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Jewels to Treasure

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As the post-Katrina fleur de lis frenzy finally dies down, new jewelry trends have room to emerge. According to Thomas Whisnant, owner of the French Quarter jewelry store Wellington and Company (505 Royal St., 525-4855), it now is all about antiques.

"Lately, antique rings have soared," says Whisnant. "It's been really interesting. People want true antiques. At first they just wanted the style, now they want real antique and art deco pieces.;

And while Wellington and Company may be relatively new -- with only four years at its Royal Street location -- it still knows a little something about old jewelry. In fact, a certain milestone antique is the store's namesake. Whisnant's first big sale as a small businessman fresh out of college was an old English Wellington chest, which inspired the name of his first solo retail venture.

Along with his wife and co-owner Brandy, Whisnant runs a store that carries an assortment of antique, art deco and estate jewelry as well as contemporary pieces that run the gamut from moderately priced to high-end.

"What really separates us is that we sell a different mixture than other stores," Whisnant says. "We have a little bit of everything. Also, we're younger. It's a fun atmosphere."

Following Katrina, the then 2-year-old jewelry store experienced a major growth spurt. Wellington and Company expanded on a national level when the demand for fleur de lis jewelry prompted it to wholesale its pieces around the country. It grew locally because it was one of the few antique stores open after the storm, and its customer base of both locals and visitors increased due to a newfound interest in supporting local businesses.

"FEMA workers and locals were the ones who supported us," Whisnant says. "Clientele went from about 25 percent locals to 65 percent locals. Locals wanted to support local business, and locals who shopped (at our store) then for the first time have come back."

Today Wellington and Company continues to expand its repertoire. Newer additions include the Martin Kirschenbaum yellow diamond collection and estate pieces and antiques from a recent buying trip.

"For me, it's definitely about finding that antique or estate piece, that piece we've never seen before."

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