“It’s in here. I know it’s in here!”
Larry Kiss digs elbow-deep in tissue paper, searching for the perfect pin. “Here it is!” he exclaims, pulling out a delicate silver-stemmed chrysanthemum. This is one of the first pieces I ever bought for my mother. When I was six or seven, I would go to the five and dime to buy her jewelry. I still have pieces of hers. She wore them until the day she died.”
Larry would peer out his bedroom window in Queens, New York, to spy Rikers Island and the majestic Manhattan skyline just beyond. Glitter and gold grabbed him from the get-go. “I have an older brother,” the upbeat, 76-year-old shares. “He was into sports. I was into paper dolls.” His mother’s sense of style, even on a limited budget, fueled his interest in high-end fashion and costume jewelry. “We’d go to the A&P,” Peggy’s youngest son shares in his heavy New York accent. “We didn’t have a pot to piss in, or window to throw it out, but she was immaculate. She would wear white gloves, with military stitching, and she had this big uncut, smoky topaz ring that she would wear on top of the glove. She liked ornateness and had a great sense of humor.”
The city beckoned, and after graduating from Queens College with studies in English and art, Larry spent the next four decades in the city. He used his growing connections to continue to buy his mother baubles and beads, but also started curating treasures with Charles, his “lover, friend, pal, chum, buddy” of 30 years. “I’m an eclectic collector,” he explains with a hearty laugh. “Japanese porcelains, woodblock prints, Waterford crystal, Steuben crystal, umbrellas if I need one.”
No doubt, his cache of hundreds of brooches, bracelets, and earrings is the largest of his groupings, totaling an estimated $40,000–$50,000. He says he’ll hang onto some pieces forever, like the bracelet Charles gave him before he passed away in 2003. But the remaining goodies move in and out of a fanciful glass case at Rock House Antiques.
Larry’s 10 fingers, five of which are covered in rings, move about the display dripping in a rainbow of rhinestones. Camrose & Kross pieces hand-selected by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reign above an entire shelf of pavé pineapples, fish, and birds. Mexican silver sundials sit alongside vintage pins from a golden era on the silver screen. Almost all of his pieces come from thrift stores, street fairs. and flea markets. “It’s crazy,” the silver-topped septuagenarian admits. “Most people are just trying to get rid of Mom’s old pieces. I’ve always had a good eye. It has to jump out at me. If it’s blingy and big, I got to get it if the price is right. If you can’t see it from across the street, it ain’t big enough.”
Those streets now include Greenville’s Main Street. Larry kissed New York good-bye and moved south in 2016, after visiting a friend. “It’s not as difficult as I thought it would be,” the on-the-go antiquarian reveals of the transition. “We have a great symphony and one of the best small museums I’ve ever been to, and some of the best restaurants.” While exploring (and looking for pins), he stumbled into Rock House Antiques, where they let him set up a display table for Christmas, which grew into Mother’s Day and Father’s Day tables, and finally a permanent case.
Today, the fashion-forward collector strolls through the shop off Mauldin Road as if he’s about to miss the 6 train to Gramercy Park. Co-workers know to look him over from head to toe, as a gold bee is prone to sit upon his shoulder, or a crystal earring saddled upon his shoe. He pauses when asked if he considers his vintage swag art, or jewelry. “Juliana no longer exists. Eisenberg no longer exists. There used to be 200–300 jewelry manufacturers in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s unfortunate, a lot of stuff is coming into this country and it’s beautiful, but if you look at the quality . . . ” The Bling King cannot finish the sentence. It’s as if he can’t bring himself to admit the days of classic glamour with gold-plated metals drowning in sizzling stones are gone—proving what a precious gem this jeweler truly is.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey. Special thanks to Isabelle Maquillage for Hair & Make-up, and Cheyenne Jennings of Directions USA. Visit Larry Kiss at Rock House Antiques on Friday afternoons, near his Three Kings Jewel Box case. 415 Mauldin Rd, Greenville.