In the early 1990's, the red carpet was far from the international fashion frenzy it has become today. No one ever heard of paying a stylist to "place" a piece of jewelry on a celebrity client, and loaning jewelry to the stars, so common today, was nearly unheard of -- or at least not widely discussed. Borrowed jewelry is certainly not a new concept, but when it was done there was an element of hushed non-disclosure, if not secrecy, about who actually owned the jewels. Most assumed that the glamorous actress would of course own a glamorous necklace. Lucky you were if the star happened to own and wear a jewel you had sold them, or if you belonged to the small group of important jewelry houses that on occasion loaned to the stars of the silver screen.
In 1992, I received a telephone call which dramatically changed my life, personally and professionally. The president of Paramount Studios phoned to request a favor -- the loan of a diamond choker necklace and earrings to Sharon Stone for the premiere of Basic Instinct. My initial reaction was that it made no sense for me to take all the risk and receive no reward -- after all, how would anyone know the jewels came from Martin Katz, I asked. When we agreed that Sharon would also be wearing my jewelry for her national magazine covers, I loaned the jewels, and the rest, as they say, is history.
That moment and the decision to loan the jewels catapulted my company into an entirely new stratosphere and forever changed the red carpet. Stylists, PR agents, even the actresses themselves began calling to request similar arrangements. I was forced to hire publicists to deal with the flood of calls; jewelers from around the world offered me pieces for celebrities. I was even given scripts to be placed in the hands of my star clientele!
For many years, my company has been known as the "go-to" celebrity jeweler. Salma Hayek once phoned and asked me to come to her hotel room, demanding, "show me your jewels, Martin!" In 1998 I loaned more than $20 million in jewels to at least 35 stars through the awards season. The roster included Nicole Kidman, Angelica Huston, Madonna, Kate Winslet, Minnie Driver, Ashley Judd, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore and Cindy Crawford. Then came Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Minnie Driver, and the list goes on. To date, I have bejeweled more than 500 different celebrities and luminaries.
Even with tight security on the red carpet, there is always a concern when so many jewels are on loan -- until they are safely returned to the company vault. Most of the stars to whom I have loaned are appreciative and respectful of the high values. Rarely have there been any issues... but I do recall an incident at the 1998 Oscars, when Minnie Driver's ruby bead bracelet become snagged and broke, and two dozen rubies and diamonds went flying. Minnie was immediately on her hands and knees, assisted by the director James Cameron, gathering-up the diamonds and ruby beads. Fortunately, each was found and after a secure restringing, all was at peace and in one piece back at my boutique.
The media has become the driving factor in the loaning game at award shows. Over the years, reporters from most all of the major fashion and celebrity magazines, such as W, People, InStyle, Vogue and The Hollywood Reporter and more have written stories about my relationship with the celebrity community, which became a virtual blueprint for all who chase the red carpet. I was dubbed "Tinseltown's Gemfather" (not my favorite) by Los Angeles Magazine and also placed on the cover of Luxe magazine, captioned "The Secret of Hollywood Success." Hyperbole aside, I value and enjoy my association with an industry that continues to fascinate and attract us all.
Fast-forward two decades from first meeting Sharon Stone -- I still adorn many of the same stars, as well as a host of new ones, however the landscape has completely changed. The paparazzi culture and immediacy of our news cycle has made it even more valuable for jewelers and fashion brands to vie for placement on the red carpet. In today's marketplace, brands both large and small must compete for media attention to reinforce their own relevance and name recognition.
For independent jewelers like myself, it has become more difficult to compete with the behemoths that are willing to spend hundreds of thousands, even millions for celebrity placements -- a mere drop in the bucket in their ad and PR budgets. And the competition is sometimes cutthroat. Last year, a favorite actress was lured away from us when one of the big jewelry houses gave her and her stylist costly watches as gifts, a practice I have always avoided. Another nominee, who was 'in love' with a unique pair of sapphire earrings I designed, was informed that her dress designer had a deal with a different jewelry house which specifically forbade her from wearing my jewelry with the dress. She protested, but it was the day before the awards, and too late to find another gown. For me, however, I take great pride in knowing that celebrities who wear my designs do so without enticements. I have now tightened the circle of those invited to wear my jewels; they tend to be friends or true fans and when they wear my pieces, it is a mutual adoration, and clearly apparent in every photo.