of Francheska - Specializing in Antique and Vintage Costume
Jewellery and History
talked to Lorraine Evans who runs a thriving Internet-based
costume jewellery business with customers coming from all over
Award-winning Lorraine tells us why costume jewellery is such
a good thing to buy and collect and what to look for when
Good morning Lorraine.
Good morning David.
What is your background and can you please tell us how House
of Francheska started and how the company has evolved into
what it is today?
I started my career back in 1986. I worked for various
companies and then progressed as a senior import and
Sounds very impressive.
Yes, it was industrial textiles in Bristol. I travelled
once to Bury Manchester to train staff in export documentation
and then via telephone. I had to work really hard to get
up to a senior level. I left the Bristol Company to have a
baby, then I started a new career with another company, but
did not last due to ill health. Whilst home I then started the
House Of Francheska website, because I could no longer work at
a regular full-time job. So I decided to take a year out
from work whilst waiting for surgery and during that year,
instead of sitting down watching daytime TV all day long,
(both laugh) I decided to go out and find some books on web
What a good idea.
What year was that?
You were already familiar with computers, of course?
triple strand pearl necklace
Stein Christmas tree pin
Oh yes. Since 1986 and I was very proficient with computers
and The Internet. I taught myself via tutorials online and I
bought a book called Web Design For Dummies.
Yes, I know that book. In fact I can see it in my mind's eye
I literally followed the whole book. It was the basics of
designing a website.
And I suppose since you have done all the SEO and so on?
Yes. SEO can be complicated but then it can also be easy. It's something
that you learn as you go along. It's not the keywords, it's
what people type into their Google search and what's on
your page that matters. You have to pretend to be them and
think how they think. Then you put those phrases into your
Can you please give us an outline of the services and the
types of Vintage Jewellery and other products that you offer?
My website is for rare and collectable vintage costume
jewellery and I usually research on the rarest designers that
are out there. You can imagine, there are thousands. What
I sell are the top high-end designers, although I had to
start from the low-end first, then progress to the middle and
then to the high-end. You can't just dive into the
high-end, you have to learn and educate yourself on the
product you're selling. The other niche I'm looking at is
private sellers. There's one gentleman from the USA and he's
got some very rare patents by a top designer. And they're the original
drawings obviously. They've got a very particular design to
them which is unknown and so I'm trying to attract private
sellers and their rare items as well.
I should imagine you're established now on forums and so on
and have got yourself quite a reputation?
At the start it was very important to get my branding known
and establish a reputation. That doesn't happen overnight, as
you know, and it took me at least two to three years before I
was well-known. You do have to work at it and that's when
you start networking through the forums and all of the social
networking sites like Twitter, Myspace and Facebook.
Are they working well for you?
I don't use them so much now because my reputation's there and
my branding's there. People know me now so I don't have to do
it so much. I did it all the time at the start to put the word
Are people happy to buy these items sight unseen, as it were?
Your customers can be in the USA or Europe or wherever.
That can be difficult. When you design a website, you have to
give your audience and your traffic trust in you. And in order to do
that you have to provide the best quality photographs
possible. I'm not a professional photographer, but I provide
the best images I can and the most accurate descriptions.
That's where you get the trust from the customers, because
when they get their items they can see that you portrayed it
accurately on the website. It's very difficult to do it with jewellery
because they're so intricate and layered and you must show
that on the photograph. Plus, the weight which, of
course, you can't get an idea of from a photo. Some of these
items, especially the British ones, have been very badly represented
in the past because they were always known as tatty, cheap,
lightweight stuff. When I first approached the bank with my
business plan he said "Oh no, you've got no chance.
No-one's going to buy that. It's tatty, horrible, cheap, nasty
stuff." And I said "No, you're so wrong."
Because once you start researching and know the subject, the
materials used from the early 1920s up to the 1940s - you've
got to see it to believe it really. Because some of it is
really heavyweight and it never tarnishes. Not like silver.
It's just like having a heavy piece of gold jewellery in your
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It's one of the world's best kept secrets - vintage costume jewellery. So
probably now is the best time to get involved?
Well yes, especially the high-end. You have to be careful
because the low-end is the cheap and tatty mass-produced items,
but the high-end were tailor-made and sometimes one-offs for a
certain design. So research is so important. As you know, a
lot of the Hollywood stars put their fine jewellery into
vaults and that's when they had these tailor-made pieces of
the exact design made. They would often be made by the top
designers, such as those on my website like Chanel, Marcel
Boucher, Alfred Philippe - who used to work for Cartier and Van
Cleef. Those are the top jewellery and fashion houses and the Hollywood
stars would go to top designers like Kenneth Jay Lane and have
their finest pieces made into costume jewellery. In case of
theft really. If they went out then they didn't have that fear
because they weren't real but looked authentic.
They're made so well they
look like fine jewels.
They wouldn't be so bothered if they were lost or stolen?
It would still cost them hundreds of pounds but it's
better that than thousands.
What about your husband's involvement in the business? And
I understand he collects music memorabilia?
He's got his own LP collection and is very knowledegable
in music. He's music mad and you ask him anything on music
and he'll know the answer.
That's a challenge! I'm going to send him some questions!
A little quiz by email and I'll say it was your fault.
(Laughs) He won't mind. You've got to be so careful what
you buy with music memorabilia. He does it for his own personal
He's backing you up with the web work?
Yes. And if anyone enquires and they want LPs cleaned then he can
do that as he bought a big vinyl-cleaning machine.
It doesn't solve scratches or anything, just purely for
stains and dust?
I see. That's clever.
Erwin pearl double pink
and cameo necklace
Philippe signed Trifari clip mates
He loves music and the hi-fi equipment so he knows that
inside-out. He's always up-to-date with the latest gear.
I like it when people have got passions like that and
anybody who likes their music is alright by me. Can you
tell us what sort of customer feedback and comments you
I feel it's very important to treat clients on a personal
level. Talking to them as a friend rather than a number.
You know these big department stores? When you order
online, it just comes back with an automatic email saying thanks
for your order and that it will be despatched - and that's
about it. There's nothing personal about it.
And often there's no way you can make contact with them
apart from via email.
Sometimes yes, although you can check on how the order is
progressing on some websites. But with mine, what I tend
to do if I can is to have a conversation about the piece
and build a bit of a relationship, on a personal level, as
That's so important from a business perspective too
because they might give you a couple of clues about what
they're interested in for future business as well. Or some
leads to other collectors, or whatever.
Exactly. That's why most of my customers come back. They
say "You were so lovely last time." Or "My
husband was impressed with your service and
friendliness." I get comments like that every day.
The website is very impressive. I assume that's a big passion
of yours also?
You have to love doing the website side of things as well.
It's a headache, because I code everything myself by hand.
Yes, in notepad.
All hand-coded. You've definitely got more control over
the way it looks. With Dreamweaver and so on you're
limited to what coding you can put on there. But with notepad,
you can manipulate it to the way you want it to look.
That's the good thing about it - it's time-consuming but it's
the best way in my view. Also
with The Internet you've got to have 110% dedication to
it. You cannot set-up a website and just leave it there
and hope for the best like a lot of people
That's very noticeable with some sites.
You have to market and promote your site 24/7 or good
You haven't got a physical presence there, have you?
No, I did try it and it didn't work out. You're right,
there's no need for all the expenditure of offices and
shops - no need. Obviously you have to have the stock
secure and insured and you have to find a good storage
I have clients who deal in paper ephemera and others in
vintage clothing and therefore storage and stock security are big
issues for them.
You have to make sure it's secure. It's law to have your address
on a website now - you cannot have a PO Box if you're
trading and it can be a bit of a worry.
What are the best aspects of running House Of Francheska?
I am able to work at my own pace and it's not a 9 to 5
You've got your independence.
have, but you've got to be dedicated.
A lot of people think that because we're running
businesses from home that we're watching daytime TV!
Oh no. Far from it.
Jolie Gabor Sterling Siberian Amethyst
authentic designer signed Lanvin
crystal and pearl necklace
Probably, like me, you're back in the office at the
weekends and evenings as well?
I am up very early every morning, because I get emails from
all over the world and I get 10 or 15 a day. So I like to
reply before they start to accumulate.
And people do expect a very quick response these days.
I agree. So I work, then because of my health I have a
rest and then come back and it goes like that around the
It actually sounds a very civilised way to work to me -
do a few hours and then sleep and then awake refreshed to
do some more. That's good.
It works for me.
What are your personal vintage passions Lorraine?
I look at clothes, perfumes, hats and so many vintage
items that are out there. There's a wealth of history to
be discovered out there and it is becoming known now.
I saw there were some Hollywood stars on your website.
Yes, I talk about how some of them used the designers I have on
the website. Bette Davis, for example, she wore Hobe
jewellery and Lana Turner always wore costume jewellery
made by top designers. Mainly American. The US designers
are the best, I feel. There are some in this country,
although I haven't fully explored it in Europe and the UK
as yet. I know we've got Chanel and Sphinx and Miracle and
a few others but I am looking into Mary Quant. Apparently
the V&A museum have some Quant items, so it seems to be
And why not? She was important.
Exactly, and I like to look at current designers that will
become future collectables, like Vivienne Westwood and all
the others that are coming to the fore. I'm never, ever
What are the most popular items and designers and what are
the best investments?
I would say the most popular items are the early 1900s up
to the 1950s and 1960s.
Are these affordable for people who are just starting to
It depends. You can pick up some bargains, but it depends
who you choose as a designer and it's best to choose a
designer you like. Trifari, for instance - everybody knows
that the materials and quality are excellent and that's a mid
to high-range. You can start collecting 1990s because
they're quite collectable but the early pieces can be
quite expensive. Work up from what they're producing now
and up to the rarer, older pieces. Does that make sense?
It does. And if you're a relative youngster in your
twenties or thirties, these items will be on The Antiques
Roadshow in twenty or thirty year's time.
So what about the future for House of Francheska then
I have got a huge, massive database of things that I've
collected over the years so I'll be updating the website
with more history and more rare and unique and unusual
pieces. I'll also be training my son to do web design and
hopefully he'll join the business in a couple of years.
Also I want to get into the emporium side of the business
and explore the private seller side as well and putting
more things on there. If someone wants to go into vintage
jewellery they can't just go onto the auction sites, buy
some stuff and then put it on a website and make some
money. It's not as simple as that, as anyone will see if
they start doing this.
If people go on eBay they're usually looking for something
on the cheap or at a discount anyway.
There are fakes for Chanel and Weiss and you've really got
to do you research and know your product and then you'll
know what are fakes and what are genuine. All my dealings
are with reputable dealers and jewellery clubs and that's
the best way to know you're going to get authentic pieces.
I wouldn't trust what's on eBay. Most of our contacts are
in the USA, I've known them for years and have built up
relationships and trust. And the only way to do that was to
buy items from them, get them, see what they're like and
be sure they were genuine and then I was happy to do
repeat business with them.
It's all about relationships.
It is. Can I just mention that I got a Barclays Award?
Because of my health, I entered the Barclays Trading Places
Awards, because when you're disabled, instead of staying
at home - if you put your mind to it you can really start
something worthwhile as I hope I've proved. And I did win
the Barclays Award back in 2008 for the south-west area.
That's great. I hope you rubbed that bank manager's nose in
(Laughs) It was a different bank but I'm sure the one that
said that to me is aware of my website. And I'm on BBC2
and although they haven't given me an exact date it's
supposed to air between July and August. It's The Antiques
Masters quiz show. They used some of my items for the
Yes, I saw the last series. It's presented by Sandi
Toksvig and Eric Knowles and there are members of the
public who are interested in certain specialties within
antiques. It's a good show. So they had to guess the most
expensive, the oldest, the imposter and so on.
Yes, that's right. They wanted to use my costume
jewellery for the show.
That's a nice bit of publicity.
I can mention "As featured on The BBC" on my
Yes, I'll do the same for you on my site. Thank you for
talking to us Lorraine.
Thank you so much David. Have a good day.
of Francheska are International Sellers Based in the UK.
Specializing in Antique and Vintage Costume Jewellery and
Since 2005 we have specialized in authentic, original, rare
and collectable vintage, antique and estate jewellery from
around the World. All vintage jewellery showing on the
website are genuine and authentic and not modern replicas or
C/o Lorraine Evans
6 Grange Close, Stoke Gifford, Bristol, S Glos,
BS34 8RE, UK
Telephone: +44 01454 772803