Jewelers seek out red carpet exposure

Fortunately, there haven't been too many calamities along the way. But one notable accident occurred at the 1998 Oscars, when Minnie Driver's ruby bracelet snagged and broke and a couple dozen rubies went flying. "She was on her hands and knees with James Cameron, and luckily they found them all," Katz remembers.

Although he can't measure the results of each placement in one-to-one sales, he says the media attention has been invaluable. Katz went from working on his kitchen table in a one-bedroom apartment to working in his own salon on Brighton Way in Beverly Hills.

The growth of the Internet has made celebrity endorsements even more valuable, he says. A single placement lives for perpetuity on websites and blogs and can reach billions of people.

But Katz and other smaller jewelers have found it harder to compete in recent years because so many jewelers have started playing the game and some are willing to pay for red carpet exposure.

"Last year, I had one of my favorite actresses lined up. And sadly, one of the houses gave her and her stylist watches as gifts to wear their jewelry," he says.

Katz says some of his competitors have celebrities on their payrolls as well. "In the last five or six years, agents have started making deals.… To me, if you know it's a paid endorsement, it changes the complexion and perception," he says.

Another jeweler who has benefited from high-profile exposure is Neil Lane, who started out in 1989 with a counter at the Antiquarious antique center on Beverly Boulevard. He met his first celebrity clients because they wandered in, often after meetings with their agents at International Creative Management nearby.

His big break came with Renée Zellweger, who wore a vintage black James Galanos gown and Neil Lane Art Deco-era jewelry to the 2001 Golden Globes, where she won best actress in a comedy for "Nurse Betty."

Since then, he's lent jewels to Charlize Theron, Madonna, Jennifer Hudson and countless others. His store is full of jewels that have been worn by celebrities, not that he advertises them as such. But he can identify the diamond and platinum wave brooches Eva Longoria wore to the 2011 Golden Globes and the bracelet he purchased from Mae West's estate that was worn by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the film "Chicago."

"A lot of celebrities who were buying my [wedding] rings asked me to borrow jewelry for the red carpet," he says. "Or I loaned them jewelry for the red carpet, and then they bought my rings. It's very symbiotic, not a one-shot deal."

Lane has become something of a celebrity himself, as the official engagement ring maker for ABC's "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." And, in the same way fashion designers capitalize on the exposure they get from doing runway shows by spinning off more-affordable secondary fashion lines, Lane has capitalized on the attention he has received on the red carpet by launching the Neil Lane Bridal collection at Kay Jewelers nationwide.

Although he does not pay celebrities to wear his jewelry, Lane sees the pay-for-play red carpet deals happening. But no matter how much money is changing hands, relationships still have more value in the long run, he says.

"Hollywood is an amazing vehicle for exposure," he says. "If I was still in Brooklyn, I don't think I would be the guy I am today."