Designer Showcase: Red-Carpet Queen Lorraine Schwartz



With her virtuoso collection of one-of-a-kind jewels, Schwartz helps put the glitter in glitterati

Cate Blanchett. Beyoncé. Blake Lively. When it comes to diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, Hollywood A-listers line up at Lorraine Schwartz’s door like children line up for candy on Halloween. Yet no one seems more surprised than Schwartz herself to be known as a jeweler to the stars.

“I never realized I would become a celebrity jeweler,” says the New York City–based designer, whose family has been in the diamond business for three generations. “I considered myself a diamond dealer.”

It wouldn’t be until 2000 that Schwartz incorporated her design business. But in the mid-1990s her career took a turn that would hint at things to come. That was when, through the connection of a friend, a woman came inquiring about a very large and unique diamond. Her name was Iman and the rock would later become her engagement ring to David Bowie. “We were so nervous,” Schwartz recalls, adding that she actually tripped on a step and fell on Bowie. “It was a 10-carat canary diamond, and it was a big sale for me. I ended up making her the engagement ring.”

A bracelet from Schwartz’s Evil Eye collection

Fast forward to the 2000s. The economy was booming, and shows like Sex and the City were hitting the mainstream. Youthful, ­fashion-centric ­jewelry began to supplant more traditional-looking fine jewelry, particularly on the red carpet. Schwartz saw an opportunity. “I started to make things that I would personally like,” she says. “Something a little funkier.”

Thin diamond and gold bangles—stackable and in various colors—struck the right bling for the time. Her now-famous blue topaz–infused Evil Eye line—a play off the popular amulet that wards off evil spirits—also caught on. The venerable Fred Leighton, a jeweler to the stars long before Schwartz claimed that title, introduced her designs to Hollywood.

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Schwartz’s jewelry made its red carpet debut when Halle Berry wore the designer’s delicate diamond necklace to the 2002 SAG Awards.

The floodgates opened. “Barbra Streisand, Pharrell Williams, all the Hollywood wives, Justin Timberlake, Heather Locklear,” says Schwartz, rattling off a few of the many marquee names who commissioned everything from diamond rings to diamond-encrusted hoops. “The pieces were bolder, a little bit fashion-forward. They were making the statement rather than the clothes. People weren’t used to that then, but it started a trend.”

Trend is the operative word, for its more common association with fashion than jewelry. Schwartz admits she started approaching jewelry design more like a fashion designer. Not surprisingly, she has since become a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Names like Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, and Coco Chanel continue to play influential roles in how she thinks about a piece, particularly its texture.

Like a fashion designer, Schwartz likes to take a traditional look and turn it on its head. For example, Angelina Jolie wasn’t in the mood for diamonds at the 2009 Academy Awards when she was nominated for Best Actress in Changeling. So Schwartz suggested emeralds. They were, in fact, a pair of $2 million, 115 ct. Colombian emerald drop earrings. There wasn’t a metal setting in sight. “They were clean, green, and solid,” she says. “Look what it did for her face—it really lifted her face. It wasn’t over-dressy—the solid color became a neutral.” Schwartz has since put emeralds on the ears of ­Gossip Girl star Blake Lively and recent Oscar nominee Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right).

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At January’s National Board of Review awards, actress Blake Lively accessorized her purple Marchesa dress with Schwartz’s turquoise earrings and bangles.

It is the same with any material Schwartz works with: Whether gold, blackened bronze, wood, jade, diamonds, or titanium, she looks for the unpredictable, the unexpected. “I like dimension,” she says.

Her collections are equally adventurous. In 2007, Schwartz debuted the Diamond Monkey Collection, a whimsical gold-and-diamond take on the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys. Last November, she launched the 2BHappy collection, based on a motif of capital Bs that bookend spheres etched in smiley faces. “It sounds cheesy,” she says, conceding it took some time to get the design right. “But it’s a really cool bracelet.” The 2BHappy collection made a fan out of Lively.

What’s next for the designer? “I’m using a lot of color. A lot of color.” Other than that, Schwartz is tight-lipped about upcoming collections. She would rather talk about the highlights of her career thus far. For example, she will never forget her excitement when Halle Berry chose a delicate diamond necklace to finish off a white William Ivey Long gown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2002, marking Schwartz’s first red carpet moment. The actress won for Monster’s Ball, which would lead to her historic Oscar victory.

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When Angelina Jolie wore Schwartz’s emeralds (with a simple black Elie Saab gown) at the 2009 Oscars, she gave new life to the classic green gem.

Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Heidi Klum have all frequented her showroom, but when Beyoncé—Schwartz’s “muse”—steps onto the red carpet in one of her designs, it’s magic, says Schwartz: “She can carry jewelry like nobody else can.” And the Accessories Council Innovator of the Year Award she took home in 2008 still ranks among her proudest accomplishments.

Recently, though, the press has seized upon her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor. Schwartz had potato pancakes with the late actress earlier this year. It would be the last time she saw her. “I was very close to her,” she says. “She was just an ­incredible human being. She radiated from within. She loved jewelry like a little girl. She was a real gem. I will miss her greatly.”

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Beyoncé, at the Oscars in 2005 in Atelier Versace, carries “jewelry like nobody else,” Schwartz says.

Despite having worked with the most beautiful and stylish women in the world, for Schwartz, there is one woman who stands above the rest. “There’s only one woman of style—my mom,” she says. “My mom was regal, impeccable. I got my taste from her.” In honor of her mother, who died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 55, Schwartz, together with her brother, Ilan Sandberg, and her sister, Ofira Sandberg, established the Shulamit Benjamini Sandberg Medical Research Grant for cancer research and ­philanthropy. “Every time I get stuck on an idea, I think of her and inspiration comes to me,” she says.

Schwartz takes pride in the fact that she has no public relations department and does not pay celebrities to wear her jewelry. Nor will you ever find her jewelry in a gift bag. More like an haute couturier than a ­jeweler, she sells at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, by appointment at her Fifth Avenue ­showroom, or by ­private commission. Make no mistake, though—Schwartz is a ­jeweler through and through. “The jewelry is the main focus,” she says. “The outfit is just the ­accessory.”