In a review of the photos from the Golden Globes red carpet after the big award show, I found beautiful detail shots of Natalie Portman’s left hand. The Jackie actress was wearing a stunning Tiffany ring on her index finger and her elegant engagement ring from husband, choreographer and dancer, Benjamin Millepied. Designed by Jamie Wolf, the jewel has long been on my short list of best celebrity engagement rings. Seeing such beautiful images of the ring inspired me to give Jamie a call to talk about the design and backstory. Following is an excerpt of our conversation.
I adore the ring you created for Natalie Portman, but I also love how the story of its creation involves your experience as a ballerina and jewelry designer. Before we talk about the ring, could you tell me about your background?
I was a dancer at New York City Ballet for around ten years, beginning when I was 17. Being in the company involved a seasonal schedule of intense 12-hour days. When the season ended, there suddenly wasn’t anything to do. It was during those periods that I began creating jewelry. At first it was just wire and bead jewels. I literally sold them out of my dressing room. As I started to hone in on my aesthetic, I sought out relationships with jewelers to manufacture more elaborate work.
Glenda Bailey from Harper’s Bazaar was an early client. She gave me this book called Tiaras a History of Splendor by Geoffrey C. Munn. It really narrowed my focus. A few of the elements inspired by the publication such as floral motifs are still in the collection today.
I continued to dance for a few years after the jewelry went into stores, but finally I realized I couldn’t do both and made the difficult decision to retire around 2006 and focus on the jewelry.
So you knew Benjamin Millepied from your time at New York City Ballet?
Yes, I’ve known Ben since I was 17. After I retired, when he was working on Black Swan, he asked me to come in and audition for the company in the movie. I was honored to be a part of that with him and Natalie.
Engagement rings were not really part of the collection at the time he asked you to make one for Natalie. How did he know you did them?
I had actually done several engagement rings for dancers at the New York City Ballet. All the rings are one-of-a-kind. I design within the realm of my romantic aesthetic, but don’t set parameters to clients in terms of stones or metal. I want to work with whatever is right for the person and make something truly special. My engagement ring, for example, is pink gold with an intertwined band. It represents our lives being intertwined together.
What was the process like with Ben?
He was really specific in the most wonderful way. He was very involved in making sure that we took every opportunity to consider what Natalie would want in her engagement ring such as an antique diamond center stone, Kimberley process certified conflict free smaller stones for the band of the ring and recycled platinum for the metal.
Finding the right antique diamond center stone was the most time consuming part. It took months. Then finally, we found the perfect antique round old-mine cut diamond.
The center stone informed the design itself. We wanted to work with framing that stone as best we could and give it an antique nuance. The center diamond is surrounded by a halo of gems. Underneath the setting is all pavé-set gems covering a feminine V-like design. The intention was that the undercarriage of the design was something specially for her to see. I am amazed in the way you can get a glimpse of it in the pictures from the Golden Globes. The point of the detail was to give the piece an intimacy in the design. It’s not just about having impact from a distance.
The wedding bands you made to go with the engagement ring are amazing. Sometimes, I feel an engagement ring and wedding band can, honestly, look like a messy stack of rings. You made them so chic and cohesive.
We wanted to frame the engagement ring with two wedding bands that accentuated the beauty of ring. The two bands created symmetry and a unified visual that enhanced the overall aesthetic. They were designed to curve away ever so slightly from the engagement ring. So when they are worn together they appear as one piece. It looks very clean and delicate. We also used the same manufacturing techniques as the engagement ring employing recycled platinum and the same setting process for the diamonds.
If someone wants to contact you for an engagement ring how would they go about it? They can contact me through the website jamiewolf.com