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The Power of Gems and the Evolution of Jewelry’s Starring Role in the Entertainment Industry

Since the dawn of celebrity, jewelry has had a starring role in the entertainment industry. While today jewels are worn in unconventional ways, styling just scratches the surface of gems’ evolution.

Audrey Hepburn wore the stone in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Once upon a time, in the Golden Age of Hollywood, the mere proposition of a mismatched suite of jewelry would have starlets speeddialing Harry Winston, Cartier, or Tiffany & Co. for options. It was an unwritten (although a widely accepted) rule that beautiful gowns deserved equally stunning parures, including a necklace, matching pendant earrings, a bracelet, and a megawatt ring. Jewels were extravagant status symbols designed to elicit oohs and aahs from adoring crowds who’d waited hours to see their idols in the flesh. They had to be bold enough to make a splash in the newspaper the next day and incorporate the du jour gemstones, like sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and, of course, diamonds, to keep up with the competition. Actress Elizabeth Taylor favored Bulgari, Gloria Swanson wore Cartier, and together Audrey Hepburn and Tiffany & Co. became immortal. Celebrities of this era didn’t have social media to showcase their daily lives. They were at their most visible at movie premieres and award ceremonies where formality reigned supreme, and glamour was dialed up to 11. Ornaments had to handle the heat of flashbulbs and tell a story of sensational status in one fell swoop. The variety of fine and high jewelry on display had to fit within the narrow parameters of red-carpet dressing or catch the eye of a Hollywood studio stylist outfitting the next blockbuster. Look to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as an example of the latter. There was no need to be edgy or alternative.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Fast forward to today, and the landscape for accessories’ styling has completely changed. Tastes have evolved, new high jewelers like Messika and Marli have emerged, or like Repossi, have re-emerged, and the universe of celebrity has expanded. Contemporary jewelry lovers hail from myriad cultures worldwide. They can access gems and be inspired by their imagery with the click of a button or a swipe on their phone. Now, there are countless occasions when a celebrity (actresses, influencers, activists, authors, TV presenters, and many more) may wish to wear jewelry without stepping foot on a red carpet. Enter the age of self-expression. Rather than shouting about wealth, status, power, and privilege, the requirements about what a jeweler should “say” has shifted. The power of gems to tell stories has come into sharper focus – not only based on colors, shapes, and silhouettes but also materials, combinations, and sustainable credentials.

Jenna Ortega in layers of diamonds and Tiffany T jewels at the 2023 Golden Globes

Away from the ultra-glam of award shows, celebrities have been focused on stacking, layering, and mismatched pairings. In 2022, it was all about the “neck mess” trend – a casual-cool, Instagram-worthy cacophony of jewels worn around the neck in perfectly undone synchronicity, like they’ve been thrown on (but are orchestrated and well-thought-through). The trend kickstarted on the runways at Chanel, Isabel Marant, Moschino, Tom Ford, Marine Serre, and Schiaparelli for SS22 and was picked up by Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Hailey Bieber, and Rihanna on Instagram. We’re in a time of purposeful rule-breaking and anti-precision, where rings are thrown together to feel more like armor than adornments. When a celebrity is leaning into a larger-than-life public persona, what better way to express that than with maximalist ornament styling? This is determined and dynamic jewelry dressing for the 21st century.

Taylor Hill at the 2022 Messika high jewelry show

Fortunately, brands have recognized this new landscape and have risen to the challenge of adorning all women, with many different mindsets, for various occasions. Repossi has its Serti Sur Vide collection of “floating diamonds” for the modern-day ingénue; Dior is focusing on lacquered finishes to add surprising pops of color, and brands like Cartier, Boucheron, and Chaumet are stepping into shoulder, hair, and lapel jewels that reflect a rebellious spirit. Messika has found its niche for today’s equivalent of Kate Moss at Glastonbury in the mid-2000s. A bohemian cool-girl who’s just as happy to wear a diamond ring as she is a lip jewel, body chain, or golden collar. At a different end of the spectrum is Marie Mas, spearheaded by chief designer Marie Cabirou, and the Luminous Lines collection. The offering is sensual, hyper-feminine, and certainly wouldn’t look out-of-place on today’s Hollywood royalty, like Margot Robbie or Jessica Chastain.

Gigi Hadid at last year’s Messika high jewelry show

This new era of customers demands answers, too, especially around how pieces are crafted, where diamonds and gemstones originate from, and how sustainable the materials are. This isn’t just about how jewelry is styled; this is a shift in how it is conceived. One brand that has long recognized this is Chopard. Its ongoing “Journey to Sustainable Luxury” is a long-term commitment that underpins its Green Carpet Collection and its focus on using gold from 100% ethical sources.

Elizabeth Taylor in Bulgari

If the jewelry story in the golden years of Hollywood was straightforward, today, it’s not that simple. Avant-garde accessorizing speaks volumes about how a contemporary celebrity wants to be perceived. Are they edgy or the ingénue? A fashion risk-taker or an elegant silver screen purist? It is no longer simply an actor’s choice of wardrobe that sets them apart, but the way they amp up an outfit with diamonds and colored stones. Recent years have seen jewelry play a role in cleverly orchestrated fashion comeback stories, when celebrities want to re-establish themselves and modernize their image. To wit: Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway has been wearing of-the-moment Valentino pink, metallic Christopher John Rogers, and corseted puffer jackets by Versace, all while dripping in high jewelry by Bulgari. The actress was named an ambassador for the Italian jeweler just in time for the Cannes Film Festival, where she wore the Mediterranean Reverie necklace from its Eden The Garden of Wonders High Jewellery collection. This piece is set with a 107.15ct cushion-cut Sri Lankan sapphire, surrounded by baguette-cut sapphires and diamonds.

Salma Abu Deif in Bulgari at the Cairo International Film Festival

If jewelry can put entertainers back on the map, then it can also cement legendary status. No piece appears to do this better than the Tiffany Diamond – a 128.54ct fancy yellow gem that’s been worn by only a handful of women in its history. Audrey Hepburn wore the stone in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, followed by Lady Gaga at the 2019 Oscars, where she picked up the Best Original Song award for Shallow in A Star is Born. Most recently, the Tiffany Diamond was worn by Beyoncé – now the most decorated Grammy Award winner of all time – for the Tiffany & Co. About Love advertising campaign in 2021. In parallel, celebrities’ star powers also influence the way the public views gems. If Tiffany & Co. was deemed the height of uptown sophistication on Audrey Hepburn, worn by Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, it now stands for inclusivity and elegance with an edge, too.

Jewelry has a way of telling stories without having to say a word. Actress Jenna Ortega wore layers of diamonds and Tiffany T ornaments at the 2023 Golden Globes to add a youthful, “It-Girl” vibe to her redcarpet aesthetic. On the night, Best Actress Award winner Michelle Yeoh wore a more traditional suite of white diamond high jewelry by Moussaieff to signify her “icon” status. In contrast, the next-gen of actresses (Lily James, Kaley Cuoco, Selena Gomez, Julia Garner, and Letitia Wright, among others) stuck with trending, barely-there diamond drop earrings to stay up to date and highlight their relevance. Perhaps it is fair to say that times are harder for brands now. To adorn women of the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, maisons needed dynamic and undeniably beautiful jewels that fulfilled narrow parameters of glamour. Today’s icons demand more. They expect to be daring, inventive, insightful, meaningful, and haute, all at the same time. There are luncheons, Instagram snaps, late-night TV, special guest appearances, and award shows to consider. Each one needs an artful wardrobe of expressive jewels that speak louder than words.

Originally published in the March 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

Read Next: Deepika Padukone to Cara Delevingne: These Stars Wore the Most Mesmerizing Jewelry to the Oscars 2023

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