Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz.
A window display at Katzâ€™s boutique in Beverly Hills.
The Bijoux de Mer starfish brooch shows off Katzâ€™s gift for transforming gems into whimsical works of art.
Art Deco-inspired emerald half-moon cabochon and diamond earrings.
Sally Field at the 2013 Oscars, wearing Martin Katz jewels.
Helen Hunt at the 2013 Oscars, wearing Martin Katz jewels.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner | May 6, 2013 | Style & Beauty
Eyeing the stone with the care of a surgeon, Martin Katz decided on a bold course of treatment: He had the giant emerald sliced clean in two. The green half-moon cabochons now grace a pair of earrings, topped with dazzling trapezoid-shaped diamonds. The design has an Art Deco feel, like something you’d find on the lobes of a 1930s movie star, but “It’s not meant to look old, it’s meant to feel Old World,” says Katz. “I always believe in doing something spirited, not a copy.
For 25 years, Katz has married exquisite gemstones with meticulously designed settings to create jewelry so heart-stopping, each piece should probably be sold with a defibrillator. This spring, he celebrated a quarter century in business with an exhibit, “MK-XXV, with Love,” at his Beverly Hills location.
Some of these pieces are owned by my clients; I’ve borrowed them for the retrospective,” says Katz as he examines two trays of spectacular specimens. He holds up the Chickadee pin, a lighthearted conversation piece that turns the talk serious with thousands of yellow and white diamonds. The Bijoux de Mer Starfish brooch, anchored by a Tahitian gray pearl, was contributed by a very important collector—Katz’s wife, Kelly.
The exhibit, which was open to the public, also featured the Gardenia brooch that famously held Felicity Huffman’s hair in place as she strode up the red carpet at the 2006 Oscars; and one of Katz’s personal favorites, the Millennial Bow pin, set with thousands of small diamonds using his micro-pavé technique.
Katz, 57, has long had a passion for gems. He grew up in South Bend, Indiana, the fourth of five children. “My aunt worked at a jewelry store in Chicago and when we would go there, my dad would buy my mom a piece of jewelry. I was a 10-year-old kid, looking in the cases. I remember my sister saying, ‘Oh, there’s a three-carat diamond.’ I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was fascinated.” In college, he built a small business selling puka shell and silver jewelry to sorority girls. After graduation, he moved to California and began working for jeweler Laykin et Cie at I. Magnin.
Eventually, he launched himself as a private jeweler. Becoming a designer wasn’t part of the plan. “Designing came out of filling a void,” he says, for clients seeking a specific piece to round out a vintage collection. “I’d say, ‘If we could make one, we’d take the top of this one and the shape of that one.’ That’s how it all started.” His reputation grew, and before long, his contemporary designs were selling better than the vintage. “I still sell vintage jewelry, but now I’m more of a collector,” says Katz.
With top-tier estate jewelry and large stones increasingly difficult to come by, prices have skyrocketed. Katz compares it to trophy Malibu real estate: “Its [price] became so astronomical that no mortal can get near it. The real challenge is to find great stones that someone can be proud to own, and then I can make a beautiful piece of jewelry in a range for the basic affluent consumer.” Katz’s pieces start at $2,500, but the core artistic collection ranges from $25,000 to $125,000.
He’s especially known for his expertise in colored stones—Paraiba tourmaline, red spinel, Alexandrite—and notes that, in LA, pink and yellow diamonds are trending.
“Anyone can put a 10-carat diamond into a setting and call it a day,” notes Bui Simon, a collector of Katz’s work. “He goes off the beaten track to find one-of-a kind, intriguing stones, like rubellite, and then makes them look like the crown jewels!”
Hugh Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness, are also collectors. Katz, Jackman says, “creates unique, individual, elegant pieces,” while Furness adds, “I see jewelry from all over the world, but I always come back to the refined, eclectic pieces that Martin Katz offers.”
When it came to this year’s Oscars, Sally Field turned to Katz to help her accessorize her red Valentino dress, choosing seven-carat, cushion-cut diamond earrings and a Colombian emerald ring. She says, “I think [Martin’s] an exquisite artist. I can recognize his work when I see other people wearing it, like you recognize a de Kooning or a Picasso.”
When asked to identify one of his most emblematic designs, Katz picks up the emerald half-moon earrings. “I suppose, like any creator, whatever you have done most recently is your favorite because you feel like you are advancing. Even so, with this retrospective, it was a great opportunity to share a scope of work.” 9540 Brighton Way, Beverly Hills, 310-276-7200
photography by brad swonetz (this page); frazer harrison/getty images (field)