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Fine Jewelry Adding Sparkle to the Runways

Often forgotten on the fashion stage, fine jewelry will shine on the runways this week in a new spirit of collaboration between the sectors.

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NEW YORK — When was the last time fine jewelry made news on a New York runway?

Practically never. Jewelry news is reserved for red-carpet moments like the Oscars and Golden Globes. Who can forget that stunning Harry Winston diamond choker Gwyneth Paltrow wore at the 1999 Oscars, or the oversized chandelier earrings from Fred Leighton that adorned Nicole Kidman at the recent Golden Globes?

But to the often casual sportswear-minded designers in America, jewelry until recently has been almost nonexistent — and jewelers have railed against it for years, especially as fine jewelry sales continue to soar.

Jeweler Robert Lee Morris, who has collaborated with Donna Karan for more than 20 years, attributed the lack of jewelry on the runway in part to American designers’ focus on clean looks that don’t necessarily need jewelry, and to the fact that many jewelers often operate independently of what is happening in fashion.

“This is not something you learn about in jewelry school, and many jewelers have had a hard time getting connected with fashion designers,” he noted. “Jewelry for the runway is about graphic, dazzling appeal and not so much about decorative elements.”

But, given the economic climate, times are about to change. Fine jewelry will finally get its chance to shine on the New York runways this week as designers glam up their shows.

“The accessories business is what’s holding up the fashion business in many cases these days,” Lee Morris said. “And this is a time when jewels pick up everyone’s spirit.”

Designer John Hardy’s jewels are making their runway debut at the Chaiken show today, while designer Stephen Webster launched a collection of silver jewelry at the Arkadius presentation on Saturday. Among other jewelry and watch firms sponsoring shows and working with designers are Piaget, Elara, Vivid Collection and William Goldberg Diamond Corp., as well as Fred Leighton, which has long been a runway favorite. In addition, the trade group Perles de Tahiti is sponsoring three shows.

Diamonds will be especially prevalent on the runways this year, pushed in part by the Diamond Information Center, the promotional arm of De Beers Group’s Diamond Trading Co., which has been matching up fashion designers and jewelry firms.

This story first appeared in the February 10, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“This is an increased area of focus for us,” said Sally Morrison, the DIC’S director. “Designers are more interested in jewelry and are asking us for our help, and we are also reaching out to designers to match them with jewelers. Many of the designers are looking for bolder and more important jewelry.

“The diamond industry needs more design options, and the more we can marry those two worlds, the better.”

Some jewelers are taking their runway relationships past just loaning jewelry to designers. Robert Lee Morris is working again this season with Karan, and said he and the designer work closely together to coordinate the jewels and apparel.

“Our relationship goes beyond just loaning jewelry for the show,” he said. “We have a symbiotic relationship, and we work together as a team.

“We are doing more for this show than we have ever done before,” he added. “Jewelry is integrated everywhere, from the shoes to the belts and to the clothing itself, and the jewelry on top of that.”

Hot jeweler Stephen Webster also said he was closely involved in his collaboration with English designer Arkadius. Although Webster has loaned his jewelry for shows before, this is the first time he has worked closely with a designer to develop a collection that is in sync with the clothes.

“I met several times with Arkadius to work around the theme of orchid,” said Webster, who is best known for his over-the-top designs and celebrity clientele, such as Madonna. His new silver collection includes graphic earrings, wrist cuffs and bold rings, as well as leather chokers, and there are plenty of pearls.

In another collaboration, designer Narciso Rodriguez and William Goldberg developed a special piece of jewelry based around the Achoka diamond, Goldberg’s branded cut, according to a spokeswoman for William Goldberg.

Cynthia Steffe, who shows today, designed a collection of jewelry with Elara, the diamond firm. Steffe said she sketched the pieces and worked with Elara to come up with the concepts.

“The advantage of doing it this way is that the jewelry works with my collection and fits in with my vision,” Steffe said.

The jewelry she designed this year is focused on items for daywear, and among the pieces will be platinum chains with diamonds and yellow and pink sapphires.

Not surprisingly, Sean John’s show was slated to feature bold watches and jewelry from Jacob the Jeweler, the company known for its flashy styles and celebrity clientele. And Piaget was on the catwalk for the second time around as the sponsor of the David Rodriguez show.

The invitation for the Rodriguez show says plainly that “Piaget Presents” on the front. Rodriguez, who was scheduled to show Sunday, said he planned to weave some of the jewelry directly into some of his creations.

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