Nan Summerfield, Doyle New York’s new director of California operations, on transitioning from auctioneer to business owner and back again
High-end auction house Doyle New York opened its first West Coast branch last fall, putting Marina Peninsula resident Nan Summerfield at the helm.
Summerfield studied gemology at the Gem Institute of America before attaining a plum position in New York working for Sotheby’s jewelry department. In 1986, Summerfield came back to California to open up Sotheby’s West Coast outlet in Beverly Hills, where she worked until 1994 before going independent with her own estate jewelry business for 20 years.
On May 21, Summerfield’s operation hosts its very first auction. Among the 250 lots of fine jewelry up for bid are two pieces once owned late silver screen comedienne Mae West, who long ago resided on Short Street in Santa Monica Canyon: a circa-1950 platinum and diamond bracelet-watch (estimated value: $50,000 to $70,000) and a platinum, moonstone and diamond ring ($5,000 to $7,000).
West is not the first celebrity to show up in a Doyle auction. Sales have included property formerly owned by James Cagney, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Rock Hudson, Count Basie and Louis Armstrong.
A self-described jewelry addict, Summerfield spoke about making the transition from auctioneer to business owner and back again.
— Michael Aushenker
Why did you leave your own jewelry business to join Doyle?
My world had always been jewelry, but I like to feel that I’m growing. That was what is so appealing. I was addicted to jewelry the day I was born, so I embraced the opportunity to open a new market on the West Coast and to expand the reach of what we can auction.
How big is your operation?
I have two people working for me now. We eventually will be expanding as well. Right now, jewelry is the easiest, but we’ve also taken property in all other departments, such as a Hudson River School painting by Frederick Edwin Church from a West Coast collector.
Our next jewelry auction is scheduled for November, and we are discussing a contemporary art sale in 2016.
How did you obtain the Mae West jewelry up for auction?
Those both came from Mae West collectors who obtained them from the Mae West estate. One took the diamond out of the ring and replaced it with a moonstone, so the stone is not original, but the ring certainly is. Mae West had a lot of jewelry and, in her later years, she’d sell things along the way.
Are buying habits different between the two coasts?
The market here is really for contemporary and modern art. And that is what we’re looking at right now [for the next auction]: California art paintings, plein-air paintings and Western art. There tends to be a greater appreciation for that [out West].
My feeling, as a dealer for 20 years, is that the really good stuff tends to have a global audience. Broaches can be regional. They tend to sell better on the East Coast, because out here we wear lighter-weight clothing. Men’s jewelry, cuff links in particular, tend to sell better on the East Coast, as men dress more casually out here.
Why did you choose to live in the Marina Peninsula?
The appeal for me was being near the ocean, near the boats. I don’t have to get in a car — I can bike ride, I can go for walks. There are lots of great restaurants. When the fireworks go off on the Fourth of July, I can see them out the window. I love the marina. It feels like I’m on vacation every time I come home.
Doyle New York’s first West Coast auction exhibits Sunday through Wednesday at L’Ermitage Beverly Hills 9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. Call (310) 276-6616 or email doyleLA@doyle.com..