well. “I just was astounded how good she is with the clients. That I didn’t know. She’s patient and very kind and not pushy at the same time, but firm. She really became a businessperson also.”
And most significantly, building a jewelry brand has allowed Chloe an extensive opportunity to fully share her mother’s love and understanding of jewelry. “When we started, I didn’t know anything about jewelry, I just knew what I thought was pretty,” she shares. “I’d point something out to my mom, and she just knew what she was talking about.”
From the beginning, Toni had a good eye for jewelry and antiques. Under her tutelage, Chloe has developed an equivalent understanding and appreciation. “Now I can tell [what is authentic], for sure. I feel comfortable going to see a jeweler myself, knowing what it’s worth.”