Sparks fly over sparkles

Bejeweling big names a costly operation

When it comes to dressing Oscar attendees, jewelry companies have discovered green is the most enticing color. Now that the Academy Awards have become the branding event of the year for the most upscale jewelers, getting an actress to turn out dripping in diamonds and dutifully name-drop at the most opportune moment has become a costly — and covert — operation.

While it would seem that with the endless list of presenters, partygoers and, of course, nominees, there’s enough decolletage for everyone’s gems, the behind-the-scenes sniping between rival bling brokers about secret financial deals with actresses and their stylists would indicate otherwise.

“Everybody pays for people,” says Carol Brodie, former global director of communications for Harry Winston. “And if you don’t pay, you pay.”

Even when there’s no financial contract, there is a “thank you” piece of jewelry. During her tenure at Winston, Brodie says there were “several occasions” when “tokens of appreciation” were given to Oscar attendees. However, she says, “It was never indicated or promised upfront, which makes a huge difference.”

Industry experts estimate snagging a big name as a jewelry model on Oscar night can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000.

Longtime players in the field Fred Leighton, Martin Katz and Neil Lane all deny they’ve paid actresses to wear their gems. When Bulgari stepped up its efforts and scored a hit last year with Keira Knightley — who accessorized her Vera Wang gown with a vintage emerald, ruby and diamond necklace from the house — reports circulated that the company pays stylists and makes a donation to the star’s charity in exchange for red-carpet exposure.

Chopard has drawn the most ire (or is it envy?) from competitors over the past several seasons for allegedly paying some of the most sought-after actresses to wear its jewelry on the red carpet. It was reported that both Hilary Swank and Charlize Theron traded in their borrowed Winston gems for the 2005 Golden Globes at the last minute for a more lucrative six-figure arrangement with Chopard. This year, there have been whispers that a best actress Oscar nominee will enter into a similar deal with the company. Not surprisingly, reps for the company deny all.

Still, some intrepid companies are entering the Oscar race determined to get play without pay.

Piaget took a suite in Beverly Hills last year hoping to snag stars, but came up empty-handed. Undaunted, president Larry Boland says he’ll try again this year. “When you don’t pay, it makes it hard. It’s gotten out of control. We don’t want to get lumped into that. We want to work with people who want to wear the jewelry because they like it.”

Good luck, says industry vet Brodie. “There was a year when we dressed four out of the five best actress nominees. That won’t ever happen again unless someone decides to sponsor those women. The genie is out of the bottle for good.”

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