Can We Talk … About Jewelry?

Joan Rivers talked to JCK editor-in-chief Hedda Schupak about fine jewelry, fashion jewelry, and the importance of piling it on. Holding a wet dog in her lap, she was wearing, by her own count, “5,000 ropes of pearls, a charm necklace, and three pairs of earrings. Thank goodness I have big earlobes! I do aerobics with my gold bracelets on, and my hands are filled with rings. Being Jewish, they’re all former engagement rings.”

Why do women love jewelry?

I think it’s an easy way to fix yourself up. You can take the ugliest old dress—or the ugliest old body—and cover it with jewelry and you look good.

Why do women buy jewelry?

For fashion jewelry, you just buy it because it looks great or trendy. You put on a big necklace of wrapped wood and you look fashionable. Good jewelry, you buy it for investment, protection, for when the romance is over, or you have to get out of Russia ahead of the cops.

“Get out of Russia”?

God bless jewelry. My grandma got out of Russia that way right after the Revolution. She sewed all her good jewelry in the lining of her coat. She came to America and once they were here sold it piece by piece until my mother, thank goodness, married a doctor.

So good jewelry really is about investment, or should you just invest in a fine piece because you love it?

Never invest in anything you love; it’ll break your heart if you have to sell it.

That’s an interesting perspective.

Don’t give good jewelry to your daughter-in-law, either. You won’t care if you don’t get Joan Rivers fashion jewelry back [if the couple divorces] but you will care if you don’t get Grandma’s pearls back.

Is it more important for jewelry to be on trend or classic and timeless?

Fashion jewelry should always be on trend, and timeless design should always be in real [jewelry].

Who are the jewelry trendsetters?

It used to be royalty and movie stars. In the old days, the icons were Jackie Onassis and Audrey Hepburn, but today it’s totally the red carpet, movies, and TV. Or it’s kids in the street and rappers. Look at police lineups and hookers—you’ll see lots of jewelry!

Hookers as fashion leaders?

Yes! In fact, almost everything we wear today—short skirts, tall boots—are things that hookers wear. But also, if you look at TV and see what’s happening with Beyoncé, Madonna, and the Sex and the City girls, it’s definitely show business [influencing jewelry trends].

What makes a trend catch on?

A trend is something you cannot push. If they don’t like it, they ain’t gonna buy it, no matter what the editors say. It’s the same thing with a star—you can’t make someone a star. With jewelry, you’ve got to see it on someone and love it, like seeing diamonds-by-the-yard on Julia Roberts or something. I was wearing wood bracelets three years ago. I picked them up in a little shop in California. Was I the only person wearing them, or was I onto something?

What inspires you in your designs?

A lot of real jewelry, a lot of things I could never afford or my customers could never afford.

Such as what?

I go to the past. I go to museums and look at paintings. I look at great jewelers like Fabergé, Van Cleef, Verdura, JAR. I love JAR! His work is so astounding.

Are there any modern jewelry designers you admire? JAR is still living, of course, but what about more commercially available jewelry designers?

I like Paloma Picasso, Elsa Peretti, and Robert Lee Morris. But I’m not really into modern jewelry. I believe jewelry should be extreme. That’s why I keep coming back to Fabergé. He really knew what to do with a big stone.

What about shopping for jewelry?

When you go into a fine jewelry store, you shouldn’t be made to feel like a peasant. I hate it when they take each piece back and put it away before they show the next, like I’m some kind of low-down person. It should be fun! Fun will make you buy, eventually.

Is there any jewelry store that’s fun?

Fred Leighton. It’s very inspirational. Of course, if he’d have let me pay $10 a week 30 years ago, I’d have had a fantastic bracelet from his store. But there’s a place you want to go to see jewelry history. He’s got everything, and he’s the best displayer in New York. It’s all out, like a candy store. He will pull everything out and let a woman play with it and cover herself in jewelry. That’s how you make a sale!

Do you think there’s any emotional connection between buying jewelry and buying shoes?

Well, you can’t wear shoes on your ear. Gold shoes will give you corns, and silver shoes will tarnish. But I think a woman who loves and wears jewelry probably also loves shoes. It’s all about accessorizing.

Accessorizing is critical, isn’t it?

If you said to me that I could only ever wear one black dress again but I could have all the accessories in the world, I’d sign on! I’m traveling to Australia for three weeks, and I’m taking only black and white clothes but tons of Joan Rivers fashion jewelry. It goes with everything, and it doesn’t matter if Qantas loses it.

Are you doing a QVC appearance Down Under?

No, I’m performing. I’m on QVC in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I design a new collection and present it every six weeks.

Every six weeks?

Yes, you can do that very easily with fashion jewelry. It’s always fun, always changing.

Do you ever see any classics you particularly admire?

God bless the circle! The big gold circle [link] chain came down from Van Cleef, and gold is always right, but you can do it at every price point for any woman. I also like to mix fine and fashion jewelry together.

Coco Chanel did that too.

So did Queen Mary, the grandmother of the current Queen. One day, she was in full regalia, wearing ropes and ropes of pearls. One strand broke as she was going into open Parliament, and the people around her scattered to pick up every single one. Afterward, she said, “Why all the fuss, those weren’t the real ones.”

Of course, the fine-jewelry industry doesn’t like to hear that!

But that’s the nice thing about jewelry—it’s going all over the place. You can put a beautiful pin on a jeans jacket, and who says you can’t wear diamonds during the day? Jewelry should be risky. You know, for the plain black dress! You’re never too young to wear it and look wonderful, and you’re never too old to wear it and look wonderful.