In what year did a Hollywood actress first borrow jewellery to wear on the red carpet? Sometime in the 1990s maybe—with the rise of the internet, and its digital possibilities—or the 1980s in the Cher/Bob Mackie era of glitter and sparkle and more-is-more? The answer, in fact, is four decades earlier, in 1944, when Harry Winston (the man himself) lent Jennifer Jones a suite of diamonds to wear at the Academy Awards. She would go on to win for Best Actress, marking the beginning of what is today—more than 70 years on—a heady mix of glamour, style and strategic partnerships.
So how do these moments happen, and what does it take to adorn the most famous women in the world with the most extraordinary jewels? Behind-the-scenes negotiations between stylists, agents and jewellery houses are commonplace, and it’s no secret that many brands pay actresses large sums of money to wear their creations on the red carpet. Find yourself with an Oscar nomination and the bargaining power is at its greatest—unconfirmed reports put the price of bejewelling a Best Actress nominee this year at between £25,000 and £70,000. But, as excessive as this seems, the global exposure and its knock-on effects are so significant as to be almost unquantifiable. Brand awareness and genuine sales after such an event can skyrocket, making the outlay seem more than justifiable.
Some brands, however, don’t pay, and De Beers is one of them. “We are about authenticity,” says managing director of Europe and the United States, Sidonie Robert-Degove. “Hence why we only lend jewellery to real friends of the brand.” Key to these friendships are the stylists who act as a go-between, connecting the product with the talent. A recent De Beers placement by Hollywood stylist Micaela Erlanger (who counts Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong’o and Diane Kruger amongst her clients) saw the De Beers Phenomena Glacier earrings worn by Nyong’o for the European premiere of Black Panther in London.
“Her earrings were insane!” Erlanger later says from her base in Los Angeles. “They were so incredible in the way that they climbed up her ear, but also had a diamond drop, and we added incredible diamond rings that Lupita stacked for extra attitude. There are few relationships that I can call on that are as easy,” she adds, referring to De Beers. “I make my choices, a guard delivers the jewellery, we handle it with gloves, the ‘moment’ happens and, as soon as it’s over, the pieces are collected and returned to the safe.”
The impact of these “moments” is not lost on Robert-Degove. “We recently bejewelled Camila Cabello, who has 18.7m followers on Instagram [she has topped 20m at time of going to press], for the Brits. She was kind enough to do a post that credited De Beers for the jewellery she wore and it received around 1.5m likes and almost 11,000 comments.” A similar moment at the Brits in 2012 saw Adele wear a De Beers 7.41-carat yellow diamond ring that garnered significant amounts of publicity; the following day it was sold.
Rebecca Selva, chief creative officer at Fred Leighton, the red carpet’s most significant vintage jewellery presence, concurs that genuine sales can follow an event. “It was 2009 when Taraji Henson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars,” she says from the Leighton New York store. “She wore a large diamond 19th-century flower necklace from our collection. It sold shortly afterwards, in a matter of days, and it was a big, impressive piece!” Bulgari have experienced a similar knock-on effect; the Ultimate Temptation Serpenti necklace worn by Naomi Watts at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 sold straight after the event, while Alicia Vikander’s full diamond Diva necklace that she wore to the 2017 Oscars sold within hours to a client.
Smaller, less high-profile brands notice a similar effect, like London-based Jessica McCormack who regularly lends pieces to stars such as Lily James with the help of stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray. “Red-carpet dressing is an integral part of our marketing platform,” says McCormack. “Seeing the jewellery worn on the red carpet has a high success rate in terms of sales and brand awareness. After Emma Watson wore our Gypset diamond earrings to the Harper’s Bazaar Women of the Year Awards a few years ago there was a significant rise in enquiries.”
Preparation for moments like these is key and Selva is candid about Fred Leighton’s first foray into dressing the stars. “It was 1996 and Miuccia Prada approached us about borrowing an opal necklace to accompany a dress that she was designing for Nicole Kidman. Of course we agreed and sent a very rare and beautiful opal choker, which looked exquisite on her. But we weren’t prepared at all for the number of enquiries; we didn’t even do a press release. After that, we caught on to the possibilities, and started to nurture creative collaborations.”
One of the brand’s most successful ongoing partnerships is with Erlanger, who used Fred Leighton jewels when she dressed Lupita Nyong’o for the Oscars in 2014, the year she won for Best Actress. A huge media storm ensued, in part due to the Fred Leighton diamond headband that she wore. “It was a surprise piece for everyone, and only chosen by Micaela the day before,” says Selva. “But it created the most magical moment. Diamonds in the hair are always very exciting. All I kept thinking is ‘How am I going to hold back the tsunami of interest?’” Erlanger agrees, laughing: “Yes, it was very special—that headband got its own Twitter account.”
Similarly dominant on the red carpet are family-run jewellers Chopard, and while it’s widely believed that they pay for actresses to wear their jewels, particularly during the Cannes Film Festival where they are sponsors, the company has never confirmed this. Uber-stylist Jessica Paster, who dresses, amongst others, Emily Blunt and Olivia Munn, describes her collaboration with the brand before this year’s Academy Awards as a “happy accident” with the placement of two pairs of earrings on Blunt (at the ceremony and afterwards at the Vanity Fair party). “I happened to be in New York in February for the Michael Kors show, walked past the Chopard store on Madison, and just had to go in. I loved all their pieces, and literally pointed to the ones I wanted. They were brilliant and let me have everything I chose.”
Paster’s choices included a pair of earrings with 30.96 carats of pear-shaped aquamarines set in blue titanium that would later be seen on Blunt at the ceremony. “We pulled 15 dresses in total,” says Paster, “and jewellery to accompany every look, but by the time of the fitting the day before, we’d narrowed it down to two looks, including the pale blue Schiaparelli which was the perfect match to those aquamarines. The fitting the day before was so much fun,” continues Paster. “We just had the best time, there was a lot of laughter… There’s a calmness to moments like these. Everything is set up and prepared, and then the jewellery arrives, brought in by its guard, and in two hours we’re done and ready. And as it turns out,” she laughs, “the jewellery was in the same hotel where we were getting ready and had its own room. Emily loved the whole look, she was very happy. And in the Schiaperelli with those earrings? She looked like a beautiful nymph princess.”
As Blunt said herself, “I was immediately drawn to those icy-blue aquamarines and loved the idea of playing with coloured jewels for the Oscars. It felt fresh and modern to me while still being classic.”
And while the dress invariably comes first, the importance of jewellery is growing. “Sometimes it’s the focal point, but for most part it’s the perfect, important, final touch. I look at it like the frosting on a cake,” says Erlanger. “The attention the red carpet now garners means the industry is changing. It’s much more competitive today,” says Selva. “After all, the whole world is watching.”