For Jewelers, Using Celebrities as a Showcase

New York Times, May 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES — When the jeweler Irene Neuwirth lent the actress Octavia Spencer a pair of earrings to wear at the Golden Globes award ceremony in Hollywood on Jan. 15, the payback was instantaneous: “They sold while she was giving her acceptance speech,” Ms. Neuwirth said.

“Channing Tatum’s wife, Jenna Dewan, wore another pair of earrings, which also sold while she was still wearing them,” she added.

Resplendent in a teal-colored Maria Lucia Hohan gown, Ms. Dewan wore a mismatched pair, featuring two uniquely shaped slabs of blue-green boulder opal framed by diamonds.

Joanne Teichman, owner of Ylang23.com, a Dallas-based fine jewelry boutique, saw them on her television screen. A fan of Ms. Neuwirth’s work, she started tweeting and texting her then and there.

“I was saying to her, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got the perfect client for them,”’ Ms. Teichman recalled. When Ms. Dewan returned the earrings, Ms. Neuwirth sent them to Ms. Teichman, who sold them to a devotee of boulder opals.

Over the past five years, a convergence of social media and celebrity culture has refashioned the red-carpet jewelry game: Heavyweights like Chopard, Harry Winston and Bulgari have had to make space for a new generation of designers whose use of offbeat colored stones, bold proportions and unconventional motifs has found a passionate following among denizens of Web 2.0, many of whom, like Ms. Teichman, are helping to promote the newcomers to clients.

First, however, jewelers eager to play to the red carpet crowd have to catch the attention of Hollywood’s fashion scene gatekeepers: the stylists.

“Two things determine if you’ll even get in front of the celebrity,” said Kimberly McDonald, a New York designer known for putting a luxury spin on earthy gems like geodes and opals. They are clicking with the stylist and clicking with the dress.

Ms. McDonald maintains a showroom in Manhattan, but 18 months ago she decided to make a more permanent home in the Hollywood Hills, drawn, she said, by Los Angeles weather and Los Angeles stylists: She is about to open her first retail store on the Sunset Strip, in part because it will be “a good central location for people to come by, borrow things, see our range.”

Not every jeweler interested in celebrity exposure is in a position to shift operations to Hollywood. Those looking for proxy representation would do well to look up Ginnina D’Orazio, the owner of D’Orazio & Associates, a public relations firm in Beverly Hills.

Ms. Dorazio presides over a 4,200-square-foot, or 390-square-meter, showroom on Wilshire Boulevard lined with vitrines displaying the work of the firm’s 22 jewelry clients and racks of couture gowns from six fashion clients. She and her team of six publicists have helped introduce Tinseltown’s leading taste makers to a host of previously unknown brands, including Amrapali, of Jaipur, in India; Le Vian, the mass market fine jewelry brand; and Cora, a New York diamond jewelry manufacturer.

“We get anywhere from five to seven stylists a day — and triple that during awards season,” Ms. D’Orazio said.

The showroom’s central location and wide selection, not to mention the valet parking, make it an appealing destination for stylists on the go. “It’s a one stop shop for everything,” said Mariel Haenn, a stylist and self-described jewelry junkie who regularly dresses her clients in pieces from the D’Orazio showroom.

Last month, for example, Ms. Haenn put Jennifer Lopez in a 50.40-carat fancy yellow diamond ring set in ebony wood for a performance of American Idol. The $2.1 million bauble, by Cora, “sold the next day,” Ms. Dorazio said.

The speed with which a piece of jewelry showcased on a celebrity can sell is not the only thing that has changed in the two decades since the red carpet became a full-fledged fashion phenomenon.

“It’s quite a bit different today, because you are competing with brands that are buying their way onto the red carpet through paid endorsement, whereas the people that wear my jewelry are true fans and great friends,” said Martin Katz, a Beverly Hills jeweler who kicked off the modern red carpet jewelry era in 1992, when he loaned pieces to Sharon Stone for the premiere of “Basic Instinct.”

“A few years later, the red carpet was in the cross hairs of every designer, accessory house and shoe designer,” Mr. Katz said.

The competition to land a celebrity endorsement is fierce, indeed — though paying celebrities to wear jewelry is rarely, if ever, discussed.

One brash newcomer has sidestepped the issue by offering celebrities something even more valuable than cash: a way to safeguard their reputations. Hoorsenbuhs, a Santa Monica, California jewelry company established in 2005 by Robert G. Keith, features diamonds from Forevermark, the loose diamond brand of the De Beers group of companies, that guarantees its stones have been responsibly obtained.

Having that kind of assurance is especially appealing to celebrities, said Kether Parker, Hoorsenbuhs’ brand ambassador. “They get scrutinized the most for wearing big bling and now they can say, ‘It’s number 4342 and it was mined in the Orapa mine on Jan. 10 and taken to the cutting facility in Antwerp, so there’s your history and your ethics’,” he said.

When it comes to the biggest red carpet event of all, however, stylists, editors and industry-watchers agree: Few stars deviate from the usual suspects.

“Right now, the red carpet at the Oscars is shut down to experimentation,” said Marion Fasel, contributing editor of fine jewelry and watches at InStyle magazine. “That day has passed.”

To which Ms. Haenn adds a point: “It’s not every day you can wear Harry Winston.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 16, 2012

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect link for Ylang23.com.