In the world of celebrity jewelers, Martin Katz is best known for breaking open the red carpet to independent jewelers. For a while in the nineties, he ruled that world with the likes of Harry Winston.
Katz was selling luxury watches and jewelry at I. Magnin for years before he began selling vintage jewels from his Los Angeles apartment, eventually adding his own designs to the mix.
He’d been in business only three years when an unknown actress named Sharon Stone decided to wear his jewelry to the premiere of her movie, Basic Instinct, and turned the equally-unknown Katz into a “jeweler to the stars.” I talked to Martin about that wild ride in my first post.
Here is part 2 of our interview.
Martin Katz: It was coined back in the forties, I think, but I would say I was the first independent to recreate it as a moniker. In the beginning, it was sort of funny because the red carpet events only happened three times a year and I didn’t like being thought of as “jeweler to the stars.” I didn’t want to be known for who wore my jewelry, I wanted to be known for the jewelry itself.
How many stars wore your jewelry in the peak years?
MK: It wasn’t unusual to have 35 people wearing my jewelry at a red carpet event.
You said the heyday for that ended in 2000. What happened then?
MK: By that time, I was appearing on Oprah and Entertainment Tonight and getting all this press. Other jewelers were saying, “This is a gold mine! We have to get in on it.” That’s when people started holding little conventions, booking luxury suites in hotels, hiring publicists and managers.
By the early 2000s, payola started to hit. First time I remember hearing about that was 2004, the year Million Dollar Baby came out. I was talking to the press at an Oscar party and the head of an international firm was there trying to make inroads, like everybody else. He said, “Who are you paying this year to wear your jewelry?” And I laughed. I thought he was joking.
Then little by little, year after year, the offers went up. People were saying to stylists, “Here’s a piece of jewelry for you, if you put your clients in my jewelry” or “Here’s a trip to Hawaii if you put somebody in my dress.”
What’s the typical payola deal today?
MK: I don’t know exactly because I won’t accept it. I’m not going to pay anybody. If they wear my jewelry, it’s because they love it.
I assume that’s cost you a few red carpet moments.
MK: Yes. But it’s impossible for any individual jeweler to dominate the red carpet today. I would have considered 15 celebrities wearing my jewelry a very slow red carpet in the late ’90s. If anyone has 15 today, it’s like you knocked a double grand slam! And that used to be my minimum.
So, you’re not accepting pay-offs, but you probably hear about deals going down.
MK: Well, Chopard is one example. Nobody had thought of Chopard as a jewelry house 15 years ago. It was a watch house that carried a minor amount of jewelry. But Chopard morphed into a jewelry house and decided they were going to rule Cannes, which made sense because they’re European-based. They were the first ones that I ever knew of to start paying big money – six-figure money – to celebrities. I suppose it makes sense when you have dozens of stores around the country and a multimillion-dollar ad budget. If you have a celebrity who’s going to flash your jewelry in front of 100 or 500 million people, why not reserve a half million for pay-offs? It makes sense.
I still hear your name mentioned at award ceremonies. What is it like for you now?
MK: At the Emmys, we had about a half dozen celebrities in our jewelry. We had Sandra Bullock, Roma Downey, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss wearing a pair of stylized moonstone earrings. Allison Janney looked stunning in my diamond chandelier Rain earrings with her fuschia dress.
What’s the trick to successfully outfitting an actress with the right jewelry?
MK: Sometimes I like to see some of these celebrities in something more special or important, but you have to match the jewelry to the personality. I always believe in not letting the jewelry wear the celebrity. The celebrity has to bring the jewelry to life, not the other way around.
Can you give me an example?
MK: Sandra Bullock wore my jewelry for her premieres of Gravity. She often chooses a simple stylization, like my Toby stud earrings when she put her hand prints down at the Chinese Theatre – simple classics, not necessarily recognizable. Many women don’t like to wear a lot of jewelry. They just want to put a little frosting on the cake.
Who’s at the opposite end of the spectrum?
MK: Salma Hayek likes to have fun with it. Sofia Vergara likes to wear large things. We often find the more mature actresses feel it’s more becoming and can wear these big items. Whenever you think of somebody with a more gregarious personality, chances are they’re going to be more comfortable wearing larger jewelry.
Actresses get scrutinized for everything they wear in public. It must be a little nerve-wracking. They’re not hiding behind a character when they’re on the red carpet.
MK: On the red carpet, celebrities are closer to themselves than any of the characters they portray, but they’re not 100 percent themselves because they’re in the public eye. They’re playing themselves in a public persona. So it’s important to match their personality. We want to encourage them to have some fun – it’s an important event – but we want them to be comfortable.
How has your business evolved now that you’re not outfitting two dozen people for every red carpet event?
MK: I enjoy working with celebrities and we’re getting more selective. We’re not a drive-through jeweler. If you want a relationship with us, we can build one. Thankfully, we don’t need to buy people off. We’ve had 21 years of uninterrupted red carpet exposure. There hasn’t been a single year when we haven’t had a celebrity in all three red carpet events wearing my jewelry, starting with Sharon.