Couture has been movie-star glamour’s most powerful currency for so long that the question “Who are you wearing?” cuts straight to the gowns and tuxes. But then came Lady Gaga in that Tiffany diamond, lighting up the night – and social media feeds – at last year’s Academy Awards.
The massive yellow stone, discovered in South Africa in 1877, had been worn by Audrey Hepburn in 1961 (set in its Schlumberger ribbon necklace) in publicity photos for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but for decades had never left the Fifth Avenue flagship, much less been in full public view. Here, worn – with a side of Alexander McQueen – by an icon of contemporary culture at the height of her powers, the custom-made diamond necklace created a major publicity coup and a flurry of consumer excitement that has refocused attention on jewellery’s part in the red‑carpet ritual.
These days, even boutique jewellers such as Messika and Lorraine Schwartz, and – increasingly – watch brands such as Rolex, Omega and Patek Philippe, have joined the heritage jewellery houses in the battle to dress the stars and share their limelight. But it was Harry Winston who initiated red-carpet-jewellery dressing when he loaned diamonds to Best Actress Jennifer Jones in 1944 – a stroke of marketing genius that won him the moniker “jeweller to the stars”. He went on to use celebrities to publicise all his diamonds, famously photographing Shirley Temple with the Jonker Diamond. Gwyneth Paltrow wore a classic Winston diamond necklace to receive her Best Actress award for Shakespeare in Love in 1998 – her father then bought it for her as a memento – and there was a marked return to classic Winston style at this year’s Golden Globes, with Helen Mirren, Jennifer Lopez and Rachel Weisz all choosing to wear the brand.
But what does a red-carpet moment really mean to the jewellery world? Does the right endorsement generate sales? Is there a knock-on effect on more accessible, entry-level purchases – as is the case with couture and perfume – or is it simply a question of seeking the social media lens to reach vast new audiences? Cate Blanchett’s eye-popping Tiffany turquoise and aqua bubble necklace, worn to the Academy Awards in 2015, certainly confirmed turquoise as the stone of the season; and when Angelina Jolie stepped out wearing huge emerald drop earrings by LA’s Lorraine Schwartz, she made the gems modern and relevant again, igniting an emerald craze.
“The red carpet is the perfect environment of grace, beauty and sophistication, and is totally coherent with high jewellery,” says Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari. The house, more of a protagonist in the movie world, having been closely involved with cinema and stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida since the early days of cinecittà in Rome, is now associated with the Shanghai and Tribeca film festivals. These days, Babin says, there are sometimes sales inquiries after a jewel has appeared, but it’s more about image-building.
Time was when it all happened on its own, because a star was already a client and appreciated the chance to wear the jewels. Now brands pay six- and seven-figure sums to ensure their designs end up on the right names: it’s rumoured Lady Gaga was paid in the region of $7m for her Tiffany gig. But most brands remain tight-lipped about these arrangements, saying the relationships are “organic”. In some cases, jewels are loaned, unpaid, in return for publicity, through brand friendship and loyalty, or simply because the celebrity loves the jewellery and wants to have a say in shaping their own image.
Valerie Messika, founder and creative director of the eponymous diamond jeweller, says most of her celebrity relationships are unpaid and, even when paid, they originate from genuine interest in the brand. Beyoncé, for example, spotted Messika jewellery in a Paris hotel vitrine, walked into the boutique and bought the Glam’Azone ring, then photographed it on her hand standing in front of the Mona Lisa. The brand felt the effect immediately. 2019 was a bumper red-carpet year, with Messika earrings being worn by Diane Kruger at the Berlin Film Festival, Sandra Oh at the Emmys, Julia Roberts at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Dakota Johnson in Venice and Lupita Nyong’o at the SAG awards. The jeweller, it seems, is answering a call for glamorous diamond jewels with a cool, street-style edge – perfect for younger actors with an attitude that might clash with formal high jewellery.
Yet it’s not all about the money. Babin sees red-carpet relationships as mutually beneficial exchanges – “High jewellery enhances a woman’s beauty” – and says that the fee is not the main driver. “The celebrity’s personal taste is important; you can often ‘win’ talent with less money if the talent loves the jewellery,” he says.
Jeremy Morris, CEO and creative director of David Morris, which was the jewellery sponsor of last year’s Evening Standard Theatre Awards, agrees. “While stylists guide their look, stars have the final say; they’re conscious of their own image.” Although David Morris says it doesn’t have an official red-carpet-celebrity budget, Louise de Turckheim, its global marketing director, believes it’s often better to pay to be sure of getting your jewellery onto the star. “You never know until the last minute if it will make an appearance,” she says. “It is always the very last part of the outfit to be chosen.”
David Morris got lucky last year when Olivia Colman – unpaid – wore its jewels when she won Best Actress at the Golden Globes, gracing every front page the next day. More so than editorial, red-carpet images have an “enduring impact” and global reach, de Turckheim says – meaning an inroad to markets where David Morris doesn’t even have a retail presence. “We see a huge spike in social media and internet traffic after a red-carpet appearance. And when Elizabeth McGovern chose a suite from our Rose Cut collection for the premiere of the Downton Abbey film, there was a significant increase in sales too.”
Jewellers undertake intensive research in the months leading up to the Oscars, keeping track of bookmakers’ favourites and looking for less obvious, rising stars – the wild cards who can be more easily secured. Contracts with stars and stylists may well be signed before the nominations are out, with clauses allowing the brand to back out if the star isn’t nominated. Then, 48 hours before the ceremony, the bidding circus begins: body parts might be auctioned – a neck to one jeweller, a wrist to another – or fees agreed for no mixing of brands. Even after-party visibility is up for grabs. If money changes hands, the jeweller stipulates how a jewel should be worn – that it’s highly visible; that hair should be up or half up; that behind-the-scenes pictures and videos are included in the package; and how and when the jeweller’s name should be mentioned.
The red carpet is a particularly sought-after showcase for a statement necklace, Babin says – the necklace being the focal point and symbol of a high jewellery collection, and easily seen and identified. There are long discussions, sometimes heated, with the stylist, he explains, and four or five necklaces will be offered, the ultimate decision depending on the neckline. If it’s not perfect, the jeweller will withdraw. For this year’s Globes, Bulgari dressed stars including Scarlett Johansson, who wore a high-jewellery diamond necklace with her plunging red Vera Wang gown, and a vintage bracelet from the archives. Big bracelets and cuffs and long, dramatic earrings are always winning tickets, while watches and rings aren’t always easily spotted in photographs (unless a certain stance is stipulated in a contract). “There has to be harmony, a dialogue between haute couture and high jewellery, and authenticity in the way in which the jewel is worn,” says Babin. “High jewellery makes haute couture more irresistible.”
Chopard, perhaps more than anyone since Harry Winston, has boosted red-carpet jewellery glamour, and was reputedly one of the first to pay big bucks. The Swiss jeweller claims, however, that its celebrity relationships are based on long friendships with actors, some of whom, like Marion Cotillard, it dressed when they were relatively unknown. Co-president and artistic director Caroline Scheufele is a film buff and chooses her stars herself; after 22 years, she has many connections with stylists, product-placement agencies and film agents. Chopard practically owns the carpet at Cannes (having been official sponsor since 1998), but also has a mighty presence at the Oscars and a reputation for picking winners, such as Helen Mirren and Olivia Colman, who wore its jewels with her Emilia Wickstead gown to this year’s Golden Globes.
As priorities shift, the red carpet is likely to become a more significant showcase not only for the creativity but also for the conscience of the jewellery world. This was signalled in 2013 when Chopard launched its Green Carpet initiative, showing jewels made with Fairmined gold and diamonds purchased only from Responsible Jewellery Council-certified suppliers – added allure for celebrities who want to be associated with sustainability.
But underlying it all is the power of the jewel to embellish persona and express individuality. Valerie Messika, happy that stylists are asking for more and more jewellery, says, “The more visibility we have as an industry, the better it is for the market.” But ultimately, “it helps people to see how jewellery actually looks when it’s worn”.