For over ten years Neil Lane has turned up the sparkle in Bachelor Nation when he appears with his selection of natural diamond engagement rings. In the process, he has become one of the most famous and beloved jewelry designers in America.
Neil has enlightened both the Bachelors on-air and at-home audiences alike about the finer details of fancy shape diamonds, including Asschers, cushions and beyond. He has taught everyone about the intricacies of his designs—the special details only a bride notices when she wears the jewel. Through the years, Neil has steadily raised America’s jewelry IQ.
Over all this time, however, very little has been revealed about Neil’s personal jewelry journey, or even how he came to arrive on The Bachelor. Luckily, the jeweler decided to share his story with none other than Only Natural Diamonds.
Neil tracks his love of jewelry all the way back to his childhood in Marine Park, Brooklyn, when he collected colored glass during walks on the beach. “Even at six years old—a little kid—,I was fascinated by sparkle and color,” explains Neil.
Things began to really get rolling, when as an art student and budding antiques dealer, Neil made his way to Paris. While he knew he was excited to go see the paintings at the Louvre, he was surprised at how obsessed he became with the jewelry he spotted in the vintage shops along the Rue de Rivoli. “I took my entire travel budget on that first trip and blew it on this mesmerizing little late 19th century ‘demon’ brooch set with a pearl and diamonds,” remembers Neil.
If Paris is where Neil first became enchanted by jewelry, it was London where he fell in love with diamonds. He toured the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels and regalia set with some of the most important diamonds in the world. “From the moment I saw those jewels there I was transfixed,” remembers Neil. “It hit me viscerally. It hit me emotionally and mentally. I used that as my inspiration for my collections.”
Back in New York, Neil began shifting his vintage business to jewelry. In order to succeed, he knew he was going to have to move rom the outdoor flea market to an indoor space, but the city rents were too steep for his budget.
After a trip to visit a friend in Los Angeles, Neil relocated to the City of Angels and opened a booth at a since-closed vintage exchange called Antiquarius. “When I moved out here [in the mid-1980s], I had no clue what I was doing. I came with the things I could afford like late 19th century gold jewels and Art Nouveau designs,” says Neil. “It wasn’t what people wanted. It’s California. They want diamonds. They want pizzazz.”
Neil began to slowly change his inventory to vintage diamond jewelry and, by word-of-mouth, after a decade in Los Angeles he had established celebrity clientele and clients who were interested in buying important vintage jewels, some of which belonged to legendary Hollywood stars.
This was around the time when I personally met Neil Lane. In 1993, my colleague Penny Proddow and I were curating an exhibit at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences based on our book, Hollywood Jewels, about the history of fine jewelry in the movies. When we reached out to the owner of Marlene Dietrich’s famous emerald and diamond bracelet, they said, “Sure we will lend them to you but we are sending them to Los Angeles via Neil Lane.” He was their trusted source.
Once the exhibit was staged, we took Neil on a tour and then we went to meet him at Antiquarius. By coincidence he was helping Nicolette Sheridan of Desperate Housewives fame pick out some jewels for an event. In 1993, the actress was routinely on the cover of the weekly tabloids, because she was dating the wildly popular singer, Michael Bolton. We were agog.
This was long before the days of stylist dressing stars for the red carpet. Instead, they went directly to Neil when they needed something. That something included engagement rings.
There was an extended period when it seemed like just about everyone in Hollywood got their diamond engagement rings from Neil. To name but a few: the three-stone diamond ring Madonna received from Guy Ritchie, the Asscher cut diamond Ryan Philippe gave Reese Witherspoon and the east-west set marquise diamond Ellen DeGeneres presented to Portia de Rossi are all Neil Lane creations.
I wrote about all the high-profile rings for InStyle magazine where I was the Contributing Editor of Fine Jewelry and Watches. Obviously, I was not alone in my coverage. Neil and his rings were all over the press. He went on Oprah as the ultimate engagement ring authority. The Bachelor franchise took notice of Neil, his amazing jewels and natural charm, and he officially joined the show in 2009.
Having known Neil for decades, I can say with certainty he brings the same passion and authenticity to everything he does from his appearances on The Bachelor to collaborations with brands like De Beers and Kay Jewelers to his own Neil Lane Couture collection. Some of Neil’s unique perspective comes from his experience as an artist; he still paints daily in his home studio. And his life-long love of diamonds doesn’t hurt either. “Ever since I can remember I was fascinated by diamonds—especially old cut diamonds,” Neil explains.
In all, Neil’s vision has elevated the glamour and artistry of diamond engagement rings to sparkling new heights and inspired too many purchases to count.