O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry
Shakespeare once wrote “All that glitters is not gold,” and while he may have had a point, he obviously never shopped at O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry.
O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry has been around since 2017, occupying both an online retail space as well as locations within multi-shop establishments like West End Garage. It’s only been since May 2022 that the business is finally at home in its own storefront.
“We’re absolutely a relaxed, stress-free environment,” says Daniel O’Neill, who along with his wife Diane, is half of the duo behind O’Neill’s. “And we encourage people to try things on, even if it’s just for fun. For us, that’s half the fun of it.”
And fun it is—with Edwardian, Victorian, and Art Deco estate jewelry, there are enough one-of-a-kind items and stunning showpieces to keep visitors occupied—and swooning—for hours. And while there are certainly pieces that most people can only dream about—including a recently re-appraised $90,000 13-karat French-cut Tiffany bracelet—there are more affordable items in the few hundred-dollar range as well.
“It’s fine jewelry, but we do have some lower-end stuff. Not everyone is looking for something huge,” says Daniel.
“We get a lot of repeat customers, and some people definitely have their niche, but there are also people who come in and get what strikes them at the moment,” says Diane. “I always say to just try on everything to find out what works with you and your personality. I’m a believer in trying things on.”
Unlike the intimidating jewelry shopping experience one might find at a highly sterile and noticeably quiet chain facility, the glamor at O’Neill’s is accessible, cozy even. With approximately 500 square feet of space, located right on a popular corner of Lafayette and Elmira Streets in Cape May, O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry features almost floor to ceiling archway windows that offer plenty of natural light. And with walls lined with old and unique photos of Cape May from Historic Prints by Harry Patchell, O’Neill’s is an intimate and comfortable space to visit, to browse, and oftentimes, to buy.
“We treat everyone the same,” says Daniel. “Whether someone is looking for a hundred-dollar piece or a hundred-thousand-dollar piece, we treat everyone fairly. Intimidation, for us, is not in the cards.”
Expertise, however, is, as are style and taste. And while Diane and Daniel work with a lot of inventory, there are some pieces that stand out, even to them.
“One particular piece I love to show, especially to gentlemen, is a men’s ring,” says Daniel. “It’s about a one inch by one inch tablet and it’s naturally mined gold inside quartz, and it has a moss agate tablet on either side. It’s a poison ring, and it’s dated and stamped December 18, 1877. It’s a showstopper.”
O’Neill’s also carries Meistersinger and Ball watches, both of which are historically unique. “The Meistersinger is a watch that only has one hand,” says Daniel. “Where the Queen was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey, on the clock tower, that clock only has one hand. That’s how clocks and watches were originally made, so you have to train your brain how to tell time with the one hand.”
The Ball watches are also infused with history. Webster Clay Ball was enlisted after a major railroad accident in 1891 to investigate time and watch conditions, after it was discovered that a delayed timepiece was partially responsible for the incident. His development of Ball Watches led to the company tagline “Since 1891, accuracy under adverse conditions.”
Though the O’Neills don’t know the provenance of a lot of the items, they’re happy to share all the information they do have, from the aforementioned watch information to the hand-done filigree work that’s a part of so many art deco items from the 1920s and 1930s. And of course, they have their personal favorites.
“There are a select few pieces we show time after time, pieces we fall in love with, and pieces we are sad to see go,” says Diane, who ended up keeping a platinum book chain necklace that she had admired for a long time. “What crushes us sometimes is when people look at a piece and come back two weeks later to buy it and it’s gone.”
Due to the nature of estate jewelry, the pieces at O’Neill’s Estate Jewelry are one-of-a-kind. And while Diane and Daniel are loath to pressure customers or put them on the spot, they do have a recommendation when it comes to pulling the plug on a purchase. “I say, if you wake up thinking about something, come back and visit it,” says Diane.
“We like to have fun with the customers,” adds Dan. “If they like it, we sit and talk to them, whether they’re interested in buying or just looking.”
And though most of the pieces are one of a kind, there are plenty of them. In addition to dealing with entire estates, the O’Neills inherited a significant portion of their store merchandise from Diane’s former husband, the late William “Wmie” Scott. Prior to his death, Scott and Diane owned Artisans Alcove, where Scott was a GIA certified gemologist.
“He was a master at what he did,” says Diane. “And everything that he valued, we kept. He was a pioneer.” In an homage to Scott, Diane and Daniel have a plaque honoring him in the shop. They also donate a percentage of their annual income to drug and alcohol awareness in his honor.
And though they inherited much of the merchandise from Scott, they also inherited their fair share of knowledge, which they’ve supplemented with reading and mentorship.
“We read a lot of books about gemology and stones, and every day we would learn something new,” says Diane. “We also had Michael Brown of Brown’s Jewelry from North Cape May take us under his wing and he is very helpful with us.”
With an inventory that includes stunning and eclectic pieces—all certified by a GIA gemologist—and a new storefront, O’Neill’s might just be the perfect place to visit to shop for your Valentine, no matter the time of year.