Ahead of the premiere of her much-awaited film Blonde, in which she portrays Marilyn Monroe, Ana De Armas is diving into a world Monroe knew quite a lot about: diamonds.
The film and fashion icon famously sang "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and was known for her elegant style and love of high jewelry (remember when she wore the spectacular yellow diamond necklace dubbed The Moon of Baroda?). At the time, however, the diamond industry was seen as untouchable and unreachable for both ordinary buyers and small jewelry designers; and only big names, such as De Beers and Tiffany & Co., got the business and the notoriety. At the same time, conflict diamonds and diamond smuggling became real problems.
Now, the Natural Diamond Council, along with brand ambassador De Armas, is looking to change that by backing young designers from around the world and educating buyers on the current state of the industry, which is moving toward a more sustainable and inclusive future.
"I started working with the NDC in 2020 and I think it was a process for me of learning," De Armas tells BAZAAR.com at the NDC's launch event on June 14 at the Beekman Hotel penthouse in New York City, adding that she got to see how women in Botswana ran diamond mines and handled tractors, and essentially got to know the community behind the precious stones.
On Tuesday, the NDC debuted the collections of the second class of artists from its Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, which launched in January 2021 with 1 million dollars of diamond credit dedicated to supporting emerging BIPOC jewelry designers, in partnership with Lorraine Schwartz.
"The EDDI program was founded specifically to break down the generally very large barriers to entry in the diamond industry," Grant Mobley, a diamond and fine jewelry expert at NDC, says. He adds that not only is the world of diamonds a very close-knit one, it is also very difficult for designers to access such expensive, rare, and valuable diamonds to incorporate into their designs.
"We wanted to break those barriers down so that designers who normally don't get the chance to enter the industry can actually share these incredible designs," he says.
De Armas, wearing a brilliant ring and necklace from Dorian Webb and a ring from Heart The Stones by Halle Millen, says it's powerful the way in which the NDC is supporting—and financially backing—artists in the community who need the space to simply do what they’re good at.
"As a minority myself, I remember the days when I just wanted the chance to be in the room. I wanted to just be there. Give me the opportunity and I’ll show you what I can offer," De Armas says. "The fact that they’re mentoring and supporting and opening the doors to relationships and careers and resources for these guys and giving them the credit is incredible."
The Cuban actress is no stranger to red-carpet glamour, and she has been dripped in diamonds for roles several times over the course of her film career, but she says the passion and originality of the up-and-coming jewelry designers' diamond pieces proves to her that there are still ways to break boundaries in the diamond world.
"It’s the new generations who are going to bring a new take on jewelry. We don’t have to keep wearing or interpreting jewelry in the same way," she says.
Jewelry, and diamonds in particular, the actress agrees, can be incredibly personal. They can be much more than just beautiful, high-priced pieces we like to look at. A jewelry collection can be passed down for generations, it can carry different meanings and morph and be modernized through the years—take Duchess Kate's inherited jewelry from Princess Diana, for example.
De Armas says there is one piece she bought herself that she cherishes above all others: an antique ring that reminds her of her grandmother.
"I had a ring from my grandma that I’m pretty sure was not a diamond, but it was this dark red stone with little things around it, and I lost it at the airport and I was so, so, so, so sad," she recalls in a conversation with BAZAAR. "And years went by and then I was shooting a movie and we were shooting on the street and I bumped into an antique store and I found the version of that ring—same color, but this time real diamonds—and I had to get it. It wasn’t my grandma’s ring, but it just reminds me of her. I have it here, actually, because I always wear it."
Maybe not as meaningful but equally dazzling were the jewels De Armas got to wear while filming the 2021 James Bond film No Time To Die with Daniel Craig.
"That was beautiful—such an incredible touch for the character. Everything was so simple but I just felt like the jewelry really matched her personality: so sparkly and shiny and happy," De Armas says.
Walking around the NDC event, where the young designers showcased their diamond creations, the actress couldn't keep her eyes off Birthright Foundry's Heritage Diamond Ula Nifo Choker, crafted from 18K yellow gold and natural white diamonds but inspired by whale tooth necklaces from Samoa.
The Ula Nifo necklace was worn by Samoan chiefs and their offspring in ancient times, and signified wealth and status, designer Constance Polamalu explains.
"It's just so different," De Armas says.
Diamond expert Mobley tells BAZAAR how rare and exciting it is to see a high jewelry piece so influenced by a designer's underrepresented culture, and yet so wearable today.
"If you think back to these incredible Samoan jewelry designs with the amazing necklace collars from well over 100 years ago, she’s turning that into something that makes sense for the modern day, and she’s also doing that with fine jewelry materials: gold, diamonds," he says. "It's something that might’ve been worn hundreds of years ago by her ancestors, but she’s making it something that she would wear and that you would see on the red carpet."
The collections of the latest EDDI class of designers—Casey Perez, Corey Anthony Jones, Lana Ogilvie (Sabre Jewelry), Mckenzie Liautaud, Halle Millien (Heart the Stones), and Ruben Manuel—will launch this Friday, June 17, on 1st Dibs.