Byline: Merle Ginsberg
LOS ANGELES — In slick, modern Hollywood, where tastes in jewelry usually range from Harry Winston to Fred Leighton to Asprey & Garrard, Cynthia Bach has carved out a unlikely niche. Her pieces bring the 17th and 18th centuries to mind: They’re moody, baroque, haunting, and far in spirit from the starlets of the WB Network.
So it’s fitting that Cate Blanchett, a major studio darling with old-world allure, brought Bach’s jewelry into the limelight. Blanchett has worn some of Bach’s more unusual pieces since her awards-show circuit debut at the Golden Globes in January 1999, but she gave them serious theatrical exposure at this year’s Oscars.
“We decided to make Cate into an Indian princess,” says Bach in her Hollywood studio, filled with the crowns and scepters that inspire her royal-looking pieces. “With her love of theatricality, she can pull anything off.”
Bach met Blanchett after the actress chose her black, beaded Vera Wang dress for the 1999 Globes. “We wanted to do something new,” she says, “so we did a hundred karats of diamond briolettes in a bracelet — faceted little stones that look like crystals on a chandelier. It was very Edwardian, ethereal. Now the beads have become the hot designer style.”
For last year’s Oscars — when Blanchett had a Best Actress nomination for “Elizabeth” and donned a plum-colored, embroidered Galliano — Bach made her an amethyst bracelet that she didn’t end up wearing. But Bach found clients waiting in the wings, eager to buy it simply because it had been made for Blanchett.
“I don’t get paid to put jewelry on celebrities,” says Bach, who’s also designed one-of-a-kind jewelry for Salma Hayek, Jennifer Aniston, Calista Flockhart, Kelli Williams and Shiva Rose McDermott, “but I tend to sell out of the things after a celebrity wears them.” After Aniston wore her solid-gold giant hoop earrings to the 1999 Emmys, “that’s when the trend of large hoops really kicked in.”
This year, after Blanchett chose her Jean Paul Gaultier couture low-backed black gown with its intricate gold claps, Bach decided the dress called for jewelry that was really gutsy.
“I walked into her hotel room with a box of 20 pieces of mostly Indian mogul jewelry styles — some were antiques I’d refurbished, some were inspired by antiques.”
Blanchett kept layering them on, and even her hairdresser, Danilo, decided to use a gold head ornament to wrap her hair in the back.
She also wore a ceremonial handpiece, which included rings of rubies, diamonds and pearls, an exotic arm band, a pinkie ring with a 20-carat yellow sapphire and large solid-gold hoop earrings from Bach.
“I’d made her black diamond hoops the night before the Oscars,” Bach says, “but they didn’t work. So early Sunday morning I made the new ones. From the front, Cate looked totally modern, and from the back, like an Indian princess all in that yellow-colored gold.”
Blanchett returned all of Bach’s jewelry. “But I decided to give Cate the hoop earrings as a gift,” Bach says. “She’s not as jaded as most Hollywood people. And you can tell that by looking at what she wears.”