Woman buys $2 thrift store necklace that turns out to be a $3,000 work of art

Aaronel deRoy Gruber necklace found by Jess Smith at thrift shop
TikTok/Jess Smith

Jess Smith wasn’t looking for buried treasure when she went thrift shopping last June. As an artist and collector, she documents some of her quirky finds on a TikTok account (@thehappygravedigger), but that artist’s eye helped her spot what turned out to be a rare find: A piece of 50 year-old jewelry worth upwards of $3,000.

And what did Smith pay for this diamond in the rough? $1.99.

@thehappygravedigger My best thrift find! Genuine artist-made vintage plexiglass necklace! #storytime #thrift #thriftfinds #bestthriftfinds #thriftflip #thriftingfinds ♬ original sound – The Happy Grave Digger Art

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In the TikTok clip above, Smith tells how she found the “very large, neon and translucent” necklace at her favorite thrift store in Pittsburgh.

“I saw this really weird necklace hanging there with this giant clear pendant on it. And when I say giant, I mean it was a big pendant, easily two by two or three by three inches,” Smith later told Business Insider. She decided the “funky-looking” necklace was worth a couple dollars and took it home.

The odd, 3D piece of jewelry has a distinctive look, and some on Smith’s TikTok even jokingly referred to it as a “Tide pod.” It gives off distinct 1970-era vibes, and sure enough, Smith found a signature scrawled on the bottom with what appeared to be a year: 1973. She used Google Lens to do a bit of internet sleuthing and found necklaces that looked very similar to the one she now owned. They were the work of an artist named Aaronel deRoy Gruber, who became famous in the 1970s art world for her colorful plexiglass sculptures. The artist did, however, create several necklaces with the same visual theme and materials.

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Smith contacted the Irving and Aaronel deRoy Gruber Foundation, which is based in Pittsburgh, to see if the pendant might be a long lost Gruber piece, and got a call back from the foundation’s director within 12 hours.

“The first thing she said to me was, ‘I don’t even have to see it in person. I know that is a real Gruber necklace,'” Smith said.

Smith was told that the necklace was a high-quality example of the late artist’s work and could fetch from $2,800 to $3,200 on the collector’s market — and maybe more. That’s an impressive return on a $2 investment, but in the end, Smith’s appreciation for art won out over her desire for a quick buck. Today, the necklace is part of the Gruber Foundation’s gallery, on a loan from its lucky finder.

“The loan lasts about a year, so I’m probably going to keep it for a while after and then send it back,” she said. “It’ll be multiple cycles of doing that before I even think about selling it.”

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About the Author
Tod Caviness
Tod covered everything from nightlife to Orlando's literary scene (yes, it has one) during his 11 years with the Orlando Sentinel. These days, he's a freelance journalist and recovering poet who lives in Central Florida with his lovely wife, two brilliant kids and one underachieving dog.

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