Heads were turned at the dazzling sight of Penelope Cruz on the red carpet in Cannes, where the Spanish-language thriller she made with her husband Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows, opened this year's film festival.
The vivacious Cruz looked every inch the glamorous movie star, wearing a black tulle-trimmed lace gown lit up with a ruby and diamond ring and drop earrings. Few people at that point, however, knew that these sparkling jewels were of her own design, created in collaboration with Atelier Swarovski using sustainably sourced lab-grown gemstones.
Fast-forward to the haute couture shows in early July and the official unveiling of the complete collection at a 19th-century villa, now restaurant, in central Paris. Cruz, now dressed in ruffled white Broderie Anglaise blouse and black pants, with the same ruby ring and a pair of white topaz and diamond earrings from her red-carpet collection, is explaining the design behind the ring as she twirls it on her finger.
Love of jewellery
"I had a ring, a garnet set in gold, that my grandmother Modesta gave me and my sister to share. It was my most precious thing but got lost or stolen, so when I told Nadja [Swarovski] the story, I knew I wanted to make a piece that was inspired by Modesta." The actress spent a lot of time at her grandmother's apartment as a child and the three pear-shaped rubies, asymmetrically set with halos of diamonds in 18-karat fair trade gold, is her tribute.
The 14-piece collection is designed in matching sets of necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings featuring lab-grown diamonds, rubies and sapphires, as well as genuine topaz ethically sourced from a mine in Brazil. Cruz cites a diamond and ruby necklace that arrived that day, fresh from the workshop, as her favourite piece in the collection; a piece that has an undeniable red-carpet style. "Some of the pieces have a very vintage feeling and I always go back to that – they are timeless," she says.
Cruz, whose long list of credits includes Pirates of the Caribbean, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Loving Pablo, Murder on the Orient Express, and most recently, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, comes from humble beginnings. She grew up on the outskirts of Madrid, and as a child was obsessed with dancing and the desire to act. However, the family's situation was modest, she owned no jewellery and would persuade her grandmother and mother to lend her their earrings for a few hours.
“One of my hobbies was to get magazines from my mother and draw over the pages, changing the designs and adding jewellery,” she recalls. “I would lock myself in the bathroom – it was the only quiet place in the house – and put the magazines on the floor and draw. I can’t draw well, but I had imagination. So now seeing these pieces has been like a dream.”
Partnering with Swarovski
Swarovski may be better known for its crystal jewels and the embellishments sought out by fashion designers globally, but it has always invested in sustainability, or “conscious luxury” as Nadja Swarovski refers to it. The lab-grown gemstones in this fine jewellery Atelier collection by Penelope Cruz possess exactly the same chemical structure as rubies, diamonds and sapphires, but are cultivated over a matter of months rather than over a billion years underground.
Scientific studies prove that lab-created diamonds cause considerably less damage to the environment and human lives than mined diamonds. While lab-grown gems are not the perfect answer, in that they require a lot of energy, data suggests that mined gems have a significantly larger environmental impact overall.
The white topaz is the only stone in the collection that is mined, but in a sustainable way, while the 18-karat gold is all fair trade from Peru. These social and environmental issues are very close to Nadja Swarovski's heart and an area she is promoting – both as a member of the executive board and creative director of Atelier Swarovski. She arrived armed with a sustainability report for her lunch date late last year with Penelope Cruz in the actress' favourite Madrid restaurant, Filandon.
Sustainability as the main priority
Cruz has campaigned with Greenpeace on plastic waste, and was impressed with what she heard. "I have been working since I was 14 and have a detector that tells me when someone is being honest about what they are telling me or not," she says, "and Nadja cares about what she is doing and not having a negative impact on the environment. And I as a mother care too, in what we do, what we consume. Nadja is looking for a way for the future."
Sharing these values, the actress asked if she could participate because, as with her role with Greenpeace, the relationship "gives me the opportunity to open the discussion and shine a light on conscious luxury and create products that have a positive impact. Sustainability should be the number one priority right now."
Nadja Swarovski couldn’t believe her good fortune. “Penelope asked us and that is such an honour, as usually we have to look for partners, but to be working with someone who believes in the cause is amazing.” And Cruz is this collection’s ultimate client. “These are designed by someone who has been on the red carpet.”
Inside the collection
The collection also offers Atelier Swarovski the opportunity to get its fine jewellery on the red carpet, on the stars who love the crystal covered bags and sunglasses but prefer to wear fine jewellery rather than crystals with their evening gowns. “It is much better to start with the film crowd as they are environmentally tuned-in, so it was a natural evolution when Penelope came along,” says Swarovski.
The fine jewellery collection, Swarovski says, is “very classic and typical red carpet.” The man-made gemstones mean the jewellery is about 30 per cent cheaper than mined gemstone jewellery – between €8,000 and €49,000 (Dh34,3800 to Dh210,590), which is the price tag on the most expensive piece – a sapphire necklace.
Stones are colour-graded as with mined gems, go through the same high-quality cutting process as the crystals, and are minutely laser-inscribed as a stamp of authenticity, while those over 0.5 carat carry an International Gemological institute certificate. The collection is made-to-order with the first few pieces already available and the rest due to go on sale from September on the Atelier Swarovski website. There will be a commercial fine jewellery line launched with Penelope Cruz to follow in 2019.
“I am grateful they gave me a voice to participate because I am not the expert here,” says Cruz, “but they are giving me the opportunity to bring ideas and it feels like a real collaboration and not something you just give your name to.”