Making the stars twinkle Baubles: On Oscar night, when actresses want to make a sparkling statement, they borrow expensive bangles from Harry Winston, jeweler of the rich and famous.

March 20, 1998|By Roger Michel | Roger Michel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BEVERLY HILLS -- Nike may have Michael Jordan's feet, but Harry Winston owns Mira Sorvino's decolletage. And Winona Ryder's ear lobes. And maybe, if the legendary firm of celebrity jewelers can find just the right bauble, Jodie Foster's wrist.

Set into a prestigious corner of Rodeo Drive, Harry Winston Inc. has made its name as much on the beauty of its gems as on the glamour of the stars who so publicly wear them.

As Winston scion and current company CEO, Ronald Winston said earlier this week, "Our marketing opportunity extends from the neck to the cleavage." If past experience is any guide, the gowns worn at this year's Academy Awards on Monday night will offer ample opportunity.

Long before the Nike swoosh graced an NBA uniform, company founder Harry Winston realized the marketing might of celebrities. In 1943, Jennifer Jones, star of that year's hit movie "Song of Bernadette," became the first in a long line of stars to sport a Winston at the Oscars.

Although CEO Winston insists jewels are loaned on a first-come, first-served basis, many of the celebrities wait until the last minute anyway. Last Monday, with the red-carpet walk and Joan Rivers' arrival coverage just a week away, the pace started picking up.

Louise Fletcher, the Best Actress of 1975 (she played Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), was among the first through the door.

Fletcher was ushered past undercover armed guards to see Armand Galvan-Espinola, the store manager and the most discreet man ever born.

He disappeared into the vault and returned with a laden tray. "These are beautiful," Fletcher said, admiring a pair of $65,000 diamond hoop earrings, "but I would be worried about wearing clips. What if one fell off? That would be your worst nightmare."

Tell Jessica Yu about it. When the documentary filmmaker got home last year after accepting her Oscar for "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien," she noticed a diamond was missing from her $40,000 bracelet. "I was having this total Guy de Maupassant moment," she told the New York Times, "where I thought I'm going to be making films for the rest of my life to pay back Harry Winston."

The store discovered the diamond had fallen out in its vault, but the loss would have been covered anyway by Winston's insurance policy -- a policy so strict it prohibits Ronald Winston from being photographed.

As Fletcher was finishing up -- she went for a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond-and-sapphire bracelet -- Armand mentioned that another former Oscar winner, Marlee Matlin ("Children of a Lesser God") had just arrived.

Matlin settled into Armand's salon, and a new round of jewels was brought out.

"What about this?" Matlin asked, as she held an "important" (that's Winston-speak for expensive) diamond necklace around her neck and smiled.

"Too heavy," said Jack Jason, the head of her production company.

Matlin spotted a photograph of Elizabeth Taylor wearing a Flintstone-sized diamond pendant necklace. "What about that?"

"That's the Hope Diamond," Jason explained. (It wasn't, but Winston does have it.)

After settling on a few hundred thousand dollars worth of jewels, and telling her daughter that she "loved her more" than a whole tray's worth, it was time for Matlin to go. "Off to Spago," Jason said, referring to the celebrity watering hole.

While many of the civilians who brave the store make jokes to take the edge off their discomfort, so do some of the stars.

"Do you have layaway?" actress Theresa Russell asked on Tuesday morning. Russell, best remembered for "Black Widow," is in a new movie, "Wild Things," which opened today. She's not going to the Academy Awards, but needs a glamour injection for the parties she'll be attending afterward. "I'm doing the diamond boogie," she said as she danced around the store.

Meanwhile, an issue was brewing. Word had filtered down that a taste arbiter at Armani had decreed Ben Affleck's mother should wear no jewelry when she accompanies her son to the Oscars. "I'm going to kill him," said Tony Vargas, one of Winston's New York publicists who had flown out to Los Angeles.

A quick fact-finding mission up the street to Armani's glitzy boutique revealed that Ma Affleck would be wearing a black diamante jacket with chiffon pants. A necklace would be lost in the high collar, but a Winston publicist saw an opportunity to sneak something on her ears.

So, who else is wearing what? The folks at Winston could teach George Stephanopoulos a thing or two about keeping a secret. Asked if anyone would be wearing one of the store's tiaras to the Oscars, Winston publicist Carol Brodie-Gelles said: "I don't know, and if I did, you'd have to shoot me. And even then."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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