I don’t buy expensive things. My favourite couture is ‘on sale’, my drink of choice is whatever’s cheapest and I always check how much money is in my bank account before paying in a shop.
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You know, just Gen Z things. So when I found out about the luxurious Mayfair market hiding in plain sight, I was intent on finding my favourite thing: a bargain. I headed off to Bond Street with £20 in hand and a dream in my heart.
As Grays Antique Centre, one of the world’s biggest with 200 dealers, loomed in front of me, I felt suddenly underdressed in my discount jeans and trusty Spurs windbreaker. And unlike those situations when you expect the worst but are pleasantly surprised, I actually was out of place among the mature – and predominantly white – clientele. A quick glance at their website before my visit confirmed the opulence awaiting me as I’d spotted a necklace for sale for £130,000 – I was in for a challenge.
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My well-loved Adidas trainers squeaked along the floors among high heeled Louboutins and shiny Dior dress shoes. I felt everyone’s gaze on me like I was the Bat Signal to their Gotham City hero. Admittedly, this last part was probably in my head – everyone was much too busy marvelling at the jewellery on display.
And what jewellery it was: everywhere I looked huge diamond rings stared back at me and every corner I turned in the narrow hallways revealed more ancient artefacts that cost more than my mother’s flat. After a few rounds around the ground floor to get my bearings, I plucked up the courage to ask the price of an absolutely breath taking gold and diamond engagement ring. I was rather impressed with myself when I managed to hold in my gasp at the £1,860 price tag.
But my shock must have been plastered all over my face anyway, because the trader quickly assured me I could have it for ‘only’ £1,600. I squeaked something about consulting with my partner and scurried away to the next booth quicker than you can say ‘ridiculously expensive ring’. As I tried on ring after expensive ring I felt every vendor’s gaze slide to my £44 black onyx statement ring.
Though it’s beautiful, any luxury trader could immediately tell this was no black diamond and it dulled in comparison to the very real gems I gingerly placed on my finger. Feeling slightly sweaty after an encounter in which I tried on a £3,000 ring that needed to be ‘handled with care’, I ran downstairs for some solace. It was there I found AMS Antiques with all manner of stunning silver items – I’ve never ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ so much in my life.
And thanks to the fantastic shopkeeper I got the privilege of holding a bracelet identical to the one my grandmother once wore, complete with plenty of the charms she collected in the 50s. I felt so at ease in the shop that I had the confidence to ask for something under £20 and to my delight he didn’t laugh me out of the shop. Instead, he looked suddenly forlorn as he informed me the few £10 teaspoons he had were gone. Resigned to the fact I’d never afford anything in Grays, I instead let myself enjoy the stunning items in AMS Antiques.
Making my way back out to the West London sunshine, I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding as soon as I left the building. While it was a stunning experience and I had touched things I never dreamed I would touch, being surrounded by that amount of riches when my bank account would barely cover a meal deal was a stressful experience. The only reason I stayed more than five minutes was to learn about every item in my new favourite shop. But as far as jewellery goes, I’d choose a £44 ring over an invitation to get mugged any day and even if I could find one that cost £20, the stuffy atmosphere didn’t make me want to spend any money there.
Find Grays Antique Centre at 58 Davies Street, London W1K 5LP
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