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Martin Katz

by Vivienne Kenrick

Recently Martin Katz came on a first visit to Japan. He brought to exhibit in Tokyo a collection of diamond jewelry valued at 10 billion yen. The collection included many pieces worn by Hollywood stars at the red-carpeted award ceremonies of the Oscars. Martin is widely known as the jeweler to whom Hollywood’s top-flight celebrities turn when they want the most shimmering necklaces, the most sparkling rings, the most glittering bracelets to wear at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Emmy award shows. He is appreciative of the luster given him as jeweler to the stars, but the value to him is in the advertisement. For the shows, the stars borrow his jewelry. His clients are the very rich. “The celebrities and models are my showcase,” he said. “I would like to be known as jeweler to the industrial rich.”

For a man still in his 40s, smart, self-made and living a life of glamour, Martin in person is remarkably low-key and unassuming. The fourth of five children born to a father in the business of industrial dry cleaning, Martin grew up in Indiana. He said: “My mother loved jewelry. We used to visit my aunt who worked in a jeweler’s shop in Chicago. My sister pointed out a showcased diamond there and hissed at me, ‘Look, that’s 4 carats.’ I had no idea what she meant, but I was mesmerized. I was 10.”

He certainly knew what he was about when he entered Indiana University in Bloomington, as he chose fittingly to study psychology and business. “When I was a sophomore I wanted something I could sell to female students in their dorms,” he said. “I thought of silver trinkets with turquoise, about $4 each.”

After graduation, “with $300 to my name, I packed my car and drove to California. I felt I could spend a year at the coast and have some fun,” he said. “I took a job in a jewelry store. It was strictly a business, but something else seemed to catch me and led me to find my artistic way.” He moved up to managing the firm’s branch in San Francisco. “After about eight years, I felt stuck,” he said. “I quit and began my own business.”

In Los Angeles he worked from a dining-room table in his one-bedroom apartment. From the beginning he built personal relationships as foundations for his business. He sought out his clients by taking his jewelry to them, practices that he still often continues. When he reached the attention of Hollywood, he was selective in the stars and stylists he accepted to work with, and would not proceed unless trust was established.

Martin searched for his stones at estate sales and auctions, many of them in Europe. He bought vintage pieces that no longer fit their owners’ tastes. He developed his principles. A dealer, he says, should be very particular about style and quality. He should establish a strict buying philosophy leading to unfaltering integrity. He should build an inventory that speaks of him and his taste, which will become as recognizable as a signature.

Martin’s original designs, he says, project a youthful attitude, “contemporary pieces with an old soul.” All his pieces are signed and numbered. He said: “To this day, diamonds attract me more than any other stone. They are scintillating, hypnotic, spiritual. They are the absolute in discrimination, elegance and charm. I am drawn to their colors — rare blue, pink and green and yellow. My passion is for the cream of the cream.”

Martin has a retail salon in Beverly Hills, and a New York salon on Madison Avenue. He likes to fly airplanes, and says collecting art pieces is a passion of his. He has a Picasso and a Hockney in his collection.

Customers who go to him in his Beverly Hills penthouse studio sit at a jewel bar. They discuss their gowns, makeup and hair styles, and the jewelry that will go with them. His jewelry has to fit personalities as well as gowns, he says. Relativity comes into it too. Not for Martin is the old adage that diamonds should be worn only after 5 p.m. “Relativity and design determine the daily wearability of my diamonds. Important pieces can be versatile and fun, and be understated and worn casually,” he said.

Now that he has adorned more than 200 Hollywood stars with his jewelry, he believes that success comes with “a consistent, meticulous approach to quality, design, craftsmanship and jewelry philosophies.” He says he has always endeavored to stay true to his own artistic voice. His advice to others is, “Find your voice and speak out.”