Some of Hollywood’s most famous movie stars are likely to be carrying a touch of New Zealand with them on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars - thanks to a Kiwi jewellery-making family’s big break.
Robinson Designer Goldsmith, based in Takapuna, Auckland, has been invited by Hollywood Award Suites to show their designs at a prestigious pre-Oscars event in Los Angeles next week.
The Beverly Hills Hotel function is attended by Hollywood’s top stylists, media and celebrities and provides a showcase of gowns, shoes, jewellery, and cosmetics from which the stylists choose Oscar outfits for their movie star clients.
Securing a place at the event is a major coup for RDG - run by Ken Robinson and his twin sons Michael and David - whose "edgy" one-off creations have become sought-after, world-wide.
Opportunity of a lifetime
Ken Robinson says the pre-Oscars showing is the opportunity of a lifetime and they’ll be exhibiting alongside some of the world’s biggest names including Cartier.
"If you sat down and tried to write a plot you couldn’t write it any better.
For a New Zealand jeweller to be exhibiting in the Beverley Hills Hotel at this event is beyond our wildest dreams," Robinson said.
The invitation from the Oscars organisers came about after some of RDG’s "Skull Duggery" designs were featured in LA’s Vamped magazine in December 2009.
The unusual one-off pieces, which feature diamond skulls with brightly coloured vines, flowers, snakes and birds created with platinum, gold and gems, caught the eye of the founder of Hollywood Award Suites, Anita Talbert.
Huge LA following
Talbert said she invited RDG to the showcase because she knew celebrities would love the jewellery and the jeweller had a huge following in LA.
"I saw their art designs and thought they were amazing. It’s the edgy fun stuff, but serious jewellery with diamonds and precious stones that make these conversation pieces and collectors’ pieces," said Talbert.
Robinson Designer Goldsmiths use gold from New Zealand’s South Island and only ethically mined diamonds and gems in their creations.
When the company set up a Facebook page in late 2009, it quickly built a fan base which included artistic people and fashion editors who applauded RDG for their "colourful, fresh and very different" designs.
Robinson says the recession and other world events had led to a demand for something between costume jewellery and top-end, very expensive pieces.
Air NZ support
When his company got the invitation to the Oscars event, Ken Robinson asked Air New Zealand if it would support the small Kiwi family business.
The airline has not only come up with airfares but also PR support on the ground in LA.
Ken Robinson decided to capitalise on the LA opportunity and says he used "Kiwi ingenuity and the cheek of our nation" to phone a fashion conscious store in Malibu with a proposal.
"I said we were coming up for Hollywood Award Suites and that we had 500 Facebook fans in greater LA who would like to see our jewellery in person," Robinson said.
He has now "stitched up a deal" where Malibu Rock Star - a store in the prestigious Malibu Country Mart - is staging a three-day event showing RDG’s jewellery to invited guests.
Keeping up with demand
The big issue for the family now is to keep up with demand. The company produces between 150 and 200 pieces annually.
Michael and David Robinson take care of the metal work while Ken, a qualified diamond grader, organises the stones. All three work on the designs together.
They say they had to cut short their traditional Christmas break and summer holiday to cope with increasing demand.
Already several designs that were on the drawing board have been brought forward and, if orders from the two LA events meet expectations, they’ll be working overtime to cope.
But the Kiwi company isn’t prepared to change its approach or compromise on materials and methods just to satisfy international pressure.
Ken Robinson says the gold they use is mined near Queenstown - in New Zealand’s South Island - and recovered in a controlled environment under strict regulations. It is then brought to Auckland by an alloy specialist company and cleansed and assayed.
Knowing they are giving people the best possible product is all important, says Robinson.
"We are structured to make so many pieces a year and just can’t produce more at a whim. These are heirloom pieces of jewellery and I would like to think that when people look at them in 100 year’s time they will say ‘Wow’," Ken Robinson said.
Many of the Robinsons’ designs have a distinct Kiwi flavour. A recent tattoo-inspired range has attracted a lot of attention as has work based on the Māori tiki.
"There is a huge Polynesian influence in LA and that is diffused through their culture so we’ve had amazing feedback from people who click on to that ethnic look. Also people still have warm feelings about that whole Lord of the Rings imagery and mystique," Robinson said.
More than half of RDG’s following is based overseas and while the LA trip is likely to create even more interest, the Kiwi company is still firmly grounded in New Zealand.
"We are very proud to be representing New Zealand," Robinson said.
And whether the Kiwi jewellers will get to attend the glittering Oscars ceremony itself isn’t yet clear but New Zealanders will have a vested interest in keeping a close watch on the jewellery that adorns the Hollywood stars as they walk the red carpet on 7 March 2010.