It comes by Brink's truck and is hand-delivered by security guards. It is served up on silver platters and in lighted glass vitrines at chi-chi cocktail parties. The finest jewelry in the world is in Hollywood during the weeks leading up to the Golden Globes and Oscars. Because no matter how valuable a diamond may be, a photo of a celebrity wearing one on the red carpet is priceless.
Awards show season is the Super Bowl of celebrity placement. The world's biggest jewelry brands (Harry Winston, Cartier, Chopard, Tiffany & Co., Bulgari, Van Cleef & Arpels, Fred Leighton, Pomellato) are competing with hometown favorites (Neil Lane, Martin Katz, Loree Rodkin), brash newcomers (Kimberly McDonald, Stephen Webster, Solange Azagury-Partridge) and mass-market players (Kwiat, Le Vian) for the chance to bejewel Hollywood's beauties and dazzle armchair fashion fans watching around the globe.
One sparkling moment in the celebrity spotlight can be worth millions in advertising for a jewelry brand. The styles celebrities choose to wear set trends that trickle all the way down to the mall's fast-fashion copycats.
"That image of a celebrity wearing drop earrings or a dramatic necklace and all the many ways it is shown and commented on in the weeks after the awards shows … there is no way to quantify the value," says Victoria Gomelsky, editor of JCK magazine, a trade publication for retail jewelers. The Tiffany tassel earrings worn by Natalie Portman at last year's Academy Awards "had an enormous repercussion on the market." Jewelry worn in the hair is another trend that was sparked by celebrities wearing brooches and bracelets in their awards night 'dos. And Le Vian successfully changed the perception of brown diamonds by renaming them "chocolate diamonds" and lending them to Halle Berry and other celebrities to wear on the red carpet.
For jewelers doing the lending, having a piece on the red carpet "ratchets up the sense of mystique about a brand and creates awareness," Gomelsky says. The red carpet has become so central to the industry that some brands are willing to pay celebrities to wear their jewelry. For last year's Academy Awards, Tiffany & Co. reportedly paid Anne Hathaway $750,000 to wear Tiffany jewels onstage while she was hosting the event. And Gwyneth Paltrow was rumored to have picked up a $500,000 paycheck to wear pieces from Louis Vuitton's L'Ame du Voyage fine jewelry collection. (Neither brand has commented on the specifics, and it's not in a business' best interest to be too public about paying for exposure, but over the last few years some labels have acknowledged having "contractual relationships" with stars.)
Swiss jeweler Chopard is co-hosting a Golden Globes after-party Sunday with the Weinstein Co., which distributed "The Artist," and the film's star Berenice Bejo has been wearing Chopard jewels to red carpet events. Tilda Swinton, the face of Pomellato, is set to host a party Jan. 30, in the middle of awards show season, to celebrate the recent opening of Pomellato's Rodeo Drive boutique.
Other jewelers use cocktails and canapes to court the attention of celebrities, hoping to build relationships and loyalties that will lead to future sales. Award season buzzes with parties designed to woo wealthy shoppers and borrowers alike.
On Tuesday night at Culina at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, for instance, Jacqueline Nerguizian was plying fashion stylists and style influencers with Champagne and her own version of a Super Bowl ring — a 4-carat center diamond surrounded by princess-cut sapphires. Although she has been in the business 20 years in Scottsdale, Ariz., it is the designer's first award show season.
Valued at $50,000, the ring hasn't yet made it to an award show, but it did make it to the Golden Globes nomination ceremony Dec. 15. "Modern Family" star Sofia Vergara wore it and is now in the process of buying it, the designer confirmed.
Up on Sunset Boulevard at Bar Nineteen 12 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, InStyle magazine and Forevermark, a diamond brand in the De Beers family, were showcasing sparklers by up-and-coming jewelry designers. Actress Michelle Williams breezed through, followed by Jessica Alba. "I am just hoping for some good placements," jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald said looking at her handiwork — two bangles with nearly 70 carats of irregularly sized diamonds set inside.
Earlier in the day, jeweler-to-the-stars Neil Lane's West Hollywood store was buzzing with security guards and fashion stylists. "I'm here to pick up for Julie Benz," a young woman said to the representative behind the counter. "We want earrings and bracelets, but no necklaces."
It's difficult to pin down exactly when the practice of lending jewelry for the red carpet started. By the 1930s, Paul Flato, the original jeweler to the stars, was already lending his designs to the studios for celebrities to wear in films, so it is likely that they wore them on special occasions too.
But Harry Winston has long claimed to have been the first to lend diamonds to a star to wear to the Academy Awards. It was 1944, and at the request of producer David O. Selznick, a friend of the jeweler, Harry Winston lent a pair of diamond earrings to his future wife Jennifer Jones, who won the lead actress award for the film "The Song of Bernadette" that year.
The earrings aren't visible in photos, and nobody knows what happened to them afterward, but the moment has nonetheless become part of Harry Winston lore. The firm lends out millions of dollars worth of diamonds every year, including the $165,000 princess-cut diamond choker Gwyneth Paltrow wore with a pink Ralph Lauren ball gown when she won an Oscar for 1998's "Shakespeare in Love." After the ceremony, Paltrow's father Bruce bought it for her.
"It's a company commitment," says Frederic de Narp, Harry Winston's president and chief executive. "We have a dedicated team, PR effort and craftsman effort. We pull from all 22 of our salons around the world so celebrities can pick and choose the best of the best."
The red carpet wasn't the international luxury fashion phenomenon that it is today until the 1990s, when Giorgio Armani saw an opportunity and began dressing Hollywood for award shows.
Jeweler Martin Katz didn't know what he was in for when Sharon Stone called him in 1992 asking to borrow a pearl necklace and earrings to wear to the premiere of "Basic
"I said, 'Borrow?'" Katz remembers. "If she breaks it or loses it, it's too bad, Martin. And it's not as if she was going to wear a sandwich board with my name on it." Katz agreed on one condition: that Stone wear his jewelry while doing magazine publicity for the film and that his name be in the fashion credits.
That simple agreement changed Katz's career and the red carpet forever. "My phone stared ringing off the hook," he says. "I had to hire publicists to deal with the phone calls. Jewelers around the world were offering me pieces to put on celebs; people were even giving me scripts to show celebs."