Jewelry designer Jasmine Watson has a unique claim to fame. She’s the jeweler for the blockbuster film adaptations of two of the greatest fantasy classics in modern English—TheLord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the $150 million Walt Disney film opening Dec. 9.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, written by Oxford professor C.S. Lewis for his goddaughter, is part of his popular Chronicles ofNarnia series, which now numbers 100 million copies in 30 lan- guages. It follows four children into the enchanted world of Narnia where, led by Aslan the Great Lion, they battle the evil White Witch.
Watson, 30, a charming and soft-spoken New Zealander, had something of an enchanted childhood herself on the sparsely populated Grand Barrier Island. It was a rural life (solar power now, but no electricity then), delightful to a child. “Without distractions of TV or movies, there was much more time for sketching, reading, riding horses, going to the beach, and being creative,” she says.
Creativity is certainly in Watson’s genes. Hers is a family of artists and craftsmen, including her sister, a costume designer, who brought her into films through friends on The Piano, which was made in New Zealand. Since then, Watson has balanced a career as an independent jewelry designer with creating jewelry and accessories for syndicated TV series like Hercules and Xena and the jewelry that plays pivotal roles in the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings. In early 2004, she joined The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, also made in New Zealand, as its jeweler. She spoke to JCK senior editor William George Shuster.
First Lord of the Rings, now The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: How does it feel to be involved in filming these classics?
JW: I’m very honored. They’ve given me amazing creative opportunities. And I’m so pleased to be part of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because it really was one of my favorite books as a child.
Did Lewis’s book help your designs, as J.R.R. Tolkien’s precise descriptions of jewelry in his Lord of the Rings had?
JW: I referred to the book repeatedly, but there isn’t any design motif or materials so specifically stated as those in Tolkien’s books. That’s a wonderful aspect of Lewis’s writing: Your imagination completes the picture. In many ways, this gave me more freedom while designing.
What were the big differences for you as film jeweler between The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings films?
JW: One of the biggest was the film’s overall feel. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is very much a classic children’s story, aimed at a younger audience. So, retaining a level of childlike innocence and magic was very important. For example, I kept reminding myself when designing the tiara for Lucy [played by Georgie Henley, then 8] that it had to be suited to a child, and a very small child at that. So, her crown is ornate, yet very delicate, with a certain naiveté. It was so sweet to see the sheer delight on her face the first time she saw it!
What were the major pieces you made?
JW: Altogether, there were 12, plus several variations of each.
I designed the four children’s crowns and had a team of skilled craftspeople help me make them. We replicated most in triplicate, including those for body doubles and stand-ins. It was especially challenging to make “soft” versions for the doubles who rode horses. Since they galloped and jumped over fallen trees, it would have been dangerous to wear metal crowns.
I was involved in creating the White Witch’s ice crown—icicles that gradually melt as Aslan the Great Lion and spring draw nearer. Each time you see her crown in a new scene, it’s changed color and size.
Isis [Mussenden, veteran costume designer,] created the initial concept. She wanted the icicles to look very frozen and gnarled, as though literally formed into the Witch’s hair. We made five versions [one for each stage of melting] and replicas of each version, because the crown was so fragile.
I also designed three rings for Ginarrbrik [the White Witch’s sleigh driver], all dark silver, heavy and nuggetlike. One is plain. The others are set with gems and lapis lazuli.
Tell us more about creating the children’s crowns.
JW: In designing them, I used the plant imagery in the film for the children’s gifts [presented by Father Christmas] and their armor for a cohesive look. All are copper and electroplated, with gems, and each has four motifs—two based on the character’s personality and two based on events he or she goes through.
JW: The crown of Peter [the oldest] is heavy and ornamental, with a medieval influence. It has apple leaves around the base; entwined apple leaves and alternating acorns around the midsection, with a central sun motif; and alternating engraved oak and apple leaves at the top. Oak leaves symbolize wisdom and strength, and are traditional imagery for “kingship.” Apple leaves symbolize knowledge, and refer to Narnia’s tree of protection [in “The Magician’s Nephew,” the story of Narnia’s creation].
The tiara of Susan [the next oldest] is a wreath of daffodils and mountain ash leaves. Daffodils are a symbol of spring, and mountain ash wood, used to make bows, refers to her gift [from Father Christmas]. My inspiration is the art-nouveau movement. I love organic forms and combining natural and unusual materials, so the daffodils are carved from gold-lipped mother-of-pearl shell, and set against engraved gold leaves.
The crown of Edmund [who plays a pivotal role in the story] is silver with birch leaves, symbolizing protection, rebirth, and change. It’s medieval in style, with elaborate engraving on the leaves’ surfaces.
The tiara of Lucy [the youngest, who literally opens the door to Narnia] is silver and made of tiny laurel leaves, interspersed with yarrow and laurel flowers. Yarrow is a symbol of healing, courage, and love, and we chose laurel for its qualities as a wreath. The laurel flowers are carved from white mother-of-pearl, and the yarrow flowers are gold mother-of-pearl.
Do you have a favorite?
JW: Susan’s tiara. I love the daffodils’ shapes and that they look so realistic. I also like the tone-on-tone effect of gold mother-of-pearl next to gold metal leaves. It works well.
All seem intricate and difficult to make.
JW: Peter’s took a very long time, as it has 80 separate pieces. We made those first, then soldered them, layer upon layer, to the base. It was like an elaborate jigsaw puzzle! For Lucy’s tiara, each leaf was soldered separately to the base, as were the flower settings and stamens. It wasn’t quick to make, either!
What about the White Witch’s ice crown?
JW: That was the hardest. We worked months on 12 to 14 prototypes before we got the right one. Even that was extremely difficult to make. Not only did the icicles have to tilt back from the head, causing problems of leverage, but the whole piece had to be light enough to wear and stay in place at a precarious height and position.
To give the icicles a cold frostiness, we used resin rather than plastic, but that meant they were as fragile as glass. You can imagine how problematic that was! If any fell or dropped, it literally smashed on the floor. We made extras for breakage and repairs.
WGS: Did that happen?
JW: The first screen test for the White Witch was a disaster! Tilda [Swinton, who portrays her,] was in full costume, hair, and makeup, being filmed in front of the crew. Since it was only a test, I temporarily attached the icicles to her crown with hot glue, because I needed them afterward for more work. However, I didn’t know this glue melts under very hot lights. Gradually, icicles fell off one by one, smashing on the floor. But as they say, “Bad rehearsal, great show.” On days of filming, everything went perfectly. None of the icicles fell after that day!
What was life like on this movie project?
JW: What was to be work for two days a week for a couple months became a full-time job, well into 2005. But it was a big project and kept me so busy, the year flew by. I was based in the costume workroom, where I had a design space and a workshop. I designed the pieces, made the patterns, and went to costume fittings. I was constantly trying things on the young actors, whom I got to know fairly well, taking photographs to see how things looked. I also supervised my team, who helped make the crowns and all their multiples. Often, I went to the set for fittings, to check that crowns were correctly placed, that nothing was going wrong, or to carry out emergency repairs.
Did the filmmakers provide any input?
JW: Isis and [Oscar-winner] Andrew [Adamson, the film’s director] had a great deal of input. I worked directly and closely with Isis on all the jewelry. As a designer, she’s very passionate, enthusiastic, and inspiring, and the pieces we made were very challenging, technically. We met with Andrew for all final approvals before I started a piece. Tilda also had input on her crown’s final design. It’s important to an actor’s performance to be comfortable in what he or she wears, both aesthetically and physically.
What’s next—another movie or more jewelry?
JW: I already sell a jewelry line in the United Kingdom, and I am currently designing and producing a continuation of another line—my sterling silver Oriental Flower Collection. Each piece is hand-finished and aimed at the boutique/contemporary jewelry gallery market. Retail starts at $80. I put my entire collection on hold while I worked on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as I literally didn’t have any spare time. So, it’s nice to come back now, and expand it with fresh ideas. My Web site has full details about my work [www.jasminewatson.com].