You may be familiar with the jewellery of Lorraine Schwartz, thanks to an A-list army of ‘Lorraine girls,’ but perhaps less so with its founder, because she’s preferred it that way. The spotlight has instead been given to the jewels, worn by a celebrity clientele that count Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian in its mix. So when we sat down to talk with the New York-based jewellery designer in her suite at The Peninsula Hong Kong, I was intrigued to hear from the woman behind the stones.
“I never thought I would go into this business,” says Lorraine, despite the fact that she succeeds two generations of diamond dealers. “When I was at college I was producing big fashion shows and I continued doing that for a while after, but it was always so sporadic so my parents suggested that I come and help out. I think they meant clerically but the first thing I did was sell a 10 carat diamond.” This was the beginning of a career that has been far from conventional.
While Lorraine had inherited an eye for sourcing stones, she wanted to push the boundaries of fine jewellery design, to give her pieces an edge. “I started to create more unique, cool, funky high-end jewellery. Nobody did that at the time,” she says. This combination of flawless stones and avant garde design soon attracted attention, notably from David Bowie whom Lorraine met through a friend. It was 1994 when Bowie asked her to create an engagement ring – a yellow canary diamond – for his girlfriend, model Iman. Engagement rings have since become an important part of Lorraine’s career, with Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and Blake Lively all wearing her designs. “The most important piece of jewellery I can make is an engagement ring,” says Lorraine. “The stones have to have the most beautiful proportion, they have to be chic, they have to tell a story.”
In 2000, with the help of her sister Ofira who remains in the business today, Lorraine launched her first fine jewellery collection – Against Evil Eye – which was an instant hit. “I believe in the evil eye, and that you should always be protected with positive energy so I made my own version with inlaid topaz. The next thing I know, Naomi Campbell calls me and says ‘I have to have one’ and it just went crazy with stores like Fred Leighton and Neiman’s calling me to buy it.”
It was after this that Lorraine began meeting LA stylists and creating custom-made jewellery for the red carpet. “The stylists show us the dresses, and we look at the cut and colour and we really help them style the jewellery. It’s very much a couture experience,” expalins Lorraine. In those early days, Lorraine dressed Cate Blanchett and Halle Berry for the Oscars and even styled Monica and Chandler’s wedding in hit TV show Friends. It was also around this time that Lorraine began building jewellery collections for the likes of Barbara Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor. “We established this amazing relationship with Elizabeth Taylor,” says Lorraine. “She became a kind of a mentor to us. She believed that every time you commemorate something in your life, you should buy a piece of jewellery. Shortly before she passed away, she came to visit us at our hotel in LA and she had potato pancakes and all this fun food and we had a great time.”
It was when Lorraine was introduced to Pharrell in 2002 that she begun moving and shaking in the music industry. “At this time, there was an aura of indulgence around jewellery in the hip hop community and Pharrell came to my office looking for some yellow diamonds. I had no idea who he was but there was a chemistry there and I really liked him,” says Lorraine fondly. She began educating him on diamonds and the importance of investing in GIA-quality stones, and the pair formed a creative friendship. “Pharrell is such an artist in his own right,” says Lorraine. “We came up with designs together and he, my sister and I, and his wife – we’re family.” In March this year, the night before the amfAR Gala, Pharrell threw a party in Hong Kong for Lorraine, “a celebration of art,” as she begins to expand her brand further in the region. “We’re planning to open an office or store here soon,” she reveals, as well as a special Hong Kong version of the much-loved 2B Happy bracelet, a collection that was born in Hong Kong.
Of all the stones, Lorraine cites emeralds as the most defining of her career. “We saw that there are emeralds that are brighter and more open than others, and when you wear them on their own at night they look like green diamonds,” she explains. At the Oscars 2009, Angelina Jolie showcased a pair of Lorraine Schwartz emerald-only earrings and the moment was iconic. “Until then, people always wore emeralds with diamonds,” says Lorraine. Then there were those emerald earrings worn by Beyonce to President Obama’s inauguration for which a subsequent newspaper headline read ‘Who stole the limelight from Barack Obama? Beyonce’s emerald earrings.’ “People are looking for something a little different nowadays,” says Lorraine. So, as well as emeralds, “rubies and sapphires are very hot, and also padparadscha which have a lotus colour and they’re so soft and beautiful.”
Authenticity is a word Lorraine uses time again not only to describe the stones that she sources – “especially today with the terrible trend for man-made diamonds going on” – but also the women that wear her jewellery. “Lorraine girls are authentic, they’re real, they’re not wearing to impress or show off, they’re wearing because that’s who they are,” says Lorraine. “Today I feel sorry for young designers who are trying to build their name because a lot of the famous brands are paying celebrities to wear jewellery, which is sad. That’s something we’ve never done. And of course Instagram and social media has changed the game a lot.” Her advice for emerging designers would be “to stay really true to who you are. You have to find your niche and promote it, and not be jaded by everyone else. Just believe in everything you’re doing and focus.”
So who would Lorraine still like to see wear her coveted jewels? “The Queen of England?” she quips, though truly it would be her mother, who passed away at the age of 55 having never seen Lorraine’s work. Along with impressionist art, nature, and the flow and texture of certain fabrics, Lorraine’s mother is the biggest source of inspiration for her designs. “My mother was the chicest. What was so cool about her – and I think how I learnt to mix my elements – was the way she would wear wood, jade, and raw crystal in a way that looked priceless,” says Lorraine. “Our careers are an ode to our mum. The jewellery is a tribute to her.”
CreditLead photo shot by Stephenie Kay