Originally created 03/18/03

Diamonds are expected to rock the red carpet at Academy Awards



NEW YORK -- The stars might make the Oscars red carpet shine, but it's the rocks that give the world's largest fashion show its sparkle.

Hollywood's royalty wears millions of dollars worth of diamonds on Oscar night; show host Whoopi Goldberg set a record when she draped herself in $71 million worth of diamonds in 1999.

This year, the Oscars' 75th, "diamond" anniversary, the gems might shine even brighter. Especially considering that the acting nominees include a number of fashion-savvy actresses, including Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"Choosing the jewelry historically comes after the stars pick their dresses. We're hoping this year people will think of jewelry at the same time," said Sally Morrison, director of the Diamond Information Center, a New York-based trade organization.

There have been rare occasions when the diamonds dictated the dress.

Laura Elena Harring's gown last year was tea length in front and full length in back, showcasing the $1 million diamond shoes she wore.

In 1970, Elizabeth Taylor asked legendary costume designer Edith Head to whip up a gown that would show off the 69-carat, pear-shaped diamond that Richard Burton gave her. Taylor ended up in a simple tank gown with a plunging V-neck, her hair in an up-do so it wouldn't hide the necklace.

That diamond, at the time the most expensive ever sold, became a celebrity in its own right, known as the Taylor-Burton Diamond.

But Taylor is one of the few stars who actually own the jewelry they wear on the red carpet. Oprah Winfrey is another, but most celebrities are expected to return their borrowed gems to Harry Winston, Fred Leighton and other stores the day after an awards show.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Cinderella moment lasted a little longer than most: She didn't have to give up the Winston princess necklace she wore in 1998 because her father bought it after she won the best-actress award.

"I hope Gwyneth will wear her necklace again. It doesn't do any good in storage," said Morrison.

"I hope we're at the end of the disposable culture moment and we'll see stars in their own jewelry again. It makes it much more personal."

Considering diamonds' high price tag, it's rare for a jeweler to make a sale because a celebrity wore a piece on the red carpet. Jewelers mostly hope to gain name recognition and create an image.

One exception was the 1997 sale of a $490,000 Chanel comet diamond that was literally purchased off the neck of Celine Dion. The buyer called Chanel only minutes after Dion appeared on the red carpet, according to Morrison.

"We've sold most of our Oscar pieces, but mostly to other people than the stars and mostly later on," said Mara Leighton, Fred Leighton's daughter and partner in the estate jewelry business.

"Usually a customer comes in and loves this great beautiful piece of jewelry - the Oscar story is an extra tidbit."

The Leightons are aggressive in dressing celebrities, and court stars year-round.

To have a young actress such as Kirsten Dunst sew 19th century diamond star pendants on a gown, as she did for the Golden Globes in January, exposes antique jewelry to a new generation of buyers, Mara Leighton said.

"It's very exciting for us. ... It says antique jewelry is not just for my grandmother."

Susan Rosen, who desiged the diamond earrings for Madonna's upcoming "American Dream" video, is now showing celebrities and their stylists a bangle bracelet that spells "peace" using 10 carats of diamonds.

"I'll call whoever I know who knows someone" to help secure a celebrity on Oscar night for the publicity, she said.

There is, of course, some risk in lending out valuable baubles.

Actress Kate Hudson said a diamond she borrowed for the Golden Globes in January fell off her hand at one of the after-parties.

"It fell right on the ground in the middle of a party and I just went, 'Stop! Oh my God, I lost my ring!' ... I thought I'd be paying for it the rest of my life." (She did find it.)

Leighton wouldn't discuss her company's security except to say that jewels travel from stores in New York and Las Vegas to Los Angeles by armored car. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said only that security is a priority at the Kodak Theatre for the safety and comfort of the guests.

Sometimes the Diamond Information Center provides insurance and security for smaller jewelers. Many insurers require a certain number of guards per million dollars in value, Morrison said.

Stuart Weitzman, the shoe designer who created Harring's sparkling shoes with Kwiat Diamonds and the Platinum Guild International, arranged for two security guards to deliver the shoes and stay with Harring until she set foot on the red carpet. They also picked her up after the ceremony and remained on duty through the parties.

Weitzman likely will have three guards with this year's jeweled shoes: $1.5 million ruby slippers like those from the "The Wizard of Oz," made with Oscar Heyman rubies. (It wasn't yet known who will wear them.)

"I'm afraid someone will pretend to drop a pen and swipe the stones in the middle of the shoes," Weitzman says.