The definition of “vintage jewelry” has evolved since Cameron Silver founded the influential vintage store Decades in 1997, but one thing remains the same: true style is the ability to wear vintage in a modern way. Cameron joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about what he looks for when choosing vintage pieces, why the vintage market continues to grow, and why jewelry and accessories are having a moment right now. Read the episode transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Cameron Silver, author, singer, actor and founder of Decades, a unique store specializing in vintage couture and designer fashions, including accessories and jewelry. Today he’ll tell us about his own journey into fashion and jewelry. Cameron, welcome to the program.
Cameron: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to speak with you.
Sharon: So glad to have you. Can you tell us about your jewelry journey? Did you always like jewelry? Did you get into vintage jewelry through vintage fashion? Give us a sense of that.
Cameron: I was probably interested in jewelry before fashion. My great grandparents were in the diamond and jewelry business in Chicago, so it’s in my DNA. That company doesn’t exist anymore, but I always loved everything that’s special and unique. I remember going to South America when I was three and a half. There was great jewelry in Brazil, even at that time. Anything that adorns and is unusual, especially if it’s a shiny object, catches my eye.
Sharon: Did you ever imagine this is what you’d be doing as a profession?
Cameron: No, I still can’t believe I’m doing it. This was a very fortuitous accident into luxury and vintage. I’d always appreciated the finer things, but I didn’t think it would turn into a 23-year-old business.
Sharon: Wow! That’s a long run. How would you define vintage? Is it by year or by a look?
Cameron: Well, it’s a very fluid definition. When I opened Decades in 1997, I would never sell anything that was later than 1981. Now, with the store being 23 years old, vintage has changed a little bit. There are pieces that are historically vintage, that are of the past. There are things that are what I’d call future collectables, such as pieces that are more recent but have the potential to become a vintage collectable, archival pieces. With the shift in fashion being so dramatic, pieces that are five or 10 years old are now getting more collectable. They’re not just used. They have a rarity, especially with designers who’ve passed away or creative directors who have changed brands. Vintage is usually 15 to 20 years old, but certainly something that’s from a few years ago can have value that may not be specifically vintage, but it’s a future collectable.
Sharon: That’s interesting. It’s like when you go to shows or look through vintage clothing, and you look at a piece and go, “Oh my god, I had that piece five years ago and now it’s a vintage piece.” Maybe it’s a future collectable. Who knows?
Cameron: Exactly. Think about it for young people who are interested in vintage. If someone is 17 years old and they see something that’s four years old, it’s a quarter of their lives. It’s a little in the eye of the beholder.
Sharon: That’s true, as is all jewelry and fashion. You emphasize that when you’re looking at vintage, you’re looking for things that are vintage but still modern. I realize it’s hard to articulate, but can you tell us about that?
Cameron: Certainly. When I first got attracted to vintage, I wasn’t looking for things that looked period or like Halloween costumes. I would see a 1930s dress and think about its modernity, or a 1970s men’s YSL suit and think about how relevant it was today. When I look for vintage, I ask myself, “Is this still modern? Is this sexy?” I’m being kind of vague. I ask, does it give you confidence; do you put it on and your spine gets a little bit straighter? And, of course, is the condition good? Decades and several of the stores that emerged in the late 90s that dealt with vintage really proposed a new way of looking at vintage as being modern, as opposed to being cosplay or something like that.
Sharon: How does that apply to jewelry? Do you look at jewelry as something to accessorize an outfit, or are you looking at it as a vintage piece on its own? How do you look at jewelry?
Cameron: With jewelry it’s a little different, because it doesn’t take as much space on your body. I have purchased things that are from 1915 for myself. I got a Tiffany pocket watch. I don’t know why I bought it, because I would never really use it, but I thought it was something cool and interesting. Most of the jewelry I’m attracted to tends to be 50s, 60s and 70s. I like a lot of 80s jewelry, not necessarily for me to wear, but I appreciate the boldness. When I look at contemporary jewelers, I’m interested in pieces that look modern, but at the same time aren’t what I would call disposable luxury pieces. I think it’s very exciting for jewelry designers to create modern heirlooms.
Sharon: When you say modern, do you mean it’s a vintage piece, but it looks like it could have been created yesterday? What do you mean by that?
Cameron: It’s a combination. It needs to look relevant today. I do not like anachronistic dressing. I think stylish people take a vintage piece and you would never know it’s vintage. It’s the same thing with jewelry. Buying jewelry can be a big investment. High jewelry is prohibitive, but I think it’s an investment because you want to have something that works through the trajectory of your life.
I have a piece of maharaja jewelry. I have a little Indian ring in my collection. I can’t see myself wearing a maharaja necklace per se, because I’m just not that cool, but I can see how someone could wear it looking very modern. However, if you wore it with all antique textiles, you would like you were an extra for a Bollywood film from the past.
Sharon: That’s true. I like the idea of finding something you can wear through the trajectory of your life. That’s hard to find.
Cameron: It is, but a savvy consumer makes smart investments. The more intelligent he or she gets with how they gather things that bring them pleasure and adorn the body, I think the eye gets more rarified. I certainly have a more intelligent eye now than I did 25 or 30 years ago.
Sharon: I would agree with that. I look at things I bought 25 years ago, jewelry pieces, and I look at it and go, “That’s certainly not me today or what I would want to wear today.” I like looking at them more like long-term investment pieces—not that I’m going to resell a diamond, but it’s going to last.
Cameron: Exactly. When I started having the access to buy better jewelry, I was smart by buying signed pieces. Those have been good investments. Where I failed was when I would buy something crazy and over-the-top that was better suited for Deion Sanders than myself. I bought some really dumb things, mostly at the Miami Antique show. That’s where I screwed up, because there are so many dealers there. I would see a diamond saddle that would be better for a cattle baron than someone like me, but I was attracted to it. I made a huge mistake buying an after-market diamond presidential Rolex. It was a stupid thing, but I thought it was fun and so over-the-top. I would never do that now. My jewelry taste has changed so substantially over the last year.
Sharon: Can you tell us about the change? Why has it been in the last year? Is it because of the pandemic?
Cameron: I think so. I did sell a lot of jewelry at Sotheby’s a couple of months ago. I had a fairly strong collection of men’s signed pieces. They’re rare, and I decided to curate my collection a little better. My friend, Jill Boylan, has a collection called Soul Journey Jewelry. She’s made me some beautiful bracelets of moonstones, beads, and a black diamond necklace. It has a more spiritual vibe to it, but I can wear it every day with a T-shirt. It’s not gaudy whatsoever.
I love what Jill is doing because I can stack a couple beaded bracelets that have a spiritual quality to them, and I don’t have to baby them. I can wear whatever with these bracelets. They’re on a string with elastic so they’re not expensive, but they’re well-made and well-designed. I think they’re what a lot of people are feeling right now. It’s something that’s a little spiritual, a little healing.
Sharon: Healing is a good word, yeah.
Cameron: Yes, and not ostentatious whatsoever.
Sharon: You’ve published a book, a beautiful book called “Decades,” which talks about your own journey and the journey of fashion through the decades. You talk about being attracted to Miriam Haskell jewelry. Is that the still the case? Why were you attracted then?
Cameron: Miriam Haskell is probably regarded as the most prolific designer of American quality costume jewelry, and when I saw quality costume jewelry, I mean that the great costume jewelers made jewelry like fine jewelers. When you look at the back of them, they’re beautifully made, but they’re just not made with precious stones or in gold or platinum. With Miriam Haskell, the DNA is very, very clear. You can identify those pieces immediately. I actually had the opportunity to collaborate and design a collection using the history and DNA of Haskell, but in a slightly more modern sensibility. The jewelry is still being handmade in New York City, and I love it because it’s iconic. I like things that are iconic.
Sharon: That’s interesting. You can look at a bunch of costume jewelry—I’m not trying to denigrate it, but you can look at it and pick out the Miriam Haskell pieces.
Cameron: Yes, she had a very distinctive quality. You can identify a Chanel jacket; you can identify a Hermes bag by the stitching and leather. Haskell, you can identify by the filigreed backing or the use of gold and pearl. It’s very identifiable, and it’s a DNA that other people have tried to appropriate. Haskell didn’t try to copy fine jewelers. She wasn’t trying to copy Bouchon or Van Cleef or Verdura. It was creating costume jewelry that was specifically—its design wasn’t trying to be something else. I like designers who have that talent, to invent a dialogue within their creation that’s specific to their talent.
Sharon: When you say dialogue, can you tell us what you mean by that?
Cameron: You can look at a piece and immediately identify it. Let’s say I see a current piece hanging on a rack at a boutique and I know what it is; I know who made that. The DNA is clear from the color story, embroidery or other motifs that represent this creator’s vocabulary. So, it becomes a dialogue. You have the creator’s vocabulary, you have the purveyor’s vocabulary, and then you have the client’s vocabulary, and the three create a conversation.
Sharon: That’s an interesting way to express it. Tell us about your clientele. If somebody comes in and buys a piece of high-end vintage couture, are they interested in the jewelry? I know you have jewelry to accessorize those pieces. Tell us about the people who come in; I’m curious.
Cameron: There’s a particularly strong accessory boom happening right now. Everyone’s dressing from their waist up for Zoom calls, so people are coming to the store looking for bolder pieces. It might be a vintage 70s necklace; it might be a pair of classic Chanel earrings; it could be a vintage Kenneth Jay Lane bracelet, because at some point they’re going to touch their hair when they’re on the call.
The people who come to the store—first of all, some people have to understand that quality costume jewelry isn’t cheap. Sometimes it’s very close in price to fine jewelry, especially rare pieces, so there’s that knowledge that has to be learned. We do sell some fine jewelry within the store. It’s not the emphasis, but we occasionally will have a connection with a jeweler or an estate collector. People who are interested in vintage or rare and unique, they’re interested in it for clothing, for jewelry, for handbags. It’s not just one focus. With costume jewelry, I like statement costume jewelry. I’m not really interested in something that’s too subtle. With costume jewelry, it’s nice to make a statement.
Sharon: Yes, and that’s a good point about dressing from the waist up. People are dressing so casually that it’s like, where are you going to wear your jewelry if it’s not with your pink sweatshirt? You have to really fit it in.
Cameron: I have noticed that a lot of the current jewelers that are very popular and among friends of mine who are jewelers, they’re having very strong business. I’m not talking about costume jewelry; I’m talking about real gold and real gemstones. People are buying those pieces. They are many who are very fortunate. At this time, their incomes have not changed, and they now have a significant amount of disposable income because they’re not going out to restaurants; they’re not traveling as much; they’re not buying full wardrobes, so people are looking at jewelry. It’s a very good jewelry moment right now.
Sharon: That’s a good point. When I’ve talked to dealers, they tell me that it’s going strong. I think it’s because people are on Instagram all day. They’re looking online all day and saying, “What else do you have?” You may still have work to do, but what else are you going to do? You’re not going to go out in the evening.
Cameron: Yeah, and I think people want to adorn themselves. I talked about intelligent consuming. I think the last year has taught us a lot about what we buy, how we buy it and what we do with it, but with jewelry, we don’t buy it to wear it once. I don’t think anyone should buy anything to wear once. I think that is the most foolish notion and the most unsophisticated way of dressing. This idea that it’s not chic to repeat—I really want people to repeat and wear things over and over again. One of the great ways to make something in your wardrobe look fresh is to change your accessories. That’s where jewelry, be it fine or costume or a mix of both, can freshen your wardrobe.
Sharon: That’s a very good point. I’m curious, why do you want people to wear the fashion they buy from you over and over? Just to get their money’s worth out of it?
Cameron: There certainly is the environmental aspect, which is paramount, because we can’t keep dumping things constantly. You can buy affordable fast fashion, and it doesn’t have to be atrocious for the environment if it rotates in your closet for a period of time. Whenever we’re buying, I want to encourage people to look at how it will last in your lifetime. When you think about anyone who’s had a retrospective at the Met, for example, Jacqueline de Ribes, Nan Kempner, they didn’t wear anything once. She would buy something and it would rotate in her closet. Iris Apfel, do you think she would have a collection this large if she was only wearing it once? No. That’s the beauty of style, if she can take something from one culture and one period and mix it all together.
That is my wish for us in post-pandemic fashion, especially for Hollywood, because there’s been this ridiculous notion that a celebrity can only wear it once, or only one person can wear it. There’s this Real Housewives meanness about who wore it better. What I want to see is how they wore it differently. I love that Cate Blanchett is repurposing all these things in her closet and rotating things. She’s taking something amazing from Armani Privé, but it has a shelf life for more than 45 minutes on the red carpet.
Sharon: That’s a great thought. No, it doesn’t make any sense. Besides the environment, to wear something once and then give it to a resale shop, it’s like, you’ve got to be kidding me. Where do you think vintage jewelry and fashion will go from here? Do you think it’s a trend? Do you think it’ll grow? What do you think?
Cameron: It’s definitely having a renaissance. Everybody wants vintage or pre-loved. The notion of wearing something archival or something that someone else owned from a vintage or consignment shop, something that might be a year or two years old, is really cool. It doesn’t give people the same heebie-jeebies that it may have a few years ago. Vintage helped demystify the idea of something pre-loved, and now we’re all excited about mixing something modern or current with something vintage or used. I think it will continue to grow.
I love how so many designers are interested in using archival fabrics or repurposing end-of-season stock and making it look fresh again. There’s a beautiful cashmere brand Ennui from Italy, and they use a significant amount of recycled cashmere. I love that Nicole Miller is taking archival fabrics to make face masks. There are all these different ways of keeping the lifeline of products and finding other uses for them. Vintage helped created this urgency, and certainly with more consciousness it’s evolved into every aspect of consuming.
Sharon: I think all of us will shop vintage after listening to this. I know I certainly am. We’re going to go to our closets and think, “How can I put a different piece of jewelry on this?” or “How can I do something different that’s going to freshen it up?” I’m still wearing the same piece, something that perhaps I’ve worn over and over, but you can give it a new direction. Cameron, thank you so much for giving us some great ideas and a perspective on vintage. For people listening, when you’re in Los Angeles, if you have a chance to go to Decades on Melrose, as your description says, it’s a unique place where you’re going to find fashion you would not find elsewhere, definitely. Thank you so much for being here today.
Cameron: It was great chatting, and have a great afternoon.
Sharon: Thank you so much. We will have images posted on the website. You can find us wherever you download your podcasts, and please rate us. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional who will share their experience and expertise. Thank you so much for listening.