LOS ANGELES — Most of us are collectors, whether we display our obsessions in the workplace or hide them in their original boxes at home. We devote hours to researching and buying wine and designer bags, comic books and antique buttons, action figures and shoes.
Neil Zevnik is a slave to costume jewelry.
Zevnik has been an actor, a personal chef (his client list has included Liz Taylor and Pierce Brosnan) and a marine mammal rescuer, but it’s his 21-year-old hobby that has turned into an obsession. His costume jewelry collection numbers in the thousands; his reference library includes at least 70 books. Most of us have boxes of stuff, but his stuff makes for a bejeweled timeline – telling the story of how women chose to adorn themselves in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“Costume jewelry is a weird thing for a guy to collect, but it has always attracted me,” Zevnik says.
“I love the fact that these things have had a life. In the 1800s, the way people behaved was so different, yet here is a piece from that time that still performs its function. I find that exciting.”
There are Victorian wedding bracelets and a mourning locket with hair of the deceased; Siamese bracelets and necklaces crafted from silver and black enamel; ’30s- and ’40s-era Eisenberg fur clips; a 1940s Marcel Boucher moonstone-glass necklace, bracelet, pin and earrings set in heavy rhodium plate; Victorian paste shoe buckles; 1920s “runway necklaces” set with Czech crystals in brass; and an 1840 choker with black dot paste stones.
Many pieces emanated from famous houses: D&E Juliana, Trifari, Schiaparelli, Haskell, Hattie Carnegie, Ciner and Vendome among them. Some pieces are signed. The costume jewelry fills container after container; much of it is housed in vintage boxes.
Zevnik admits to loving “the thrill of the hunt.” He has purchased collections from estate sales and flea markets and spends hours on eBay, where good buys can still be found upon occasion. Friends send friends to him with vintage pieces.
Zevnik lends jewelry, which he refers to as “jools,” to friends (Willow Bay wore a bracelet to the Academy Awards) and acquaintances. He sells a few pieces, those that he can part with, at the Alex Roldan Salon at the London hotel in West Hollywood, with a percentage of sales going to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. And he donates some proceeds to other good causes.
“There’s a magpie side of me,” Zevnik says. “I’m entranced by things that sparkle.”