Return to San Juan: Vintage jewelry shopping

The view from our room at the La Concha Renaissance in San Juan, Puerto Rico

It’s been a very long time since we bought anything that could be remotely associated with the term  “souvenir” when we’re traveling.  In the early years we’d bring home the odd T-shirt, or even a mug.  We usually eschewed all those bits of knick-knacks that are always on offer no matter where you’re traveling.  Even in cities like New York, look hard enough and you’ll find city memorabilia.  Just take a walk down Yonge Street in Toronto and you’ll be assailed with all manner of flags, sweatshirts and crystal reproductions of the CN Tower.

But not for us.  Travel shopping has taken on a whole new meaning.

The pleasures of consignment shopping on vacation are legion.  And although we’re not vintage people (the only antiques you’ll find in our home are a gramophone Art inherited from his parents and an antique organ left to our son Ian by his grand-father that we’re housing until he puts down permanent roots or we sell it: whichever comes first).  We like to be surrounded by new.  But that doesn’t necessarily extend to everything in our lives.  Case in point: our recent trip to Puerto Rico.

Ramón López – the unassuming store front

It all started two years ago when we spent a few days in San Juan en route to a southern Caribbean cruise.  We had been in San Juan only once before – and only for one day.  We had not been impressed.  This time, however, we decided to give it a try.  We discovered a city and an island that has the best of the old and the new.  With miles of pristine beaches to walk, rain forests to explore and shops to discover, we were in heaven.  On our last day in old San Juan as we wandered among the cobble-stoned streets lined with restored 400-year-old Spanish style buildings, we stumbled upon a small shop whose windows were filled with the most extraordinary jewelry we’d ever seen.  Although we had already done our requisite vacation shopping (and had reached our customs limit which we will never exceed since we value our Nexus cards), we knew that we were window shopping only.  We entered.

We chatted with the proprietor who knew that we were not buying, but that didn’t matter to him.  He was delighted to show us anything and everything.  Every necklace he put around Patty’s neck, every pair of shirt studs he showed Art all had a story.  And these were stories we vowed we would return to hear more about.  So, last month we were true to our word, and the shop was our first stop in old San Juan.

Patty examines the pieces with proprietor, Ramón López

With an unassuming exterior, Ramón López’s shop on calle Fortaleza is a treasure trove of history and beauty.  And the proprietor himself, who next year will celebrate 50 years in business in this exact location, is a true gentleman, proud of his work and clearly possessed of an extraordinary eye for quality pieces.

Sr. López is a well-known figure in the vintage jewelry business, having been featured in magazine articles over the course of his storied career.  His pieces are acquired mostly from direct purchases from Puerto Rican estates.  As we tried on piece after piece, we were swept back to a time in San Juan’s history when the grand ladies would alight from carriages and make their way to the Teatro Tapia, built in 1832, now one of the oldest theaters in the western hemisphere.  Their ball gowns would be exquisitely complemented by the necklaces adorning their throats and the bracelets dripping from their wrists.  And now those pieces are in the cases at Ramón López Vintage and Estate Jeweler.

As Sr. López offered piece after piece of jewelry for us to try, Art commented that he had remarkable sales skills.

The display cases were filled with thousands of pieces of jewelry from Puerto Rican estates.

“No,” he said shaking his head, “There is no need when you have the merchandise.”  With that he clasped another bracelet onto Patty’s wrist.  So right he is!

Before we left, he shared with us several photos of his children – one a lawyer, the other a medical student – and introduced us to his wife, a lawyer, who looks after the business end of things now.  We waved good-bye as we assured him we’d be back – then we emerged back into the brilliant sunshine of old San Juan.

Oh, did we buy anything?  But of course!

Ramón López featured several years ago in a magazine spread

Ramón López is located in old San Juan at 256 Fortaleza. 

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9 thoughts on “Return to San Juan: Vintage jewelry shopping

  1. My husband and I had the honor of buying our wedding bands from Senor Ramon Lopez. He and his beautiful wife (Magali) became our friends and our Padrino y Madrina. The two of them were our witnesses when we married at the Ritz Carlton San Juan PR. In memory of this “artist” and great friend your article conjured up wonderful memories of the great times we shared with him and a sadness in our hearts that will never be filled. Con much amor, Antonio y Monica Cervantes.

    1. We’re so happy that this piece brought back such fond memories. Thank-you for stopping by our blog and leaving this lovely message.

    2. He shared that story with me many a time. In fact, I believe a picture of your wedding night is in one of our display cases. Thank you for such fond memories of my father and for sharing them with me.

  2. Hello. My name is Bristol López. I am Ramón’s son (the lawyer). I know I haven’t met you and you haven’t met me (although from my dad’s stories it might seem like you have), I just wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing this story.

    1. Bristol, it was our pleasure and privilege to have met your father, a true gentelman. We will certainly return to his shop on future visits to wonderful San Juan. Thank-you for stopping by our blog.

      1. Unfortunately, Mr. Ramon Lopez Jerez passed away in December 2012. He had the best jewelry store in Puerto Rico. He was like a Prince and a genius in his field.

  3. Yes, I always buy some souvenirs whenever I visit a new place. It can be anything from a T-shirt to memento to a key-chain to postcard to a flag and so on. 🙂

    1. It is nice to have a memory, isn’t it? When we took our (then) 10-year-old son on a European tour 13 years ago, we gave him money to select one item to buy in each country visited. He still has the little “Mozart” he picked in Austria!

      1. That’s a great way to remember things picked up earlier in life. I am sure he remembers what made him choose that. 🙂

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