HAVING LEFT BEHIND A LIFE THAT’S DRAMATIC EVEN BY HOLLYWOOD STANDARDS, JEWELRY DESIGNER ERICA COURTNEY SETTLES DOWN TO SUCCESS.
Byline: Kavita Daswani
Last night, Erica Courtney was glued to her television set, like millions of other fans around the world watching the Academy Awards and the pre-show arrivals frenzy.
But Courtney had more than a passing interest in the proceedings. The Los Angeles-based jewelry maker hoped at least one of the evening’s nominees would glide down the red carpet wearing a Courtney-designed diamond necklace or earrings. Of course, with stars’ fashion whims often being as capricious as Hollywood itself, Courtney knows there’s no predicting what a celebrity will wear until he or she steps out of that limo.
Still, she had every reason to be optimistic.
At this January’s Golden Globes, best actress winner Julia Roberts bounded onto the stage clad in Armani and Courtney’s petite pave diamond hoop earrings. That same evening, nominee Calista Flockhart sparkled in the designer’s dangling diamond earrings, bracelet and matching necklace. Lustrous Tahitian pearls graced the neck and ears of Globe nominee Jane Kaczmarek of “Malcolm in the Middle,” whose husband, “The West Wing”‘s Bradley Whitford — also nominated — chose a pair of gold and mabe pearl cufflinks.
For the Oscars, Courtney created a diamond-intensive Academy Awards fine jewelry collection, which she debuted earlier this month in her Beverly Boulevard boutique at a reception attended by many of Tinseltown’s most influential stylists, including George Kotsiopoulos and Vincent Boucher. “Most of the nominees are young and beautiful, and I wanted to see them in something that moved, that reflected the light from every angle,” she said.
Since Courtney opened her namesake shop in 1998, she has attracted her fair share of press, in part thanks to high-profile customers such as Madonna, Uma Thurman and Jennifer Aniston, not to mention Elizabeth Taylor — a woman who definitely knows her gems.
But out of the spotlight, her life has been just as fascinating. A traumatic child custody battle with her former husband had the Louisiana native and her son on the run for eight years. To protect them both, she assumed the name Erica Courtney from a character on the soap opera “All My Children.”
In 1989, Courtney met L.A. musician Vince Flores, now her husband, and relocated to California. But her past would intrude into her fairy tale when, in 1992, the FBI arrested her on kidnapping charges during a business trip to New York. She was sentenced to a three-year probation with no jail time. Eventually, the 18-year legal battle over her son ended, and success in life and business prevailed.
The Oscars is just one more sign of that.
Initially, Courtney found it intimidating, knowing that her jewelry was being sized up by stylists and stars. But Courtney eventually relaxed when the big-name customers came calling.
“They’re much more personal,” Courtney said of her pieces. “I sit there and I sketch and sketch until I see an earring that is drop-dead beautiful and see if I can place a person in that earring.”
Her pieces, though modern, have an unmistakable vintage feel. She often uses old-cut diamonds to lend a novel look to her jewelry. And it works, especially since vintage-inspired pieces seem more relevant to the younger star than mega-carat gemstones. Prices range from $40 for a sterling-silver cross pendant to the high six figures for a lavishly diamond-studded necklace.
For the Oscar collection, Courtney created some 50 pieces. There is a finesse to her handiwork that results in earrings like miniature diamond chandeliers swinging from petite diamond hoops, or vintage-look necklaces in which three ornate platinum chains each boast a sparkling solitaire. Cognac-colored briolettes are like tiny rivulets suspended from earrings. There is even a delicate platinum and diamond tiara, which may end up being more than just a showpiece.
“There are so many princesses nominated this year,” Courtney laughed. “But I don’t expect [anyone to wear a] tiara, although it would be lovely.”
Courtney is a longtime jewelry aficionado. As a child, she delighted in being given rhinestone baubles. As an adult prone to piling on the jewels, she said even drag queens thought she went “over the top.”
On an average work day, she sports several bracelets and rings and a strand of black pearls, any potential excessiveness tempered by a simple black top and jeans. With husband Flores a partner in the business and 22-year-old son Josh occasionally lending a helping hand, Courtney said she couldn’t be in a better place in her life — Oscar endorsements or not.
Nevertheless, Courtney has observed firsthand how awards-night exposure can lead to sales. After Julia Roberts’s Globes win, a bride-to-be came into Courtney’s store to buy the same pair of earrings. At $6,500, she couldn’t afford them — but Courtney thought it was nice to be asked.
“A lot of the time, you see jewelry sitting in a store, and you put it on and, if it’s for you, it’s 10 times more beautiful. When a star is wearing it, it looks like something that others can wear, too.”
And Courtney is keeping her fingers crossed that this morning, she’ll be fielding more than a few of those celebrity-inspired calls.