The Art Nouveau crown and brooch
worn by Galadriel [actress Cate Blanchett]
in the “Lord of the Rings” film epic are some
of the dozens of jewelry pieces designed
by Jasmine Watson.
‘Lord of the Rings,” the multi-million dollar film version (opening Dec. 19) of J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic about hobbits, elves, wizards and battles between good and evil, has a cast and crew of thousands-but only one jewelry designer.
Her name is Jasmine Watson, and for this film trilogy (one released annually through 2003) in which jewelry plays highly visible roles, her designs and creativity were crucial.
A 1995 jewelry design graduate of the Unitec School of Design, Auckland, New Zealand, Ms. Watson, 28, recently relocated her jewelry design studio to London, launched a Web site about her jewelry ( www.jasminewatson.com) and also advised New Line Cinema, producers of “Lord of the Rings,” on reproducing jewelry in the film.
In an exclusive interview with JCK following the film’s Dec. 11 London premiere, Jasmine Watson told JCK Senior Editor William George Shuster what it was like being the jewelry designer for three of the biggest and most anticipated films of the 21st century. The interview in its entirety will appear in the February issue of JCK.
WGS: Ms. Watson, how did you land the plumb job as jeweler for the three-film “Lord of the Rings” project?
JW: I was extremely lucky. I began producing my own jewelry six years ago. Four years ago, I also began making jewelry and costumes for the “Hercules” and “Xena” syndicated TV series [filmed in Wellington, New Zealand]. That gave me experience with large scale costume jewelry and working in a film environment, including fittings to meet the actor, doing measurements and making alterations.
When I learned “Lord of the Rings” would film in Wellington, I set my heart on being its jewelry designer. I was set to send my resume, but then Ngila Dickson, costume designer for the TV series, with whom I had a good professional relationship, was named the Ring films’ costume designer. She asked me to join her team of key people.
WGS: How does designing jewelry for a film differ from TV?
JW: With the TV series, you had eight working days [per episode]. You must make things quickly, they must look fantastic, but since they’re for the small TV screen, you only have to work to a certain standard [of quality and precision]. However, with “Lord of the Rings,” a brooch in close-up on a movie screen can look as big as a door! So, all jewelry must be perfect on screen for close-ups. But I had so much time allocated for research and design, I spent weeks ensuring that.
WGS: What jewelry did you create for the films?
JW: There are approximately 80 original items, which I designed. Every character has his or her own custom-made jewelry or accessory. But we [Watson and her staff of five] actually made over 300 pieces. Some are one-of-a-kind, such as Galadriel’s jewelry for [actress] Cate [Blanchett].
For the Elven archers, I designed one brooch, and had 150 copies cast. We made 17 versions of the Evenstar pendant which Arwen [the Elven princess] gives to [her beloved] Aragon to wear, because in the films [actor] Viggo [Mortensen, who plays Aragon] must wear it all the time-in the mud, when he’s fighting. So, it was constantly getting lost or broken. We also did 18 versions of his “ring of Isildur.” For close-ups did we use the one of 22 kt. gold with a real tourmaline. For long shots, we used `rougher’ versions.
The only jewelry I didn’t design were the One Ring itself [which propels the film’s plot], and the rings worn by [the wizard] Gandalf, Elrond [the Elven king], the Witch King and the Ring Wraiths. Alan Lee [noted Tolkien illustrator] did them before I joined. I was devastated when I learned The Ring was already done, because it was the one piece I really wanted to make. But then I learned the jeweler who made it [for the film from Lee’s design] was Jens Hansen, a founding father of the contemporary jewelry movement in New Zealand [who died two years ago] and one of my tutors at art school! If I couldn’t do it, I was happy he did.
WGS: What limits were put on your designs or materials?
JW: None. We had so much time to do research and designs, and such beautiful materials to work with. For most jewelry, we used sterling silver or electroplated big pieces. Most jewelry in the books is wrought of ‘mithril,’ a fictitious metal made up by Tolkien, but like very white silver. So most jewelry in the film is silver, very ‘white’ and left unpolished. We also used actual gems.
WGS: How do you go about designing jewelry for a film project like Lord of the Rings?
JW: The appropriate jewelry design is crucial to a particular scene or to enhance or accompany an actor’s performance. It’s one more piece in creating a convincing narrative. So, I needed to know the concept of the set, where a character would be, what colors he or she used, so I could design to keep the look cohesive.
That [information] usually came from Nglia Dickson, the costume designer, but she allowed me a huge amount of creative freedom. For example, the Elven leaf-like brooches had to have an organic handmade quality, but also be finely crafted, complex and clever. I was given a design of the costume (a cloak) and a swatch of the fabric as a color sample because the brooches had to be of the same hue.
Once I had such information, I went to the library, various bookstores and anywhere I could source good books to research historical jewelry, various design styles and techniques, and-in the case of the brooches-go to nature, gathering leaves and leaf skeletons. I would make 50 to 80 drawings of possible designs and ideas. We would all look at them (and) decide which worked. Then, I made the actual design.
Sometimes, I would go to the film set on the first day of shooting [a scene] to establish a character’s costume, position the jewelry and ensure it looked right. Other times, I was called to the set to carry out emergency repairs or alternations.
WGS: How did Tolkien’s writings influence your designs? Are there many references to jewelry in the Lord of the Rings?
JW: Yes. His references are beautiful and very specific. I used them as much as possible, even putting them on a computer disk to refer to. In describing Aragon’s ring, called the “ring of Isildur,” for example, he wrote, “For this ring was like two twin serpents, whose eyes were like emeralds, and their heads met beneath a crown of golden flowers that one upheld and the other devoured …” That was the kind of quotation I could specifically design from. He wrote with such attention to detail. For me, that was a fantastic help. There’s so much there in his books.
WGS: Who or what else influenced your work?
JW: Alan Lee was very influential. He was the conceptual artist for whole film-designing the overall look and concept, sets, and props-and we took what we did from that. My absolute “mentor” [as an influence on her designs] is one of the leading lights of the Art Nouveau movement, [French jewelry designer] René Lalique [1860-1945]. Various groups in the film have certain styles allocated to them. For the elves-who wear most of the jewelry-the style is Art Nouveau. That includes Galadriel’s delicate wreath-like crown and the Evenstar pendant, inspired by the flowing, intertwining lines of Art Nouveau.
WGS: Was director Peter Jackson or any of the actors involved in creating the jewelry?
JW: Peter wasn’t very involved in the initial stages, but always gave final approval on a design before it went ahead. Actors sometimes were involved. Liv [Tyler, who plays Arwen], Cate [Blanchett, who plays Galadriel] and Miranda [Otto, who plays Eowyn, a woman warrior] had clear ideas of what looks good on them. Because there wasn’t time to fabricate jewelry while [they] waited, we took head casts of Cate and Liv, and molded the crowns [they wear in the films] to those so they were ready when they came for final fittings.
WGS: What’s your opinion of the finished film – and its jewelry?
JW: Having seen the movie in its entirety at last, I was overwhelmed by the overall impact of the amazing sets and costumes, the beautiful scenery and fantastic visual effects. Despite my “behind the scenes” involvement, I was still completely captivated by it. I was very pleased with the overall “look” of the jewelry, and actually quite surprised at how prominently it is featured.
WGS: Is there a “Jasmine Watson Collection” based on the films’ jewelry?
JW: New Line Cinema may reproduce some pieces from the film, but I don’t know which ones specifically or how they will sell them.
For myself, I don’t have a collection based on the film’s jewelry, but the original work I do is similar, because both are in my own style. Now, I am putting my own work into galleries and shops again, and I hope the films’ success will make people aware of who I am as a designer and will make my style very recognizable.