Stars Add Glitter to Jeweler's Designs

New York Times, May 16, 2012

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA — Robert Procop gained worldwide recognition last month as the jeweler behind the distinctive diamond engagement ring co-designed by Brad Pitt for his longtime companion, Angelina Jolie: But a red carpet fixture he is not.

A fixture in the Beverly Hills jewelry scene since opening his first store, Diamonds on Rodeo, in 1982, Mr. Procop had his most significant moment in the limelight a dozen years ago, when he helped adorn 13 nominees and winners for the 2000 Academy Awards in Hollywood.

At the time, he had been recruited to oversee the financial restructuring of Asprey & Garrard, the London-based jeweler to the British crown. The company had run into deep trouble under the ownership of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei’s profligate younger brother.

“I figured we had to do something to bring people back to the store on Bond Street,” Mr. Procop said from a small but light-filled showroom in Beverly Hills, where he maintains an exclusive wholesale and by-appointment business, Robert Procop Exceptional Jewels. “And I thought, well, if I’m going to do the Oscars, I’ll do them at one time.”

Among the celebrities Mr. Procop worked with that night was Hilary Swank, a best-actress nominee for her performance in “Boys Don’t Cry.” He put her in an antique necklace that he created at the last minute by deconstructing an Asprey & Garrard tiara.

“She won the Oscar, so it was her lucky charm,” he said.

As it happened, Mr. Procop was equally charmed that night. He made the acquaintance of Ms. Jolie after dressing her in an antique Asprey & Garrard Art Deco bracelet.

As the two got to know each other, Ms. Jolie became, if not quite Mr. Procop’s muse, then an enthusiastic collaborator. She brought her first idea to him in 2008, when she suggested they co-design a snake-themed collection called The Protector, with proceeds to go to the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, the nonprofit Ms. Jolie founded in 2007.

“She doesn’t do anything unless it’s for charity,” Mr. Procop said.

In 2008, Ms. Jolie asked the jeweler to help her design a pendant bearing a hidden message as a Christmas gift for Mr. Pitt, setting the stage for a co-designed collection inspired by ancient tablets.

“We studied all different kinds of tablets — old Chinese tablets, the Ten Commandments, antique tablets from the Arabian peninsula,” he said. “From there, we formulated how a diamond might look if we engraved it, and then made a vessel to hold what you would think was a heavy stone, and from there we made a pendant for Brad.”

The process by which the actress and jeweler worked — exchanging ideas and sketches during carefully choreographed encounters in foreign cities where their paths happened to cross — laid the groundwork for an even more fruitful collaboration: In 2010 the pair embarked on Style of Jolie, a collection of pieces featuring rich, saturated gemstones — especially fine Colombian emeralds, black spinel and honey-colored citrines — in sculptural gold mountings.

“She has a very classic, chic style; there is a pureness to it. She doesn’t like the small micropavé,” Mr. Procop said. “We’re designing things she would wear, that she really truly loves. Then we sell them and give 100 percent to charity.”

The line, which incorporates both the tablet setting and plenty of bezel-set gems in rounded cushion cuts, originated with a storyboarding process that, to hear Mr. Procop tell it, Ms. Jolie approached with an art historian’s rigor.

“She comes with more ideas and more research and books and images and she finds things I can’t find,” he said, pointing to the wall, where a series of storyboards plastered with images of full-bodied women from Renaissance-era paintings provided the basis for the collection’s trademark curves.

Style of Jolie will debut in the United States this autumn. But interested buyers should take note of the collection’s high quotient of one-of-a-kind and limited edition pieces, which, given the publicity Mr. Procop has received, may soon be spoken for.

On the Monday in April that followed the first known sighting of Ms. Jolie wearing her new engagement ring — a sizable tablet-cut stunner flanked by straight-edged diamonds in graduating sizes — Mr. Procop said he had to turn off his phone to stem the flood of media inquiries he had received over the weekend.

He offered up a few tidbits in a statement: “The ring was entirely hand carved in yellow gold. Every diamond is custom faceted to design specifications of gem quality” but beyond those spare details, Mr. Procop declined to elaborate, citing his respect for the newly engaged couple.

“It’s their moment,” he said. “I’m hesitant to take the spotlight.”