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Neil Lane Shares the Stories Behind Your Favorite Celebrity Engagement Rings

Photo: Matt Klitscher/ABC via Getty Images

You’d be hard pressed to find a jeweler whose multi-carat creations have graced more red carpets than Neil Lane. In the decades since he first set up shop in a Los Angeles antiques center in the late ‘80s, Lane’s dressed nearly every major celebrity in his diamonds, counting Jennifer Lawrence, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, and Rihanna as particularly devoted fans.

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But in addition to loaning out gobstopper-sized jewels for awards shows, the Brooklyn native is perhaps even more famous for his vintage-inspired engagement rings, which you might’ve spotted on stars like Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Emily Blunt, Jessica Simpson, and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few. Add that to his long-running gig designing the rings for every season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and his more affordable collections for Kay Jewelers and Jared, and it’s little wonder why Lane’s a household name.

But how did Lane’s diamonds catch Hollywood’s eye in the first place? What sort of secrecy — or sorcery — goes into designing a celebrity engagement ring while keeping the paparazzi off your trail? And what happens after you’ve spent weeks working on a ring, but the relationship doesn’t work out? Racked hopped on the phone with the jeweler to find out.

So let’s start at the beginning. Can you remember the first celebrity you designed a ring for?

You’re not going to believe this, but I did Warren Beatty’s ring for Annette Bening! The only reason I remember is that I just went to a screening where I saw Annette — and there was the ring! Wow, that was 25 years ago.

The first one that got a lot of media attention, though, was Rebecca Romijn’s ring from John Stamos in the late ‘90s. It really took off thanks to InStyle, which was one of the first magazines to dedicate entire issues to celebrity weddings — and Rebecca and John’s was the first one they covered. At that time, I’d done a few other celebrity rings already, but InStyle did this whole spread. And they put me on TV! It got so much attention.

After that, things took off. For a while, it felt like I was working with every celebrity who was on TV or popular at the time. I did Courteney Cox’s ring from David Arquette, when she was on Friends; I did rings for Debra Messing and Brooke Shields when they had their shows. I did Reese Witherspoon’s ring from Ryan Philippe!

Photo: Courtesy of Neil Lane

Back in the ‘90s, what do you think drew stars to your store specifically?

I think it was just that my aesthetic was different from everyone else’s at the time. It wasn’t the norm. I wasn’t a famous name, either, like a Harry Winston or a Cartier. I was this guy who sold jewelry out of a little stand in a little antiques center. And I think people just liked it!

I’m sure it’s hard to choose, but among all the famous rings you’ve done, do you have any favorites?

Kate Hudson was a favorite. Her mom, Goldie Hawn, used to come to the store and bring Kate, and Kate would play around with all the jewelry and try it on. And then when Kate got engaged, she sent her rocker boyfriend to me to get a ring!

Miley Cyrus's ring. Photo: Courtesy of Neil Lane

Miley Cyrus’s was really special. I’m not sure I could ever recreate the magic that went into that ring. I used this beautiful old 19th-century stone, cushion cut. It took a while to come up with the perfect setting — I didn’t want it to be contemporary-looking, it had to have a vintage vibe. So I created a gold, very Art Nouveau design with tiny little swirls and diamond details within a floral pattern, so it felt like this beautiful old stone was at the center of a flower. Liam [Hemsworth, Miley’s fiancé] loved the idea of the vintage stone — it was cool and chic and different, and with Miley you want to find something really special.

Channing Tatum’s ring for Jenna [Dewan-Tatum] was a labor of love. It involved three or four meetings to land on one that was right. He did it all on his own, so he could surprise her. We were in transition at the time, too; the store was still being built, so he came to our little office for all the meetings. Channing’s a champion.

Portia de Rossi's ring. Photo: Courtesy of Neil Lane

And Ellen and Portia’s ring was interesting; we took a marquis diamond and turned it sideways. It was an opportunity to be really creative. It took a lot of technical skill to put that together, with the tiny pavé work, and the pink diamonds on the sides. I did the wedding bands for them, too. Portia told me that before she came to Hollywood, she always dreamed of having a Neil Lane ring. Isn’t that cool? And when I launched my line for Kay Jewelers, she and Ellen came to the event, which I thought was really sweet. They were really supportive.

I have to ask — you’ve done some rings for celebrity couples that are no longer together. Is it hard to distance yourself from a relationship that’s ended?

It’s always a bit painful, though not in a personal way. I make the rings with a lot of hope and a lot of love, and you want things to work out, but sometimes it doesn’t. They always love their rings, though! [Laughs] I also have the unique opportunity to work with people at the moment when they’re more in love than ever, and that’s amazing.

Are there any memorable celebrity rings you wish you’d designed?

Elizabeth Taylor’s Krupp Diamond is just so iconic. Twenty-five carats, Asscher cut, just a mystical, beautiful stone. And she was so associated with jewelry, so her ring was the ultimate.

I’m surprised you didn’t say Kate Middleton’s ring!

Well, I love Kate Middleton’s story; I love that [Prince William] gave her his mom’s ring — how much cooler can you get, continuing her legacy like that? But people always ask me whether her ring has affected trends in America, and I have to say "not really," because we’re not a nation where a colored gemstone represents a marriage ring. It’s a very British thing. If you go back through British history, there’s a tradition of rubies and other colored stones in engagement rings. And up until 20, maybe 15 years ago, there was a distinct difference between the rings that were popular here versus overseas. Now everything’s more homogenized, and I actually see a lot more white diamonds in England than I used to.

You also, of course, design all the engagement rings for The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. How did that partnership come about?

ABC approached me a number of years before I actually agreed to do it. I don’t really watch that much TV, so I didn’t know the show well the first time they called me and asked me to participate, so I said no. A few years later, they called again and one of my assistants said, "Neil, that’s a great show. I think you’d really enjoy doing that." So I said, "Okay!" And that was eight years ago.

Lane helps Season 14's Bachelor Jake Pavelka choose a ring (er, wife?). Photo: Mark Brendel/ABC via Getty Images

Are there any funny moments or stories you can share from your years on the show thus far?

The set is so different from what I originally expected — it’s like a family. There are producers who met each other and fell in love while working on that show, and I’ve done their rings, too!

The meetings with the guys … it’s a magic moment. They cut out a lot of the footage from our chats — they need time for the proposal and the helicopters and all that — but there’s a lot of emotion in that room. It’s often the first time the guys have looked at real diamonds like that, and they’re coming off of several months of being sequestered and preparing to propose. It’s a big deal.

Jake Pavelka, I remember, was totally goofy. He came in and was like, "Neil, who should I choose?" I was like, "Jake, you’re getting married, not me! I’m just designing the ring!"

Is there any added pressure knowing that your rings will be all over the internet and TV the second within minutes of a high-profile proposal.

Fortunately, I started doing this before it was really popular. It wasn’t like it is today. Engagement rings would get some attention, sure, but 20 or 25 years ago, I was never worried about how a ring would look on TV or Instagram. Organically they got a lot of publicity, but it wasn’t something I worried about, or that I considered during the design process.

It’s still surprising to me, though, how there’s such a fascination with Hollywood rings. I think it’s because rings are so personal, so there’s an opportunity for people to share in the intimacy of [a celebrity’s relationship], and in the excitement of it. It’s also an opportunity for people — for guys, for girls — to see what styles are popular. It’s not just about gossip; it’s educational, it’s informative.

You meet with so many stars at your store while designing these rings, though — are you ever worried about paparazzi spoiling a proposal?

Of course. Nobody wants their special moment taken away before they’re ready to share it! I don’t think it’s been that problematic for us, though. Sure, there have been times when I’d have rather not had the paparazzi report something, but we’re pretty discreet. We have different entrances and exits. We have our ways…

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's ring. Photo: Courtesy of Neil Lane

Do you get a lot of customers who come in requesting a ring like a certain celebrity’s?

All the time. And we have a tagline: "Everyone can feel like a star." I’d never copy a celebrity ring for someone else, but they’re a great source of inspiration and then I can tailor the rest of the design to fit who the customer is. I get a lot of "I love Rosie [Huntington-Whiteley]’s ring, but I don’t want a round diamond," or "I love Miley’s ring, but maybe not in yellow gold."

Are there any standout engagement ring trends you’ve noticed recently?

Mixed metals for sure, and the variety of cuts. That’s something we see more now, that we didn’t have years ago. When I first started in this business, nobody had heard of an Asscher cut or a cushion cut or even a square cut! Most people knew round and princess cuts, and those were what sold in most stores. More and more, I’m also seeing details being important. Details under the diamond, scrollwork, pavé work. People are interested in the little details.

I bet Instagram plays a big part in that.

I would agree with you. Years ago, before we had E! or social media, fashion magazines were our primary source of information when it came to jewelry trends; they were the guides, they would do stories on ring trends and that was what people worked with. People used to pull pages out of magazines of rings and bring them to me! Today, it’s still all about sharing inspiration, but in a different way. The sheer number of different rings being shared these days — on social media, and online in general — is such that I don’t think anyone’s going to settle for a single little solitaire anymore, you know? And I think it’s a good thing! The more options girls or guys have, the less they’re limited, the better.


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