When the Beverly Hills jeweler Martin Katz started loaning vintage jewels to celebrities in the early 1990s, he worked from a penthouse apartment in a high-rise building on Wilshire Boulevard called the Diplomat.
“We’d sit at a bar in the living room,” Katz tells Robb Report. “I’d open the drawers and instead of a corkscrew, you’d get a pair of earrings.”
In 2002, a decade after Hollywood had discovered him, Katz moved his business from his apartment to a boutique on Brighton Way, in the heart of Beverly Hills, and stayed there until the pandemic—and a harrowing Covid-19 experience—convinced him it was time to go private again.
“This is my return to the penthouse,” Katz says as he greets a reporter at his new 1,500-square-foot showroom at the top of the bright yellow Fred Hayman building on Canon Drive. The salon opened to visitors this week.
“I started my career in a penthouse, and now I’m back to being private,” he says.
The space is a showcase for Katz’s extraordinary gem-set jewels. There are diamonds galore—unusual hexagonal-cut gems set in paddle-style rings, sunny yellow diamonds in cheerful floral-inspired earrings, or pave stones on sophisticated opera-length chains—but where he truly shines is in his use of color. Multimillion-dollar pigeon’s blood Burmese rubies, Windex-blue Paraiba tourmalines from Brazil, fine black opals from Australia—the displays brim with rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces featuring spectacular colored stones.
Katz famously got his start on the red carpet in 1992, when he was asked to visit an unknown Sharon Stone on the set of Basic Instinct, and then promptly declined her request to borrow his jewelry for the film’s red carpet premiere.
“‘Sorry, I don’t loan jewelry,’” he recalls telling Stone’s people. “‘I take all the risk and get no reward. When she’s ready to buy something, have her call me.’”
A persuasive follow-up call from one of the film’s producers changed Katz’s mind—and his fortunes. He agreed to loan Stone his jewels with one caveat: That she wear the jewelry in photo shoots for the magazines that were clamoring to feature her, and give him credit.
“Ultimately that publicity brought such awareness to my brand,” Katz says. “My phone was ringing off the hook from clients and public relations people who wanted me to loan to their clients.”
By 2002, when he was designing his own jewelry rather than simply curating vintage pieces, the flood of visitors to his penthouse apartment was so great that he realized he needed to move to a commercial space.
“I didn’t want to be on Rodeo Drive. I was a private jeweler, no one knew me,” Katz says. “Brighton Way spoke to me. It’s the Madison Avenue to Fifth Avenue. A little more subtle and out of the way.”
For 20 years, he catered to celebrities and the high-society women who loved them. As the business of the red carpet became more heated, however, Katz noticed that many global brands had begun to pay celebrities to wear their jewels during awards season.
One day, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, someone casually asked him who he was paying to wear his jewelry. “I thought he was joking,” Katz says. “Why would you pay? It’s such a privilege to get to wear the jewelry.”
The red carpet requests have dwindled over the years due to the pay-for-play phenomenon that Katz refuses to take part in, but he is happy to continue catering to loyal longtime clients, including Rebecca Gayhart, Angela Bassett, Sally Field and, of course, Sharon Stone.
“We still have plenty of big celebs that come to us, and we do enough to keep us in the mix,” he says.
The slowdown in red carpet requests is not necessarily a bad thing. In March 2020, Katz was admitted to the hospital with a severe case of Covid-19. Fifty-nine days later (including 11 spent on a ventilator), he was released to a rehabilitation facility. His wife, Kelly, whom he began dating when he was still doing business at the Diplomat, managed the store while he was in recovery.
“I had to close the boutique and yet clients were calling with all these requests,” she recalls of those early months in lockdown. “‘Can you bring some studs? My wife’s going crazy.’ I’d drop them off with gloves in the driveway. I had to make every sale that was coming my way.”
It took Katz a year and a half to regain basic skills, like penmanship, because his muscles had atrophied during his time at the hospital. “In all that, my lease was coming up,” he says. “I thought, I don’t really need the activity of the boutique anymore. If only I could find another boutique in a penthouse and return to my roots as a private jeweler.”
On one of the couple’s walks around the neighborhood, they spied a “for lease” sign advertising the penthouse space in the Fred Hayman Building. The couple signed the lease in January 2021 and waited two years for the renovation to be completed, owing to the home remodeling fever that struck during the pandemic, and the subsequent supply chain issues.
“Every contractor, cabinet maker, you name it, everyone was remodeling their homes,” says Katz. “There was nobody available. I kept getting ghosted.”
The space still needs a few finishing touches, but it is officially open for appointment-only visitors. “People will come, we’ll order lunch and sit outside,” Kelly says, motioning to the sun-lit balcony. “It’ll be a hangout.”
“We went from oxygen in every room of our house to this,” Kelly says. “We’re so blessed.”