RINGS ON HER FINGERS: BROOKE BAXTER OF ARROW & ANCHOR ANTIQUES

Above: Brooke Baxter of Arrow & Anchor Antiques wearing rings from her jewelry collections set off by custom nail art by Poppy & Monroe, which very generously provided all of the manicures in this feature. The photography throughout is by our friend Brett Warren.

 

Last fall, my sister Millie shared with me that she was getting engaged this spring.

After freaking out with happiness (she’s marrying a great guy: welcome to the family, Matt!), I broached the all-important topic of engagement rings and offered to help with the search if needed.

Millie had already been looking, and showed me five or six Instagram screen shots of rings she loved that she’d saved on her phone. Four of them were from the same local account: Arrow & Anchor Antiques.

This being Nashville and my business being fashion, of course I knew the owner. Brooke Baxter is the woman behind Arrow & Anchor. She’s one of those gals who I don’t see often enough, but when I do, it makes me really happy. And on top of being kind and personable, she’s also a terrific businesswoman with killer taste. (Check out A&A’s Instagram. See what I mean?)

I told Millie I’d broker a meeting. Alas, I dropped the ball (it happens); she and Brooke never hooked up. Even so, Millie never quit using A&A’s Instagram as a reference. Brooke’s rings were always the ideal.

Fast forward to last February, when Matt texted me to say he’d take me up on my offer to help. A week later, without Millie’s knowledge, Brooke showed up at my house to meet us, toting a sturdy nylon travel bag filled with fabulous rings – just not the fabulous ring Matt was looking for.

Not deterred, she promised to look for The Ring on her trip to LA that week. A few days later, she texted us some options she’d found, including a Victorian-era cluster with a beautiful hand-cut center diamond. It was perfect.

Two weeks ago, during a hike at Radnor Lake, Matt pulled the ring out of his pocket and asked Millie to marry him.

Of course, I’d be thrilled for my sister even if her engagement ring was made of tin foil. But it’s not, and it makes me extra-happy that someone I know and respect had a part in such an important milestone in my family history. The ring that Brooke tracked down is now a part of Millie’s life story. That’s pretty powerful.

When Brooke and I sat down last weekend for our TCR chat, I discovered that this is one of her favorite parts of doing business. She gets a lot of joy out of helping special pieces of antique jewelry find their lucky next owners.  And, as you’ll read, spreading good juju is part of the deal.

A Nashville native, Brooke moved to Maryland when she was 14 with her mom and brother, Rayland, now a popular Nashville-based singer-songwriter. Music’s in the family: Brooke’s dad is Bucky Baxter, a well-known and highly respected multi-instrumentalist (sample gig: he played pedal steel guitar with Dylan in the ‘90s).

A personal love of jewelry led Brooke to start Arrow & Anchor, during a stint in NYC. She brought her business with her when she moved back to her hometown four years ago. Today, Brooke takes A&A on the road to sell at high-end vintage fairs, including A Current Affair, though the majority of her sales come from trunk shows and via her well-followed Instagram account.

Part of the fun in doing TCR is matching my subjects with photographers and locations. I must say, I’m feeling pretty smug about my idea to ask the insanely creative Brett Warren to shoot Brooke wearing her rings with coordinating nail art provided by the team at Poppy & Monroe, the six-month-old Germantown natural beauty mecca, owned by the very cool Karen Kops and Sherri Coates. (Read more about them and P&M here.)

One day last week, Karen and Sherri generously opened their salon four hours early to accommodate our shoot. Brooke showed up with a mass of rings and watches from her personal and retail collections, as well as pieces from her stash of vintage satin bomber jackets (she has over 30, ranging from Japanese souvenir numbers to tour memorabilia her dad picked up on the road back in the ‘70s). In addition to the materials for a mini marble set he built on the fly (so brilliant), Brett came armed with an arsenal of tiny plastic toy animal props that he’d spray-painted white.

Team TCR was given the run of the place not to mention the expertise of P&M’s in-house nail art goddess, Leah, who made strategic changes to Brooke’s mani as the shoot progressed. To say I’m jazzed about the results is a grave understatement. Big thanks to everyone who worked on this story.

Most of all, I send thanks to Brooke, for a thoughtful and candid interview about life, love and excellent jewelry. Enjoy.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

TCR: You have a created a pretty sweet gig for yourself, my friend. A lot of people I know would love to spend their days surrounded by diamonds and gold and other sparkly things.

BROOKE: I wonder sometimes how I got into this. We weren’t raised privileged by any means. I didn’t have any jewelry as a kid at all, or anything nice for that matter. So, the fact that I’m walking around with all of this jewelry on me at all times, people are probably like, “What is this girl’s deal?  She’s like the gold queen.” I have, like, sixty bracelets on. I know that I come off looking a certain way and it could not be further from my reality. I trip out on that sometimes, and I can only imagine what it looks like to other people. I’m not this insane flashy person, you know? Everything else about me is pretty low-key.

TCR: Unlike so many people I talk to in town these days, you’re actually from Nashville.  

BROOKE: Yeah, I was born here. My parents divorced when I was four, but I lived here until I was 14, when my mom, my brother, and I moved to Maryland. She’s a nurse and worked at Johns Hopkins. I went to high school there, and then I moved to New York in my mid-twenties.

My dad’s always lived here. He traveled so much when we were kids. We saw him just as much living somewhere else as we would have if we had been here in town.

TCR: I know you spent a month in LA last winter. It strikes me as a natural fit for you for some reason. Did you ever live there?

BROOKE: I don’t think that I could. Like, I love LA and I have friends out there. And you can’t beat the way that you feel when you’re there. But my friend group here is so good and my girlfriends are so great. I would be so bummed if I left them. It would change my life in the biggest way.

I’m not super involved in my family. They’re all over the place. My friends are 100 percent my family. I could never leave them. 

TCR: Selfishly, I’m glad you’re with us for the long haul. So, you more or less launched your business on Instagram, right?

BROOKE: Yeah, by default. It just blew up. I started with a website, built the Instagram to support the website, and then took the website down because I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do. I don’t know many people, including myself, who would go online and buy a really expensive one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry without seeing it in person.

The trunk show thing happened when I started going to A Current Affair. From then on, I had a system, and it became really familiar and comfortable. I love doing trunk shows. I love talking to people about jewelry. I do them in LA and New York and at H. Audrey in Nashville. And I do private shows, too, out of people’s homes. 

I didn’t think that I would enjoy doing this so much. One time, my long time ex-boyfriend said something to me that he meant as an insult: “You know, Arrow & Anchor is just a cocktail conversation.” I was so hurt by it. 

I remember exactly where I was when he said it. It was after we had broken up and I remember thinking, this is why I’m not with you anymore. But then I realized he’s right: it is a cocktail conversation. I spend a lot of time socially talking about it. It’s the first thing that people ask when they see me. Like, what’s going on? Do you have new stuff? Tell me about this piece that I saw on Instagram… Or, Can you find this for me? I’ve gotten a lot of sales from these “cocktail conversations.”

My business is a cocktail conversation and it’s one that I’m really passionate about. When you have a small business it really is your life. So, I was like, yeah, I’m not going to be with you anymore. I’m going to take my cocktail conversation elsewhere.

TCR: What did you do before Arrow & Anchor?

BROOKE: I went to school to be an aesthetician when I was 19. I had a long-standing salon job through high school. That’s how I learned how to interact with people. I was painfully shy until I got that job when I was fifteen. In a salon you have to hold your own, you know?

I worked there for years and it was awesome. It was when the economy was good and people were still getting facials. So about ten years ago, I started my own little studio in Annapolis, Maryland. But right around that same time, medical aesthetics were becoming big. So for the same price as a facial, you could go to a plastic surgeon’s office and get the microderm facial or a chemical peel and your results were better. So I closed down. My boyfriend and I moved to New York shortly after that. And then I didn’t work for a while.

During that period, I really lost a lot of who I was. I had gotten engaged, and toward the end of our relationship, I gave my fiancé back the stone in the center of my engagement ring, but I kept the setting. Last year, I did a piece about my personal collection of jewelry for a friend of mine that has a great blog called Gem Gossip. In the post, I said that I keep the empty setting as a reminder of how you can be a partner with someone but still feel so empty, even while you’re going through an engagement. We were together for nine years and I felt empty all that time. I spent years trying to re-establish who I was. That didn’t 100-percent kick in until we broke up and I was like, okay, I have no choice now. I have to re-establish who Brooke is and what she’s doing and what’s important to her.

We were together for the first two or three years of Arrow & Anchor. The past couple of years it has just been me. It became a necessity for me to make this business work. And I think that that’s really what I needed. Like, I had to have that happen. As an individual, I have changed so much during this. It’s been a great experience.

I keep the setting and look at it sometimes. It really does take me back to that feeling of being so empty.

I think that jewelry is like that, you know? I remember where I got every piece I have. I usually remember how much I paid for it. I just remember. I know who sold it to me, where it was purchased, all that stuff. 

Jewelry holds a story. I’ve had really interesting sales transactions. Like, a woman came into H. Audrey a few weeks ago to buy a jacket. It was when I was having a trunk show, so she checked out what I had. While she was looking, she explained to me that her sister had just lost her son and that she wanted to get her something really nice, that her sister needed something like that in her life right now. I was, like, Oh my God. I’ll never forget where the ring I sold her is now. It’s like I have a photographic memory with those transactions. 

TCR: Each piece has its own history, its own life. I know in the case of Millie’s ring, it’s Victorian, from France. And you told Matt that it was made before machines started cutting diamonds, so the facets were made by hand. That’s become part of Millie’s story now.

I know how much she loves her ring. And I know she’s not the first woman to love it. It’s so moving to me to think about how much each of these rings has been loved over the years. And that power stays with them. 

BROOKE: I think a lot of pieces carry really great things, but sometimes they don’t. Old stones especially carry a lot of energy.

I just gave a friend of mine a watch fob. It’s a flip-able kind of Victorian thing with a bloodstone in it, which he loves. He’s a musician, and was wearing it on stage. He was having a string of less than average shows. After that, he told me, “I’ve had some really crappy shows and I’m wondering if it’s this fob”.  And I was like, “Oh my God, take it off.”  And then a few weeks later, he said, “Brooke, I took it off, and I feel like my shows have gotten better.” And I’m like, OK, well take some sage and swing it over that thing or send it back to me and I’ll deal with it. (Laughter)

TCR: OK, who is your typical customer?

BROOKE: Hmm, my friends. Isn’t that funny? Most people that buy from me through my Instagram are jewelry collectors. And then the people that buy the things that I love the most are usually my friends.

I think I’m all of my girlfriends’ husbands’ worst nightmares. I swear to God, they’re just like, “Hide your wallet. Hide your credit cards. Brooke’s coming over with her box of rings.”

I think there’s a funny balance between selling stuff and then making it intentional, you know? I never want to be the used car salesman of jewelry where I’m just like, “Check out my stuff.”  You know?

I’ve actually made friends with people who initially wanted me to come over to their house and sell them jewelry. That’s how a lot of my favorite sales happen. My cocktail conversation expands into friendship a lot of the time.

TCR: What was the first piece of jewelry you sold? 

BROOKE: I started with a certain amount of money and did one immediate buy of 15 pieces. The first piece that I sold was a pearl cluster ring, with turquoise in the center and pearls all around. It was a really cute flower piece. Those were actually all Instagram sales. And then I sourced some engagement rings for friends. That's kind of a new thing for me. Instead of just buying inventory, I can actually find a ring for you. That process has been really fun because I’ve established some great relationships with vendors. The jewelry industry is weird. You have to really trust the people that you are working with. And so, I have, over time, established great relationships with people who’ve become friends, people that I really like dealing with. 

TCR: Has the style of rings you sell changed over time?

BROOKE: At the beginning, nine out of ten pieces were art deco. And then I went through a stage that was Victorian. And now I have a lot of everything, whether it’s silver or these Cartier pieces, a couple of engagement rings. Clusters are really big right now. Not long ago I went off, like, totally left field and started getting really modern mid-century pieces. They’re really expensive, because a lot of them are heavy weight, made from a lot of gold. But they’ll have, like, really funky lapis inlays or malachite or tiger’s eyes (stones). 

And then, the watch thing started. I started selling watches about a year and a half ago. I feel like they go so well with a lot of the stuff that I do. It’s a whole other ball game, though. Watch people are more particular than jewelry people. 

TCR: When you talk about selling watches, I get this image of you walking up in sunglasses and a long coat and opening one side to show me what you got. 

BROOKE: People make jokes like that all the time. They’re like, we’re just waiting for you to show up with a trench coat full of jewelry. Like, “What do you need?” 

TCR: As we’ve discussed, jewelry has a powerful draw. Are there pieces that you get that you can’t part with? How do you decide what to keep and what to let go?

BROOKE: When my financial situation was different, it used to be a lot harder. I’ve gotten really good at letting things go. My Cartier pieces - I swore I would never let them go. But there’s a local woman who comes in to H. Audrey and she wanted a particular one. And it just felt right to sell it to her. I really like her, and she really wanted this ring. So I sold it to her, because it felt like what I should do. And I still feel really good about it. 

But that was the last one. I said I would never sell (my personal Cartier pieces) and now I have. I think in general, I’ve gotten much better at letting material things be material things and not stand for anything more than that. Whereas I think I spent a lot of time in my 20’s being very materialistic and very concerned with the things that I had. But it all just overshadowed the fact that I was just lost and didn’t really know what I was grasping at. Things were easiest to hold on to, you know? 

I live with a lot less now than I did. I was just talking to my friend this morning about how much happier I am. But it’s been a process for sure.