Diamonds—and rubies, emeralds, or pearls—are an Academy Awards attendee’s best friend. Nothing completes a look like the right jewelry, and on Oscar night, celebrities have always found unique ways to shine. Ninety years of history have meant countless impressive gems, each with stories of their own—here, a look back at the most daring, expensive, innovative, and influential stones to ever grace the ceremony that display all the magic of exceptional jewellery.
1940, Vivien Leigh in Van Cleef & Arpels
When Vivien Leigh collected her Best Actress statuette in 1940, she did it in true old Hollywood fashion. Dressed in a custom dress by Irene Lentz Gibbons, MGM’s costume supervisor whose private salon at legendary Wilshire Boulevard department store, Bullocks, was a favorite of the era’s stars, Leigh accessorized with a good luck charm from then-husband Laurence Olivier. Her Van Cleef & Arpel’s aquamarine pendant had been a gift from Olivier after she’d wrapped production on Gone with the Wind. Though it could also be worn as a brooch, Leigh kept the oversized statement piece on a long gold chain during the ceremony.
1951, Gloria Swanson in Cartier
It’s hard to imagine a time when the Oscar ceremony wasn’t televised. But back in 1951, before the event made its way to the small screen, Gloria Swanson sat by the radio waiting to hear if she’d won Best Actress. Nominated for her role as silent film star, Norma Desmond, in Billy Wilder’s Hollywood noir, Sunset Boulevard, Swanson dressed to the nines in stacks of art-deco bracelets by Cartier. The pieces, which come from her personal collection, also make an appearance in the film. As Norma lounges around her mansion plotting her comeback, she accessorizes with the very same diamond and rock crystal bangles.
1970, Elizabeth Taylor in the Taylor-Burton Diamond
No discussion of iconic Hollywood jewelry would be complete without a nod to Elizabeth Taylor. The cinema icon’s collection of baubles was expansive, but her most impressive piece was the Taylor-Burton diamond, a 68-carat stone purchased by Taylor and then husband Richard Burton in 1969. Formerly a ring, the oversized diamond was refashioned into a dazzling necklace that the actress wore to the 42nd Academy Awards.
1982, Liberace in the Barron Hilton Piano Ring
Most celebrities borrow the jewels they wear to the Oscars, but Liberace wasn’t most celebrities. As he was preparing to appear at 1982’s telecast, the pianist needed only to look through his expansive collection of faux and fine jewellery and pull out a few baubles. The best among them was the outsized grand piano ring given to him by hotel heir Barron Hilton. The grandfather of Paris and Nicky, Hilton ran his family’s hotel chain during Liberace’s residency at the Las Vegas Hilton in the 1970s. To honour the star and the success of their partnership, Hilton gifted Liberace with an 18K gold miniature piano detailed with 260 diamonds. Accurate down to its moveable piano lid, it was a fitting tribute to the entertainer and his aesthetic.
1986, Audrey Hepburn
On hand to present the awards for achievement in costume design, Audrey Hepburn dazzled into a custom pink gown by Hubert de Givenchy. The bold colour was complemented by a pair of chandelier earrings featuring a mix of precious stones set in gold.
1991, Madonna in Harry Winston
Madonna was in Marilyn Monroe mode when she made a special appearance at the 1991 Oscars with Michael Jackson. Pop’s king and queen both accessorized with massive diamonds—his brooch as bolero moment is iconic in itself—but Madonna’s outsize bling proved record-breaking. With more than $20 million worth of Harry Winston jewels on her person, she brought the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” theme to life.
1997, Salma Hayek in Cartier
It just takes one person to start a trend, and when Salma Hayek arrived at the Oscars in a diamond tiara, it kick-started a revival in hair jewelry. “Everybody told me that I was crazy and ridiculous, and it was going to be pretentious,” Hayek told Vogue earlier this year. “I wore the tiara anyway, and you know what happened? Everybody started wearing a tiara after that.”
1998, Celine Dion in Asprey & Garrard
Anyone who has seen Titanic knows the film’s pricey Heart of the Ocean necklace is a major plot point. The onscreen prop was a fake created with cubic zirconias, but for the 1998 Oscars, Celine Dion wore a re-creation by London jewelers Asprey & Garrard. Set in platinum with a 171-carat Ceylon sapphire and 103 diamonds, it eventually wound up in a private collection, instead of at the bottom of the ocean.