In September of 2021, my wife Laura and I attended a fancy dinner honoring Carmen Busquets, an entrepreneur/philanthropist/all around awesome lady from Venezuela. I always get a little mix of nerves and excitement before these things because I never know who I’m going to be sitting next to. I seem to always get lucky with my table neighbors—maybe this is because I am great and fun. But that’s not for me to say. This time, to my right was sat a very cool looking dark-haired lady whose place setting identified her as Loree Rodkin. “Hi Loree, I’m Brandon.”
“Nice to meet you Brandon.” See how smooth I am? Before I could try to think of my next ice breaking question, I looked down and noticed her hands. Surrounding one of her fingers was some sort of hypnotic badass gauntlet. “Whoa, I love your…um, ring? It looks like medieval armor. Who made that?”
“Well…I did,” Loree replied. In fact she had made all the jewelry she was wearing.
After a short spell of admiring the various pieces I deployed yet another shrewd observation: “It looks very rock and roll, like something the Aerosmith guys would wear.”
“They do wear it! Steve Tyler is a dear friend of mine.”
Now here is where it got really fun: My grandparents used to live in Marshfield, Massachusetts and their next door neighbor was Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. I shared this with Loree and we decided to text good ol’ Stevie T. I forget what I said exactly but it was something along the lines of: “Hi Steve, this is Brandon, I’m the grandson of your old neighbors Linda and Jack. I’ve just met your friend Loree and I just want to say thank you for all the music and for being a good friendly neighbor and citizen of Marshfield.”
His reply, which I have screenshotted for all eternity, read: “Please tell Brandon to tell Linda I said hello…what great memories of jogging that two mile run around my house and stopping at her place and yakking as good neighbors should…Love ST”
Two years later, I knew that I liked Loree and that she made cool jewelry—and that was about it. I thought it would be cool to interview her about her diamond jewelry journey, and boy was I right. The following interview is heavily edited, mostly because I kept saying, “What?” and, “Really?” and “No way!” Now that I’ve cleaned up my end, I am thrilled to share our chat with you:
Loree Rodkin: Good morning. Or, good afternoon—where are you calling me from?
Only Natural Diamonds: Our apartment in New York – we live near the Dakota.
LR: I lived in the Dakota for about a year. It was weird.
OND: Isn’t it haunted?
LR: It feels haunted. My unit was half of the ground floor, which originally was one apartment and the people who lived there were hoarders. The estranged brother lived in one half, the sisters in the other. The brother died and they didn’t know until like, years later, because nobody talked to him. Surrounded by piles of newspapers and junk. When the sisters died they split it up, that was the one Gilda Radner lived in, and I lived in the other. An ex-boyfriend of mine was a writer on Saturday Night Live and all those guys—Belushi, Chevy Chase—would hang out at our place.
LR: I know. Lots of RIPs down that road.
OND: You know, when you texted Steve and shared his reply with me, that was really a nice thing. I shared that with my family, my grandmother was absolutely tickled pink. Thank you for facilitating that.
LR: Aw, that is so cute. You know, Steven is really just a very nice, normal family guy under the whole rockstar thing.
OND: Imagine a curious alien visits Earth and wants to learn about our civilization. They ask you how you contribute to the great symphony of human existence. How do you answer?
LR: I decorate people and make them feel good.
OND: They’d probably hear that and abduct you.
LR: Do I get to go in the spaceship?
OND: Yes, but you’ll need to wear a special suit to survive the hyperspace jump.
LR: Cool, I love dressing up.
OND: Do you remember a moment that you fell in love with jewelry?
LR: Yeah, there was a come-to-Jesus moment. I was about ten, and my mother let me wear one of her engagement rings. She had two, both from my father. And I was like, “AAHHH DIAMONDS!” I was hooked. And a couple years later she started taking me to our family jeweler on my birthday and let me design my own ring. I’d pick out the stone and the mold and go from there. So that’s how my obsession with diamonds and jewelry started. But I never thought it’d be a career.
OND: Do you remember the first ring you ever made?
LR: The first thing I ever made was a pearl and amethyst ring for my thirteenth birthday. Amethyst is my birthstone. In hindsight it was kinda dorky, but…anyway, then I started making jewelry for myself. I made a bunch of tiny earrings that went up my ear. I was a rock chick, and I could never find anything I thought was cool, so I started designing for myself.
OND: My sense is that you just make the stuff that you like, and if someone else likes it then great, and if they don’t, they can go somewhere else. Is that accurate?
LR: Yes, 100% correct. I design for myself and luckily, other people like my taste too.
OND: Do you know how your taste formed?
LR: Churches. I loved churches; I spent a lot of time in England where there are some amazing Gothic buildings and churches, and I used to collect Gothic furniture. That’s how my aesthetic started to form. And I liked Romeo and Juliet; I loved the Shakespearean unrequited, tortured love themes—that’s where my jewelry went. Deeply romantic and twisted.
OND: Very sexy. I remember when I first met you I thought your articulated ring looked like medieval armor.
LR: That’s actually where that came from. As part of my Gothic furniture collection, I had this suit of armor in my doorway. When I’d clean it, I’d play with the hands, and that’s when I thought, “I want to make myself a ring like this.” Then when I started wearing it people kept asking me if I had broken my finger. I was like, uh-huh, yeah, I broke my finger and decided to make this diamond encrusted cast.
OND: What did you do before you professionally designed jewelry?
LR: I’ve done a bunch of things. I’ve had an interesting life by accident.
OND: Go on.
LR: My adult life was at nineteen, I was at a Beatles party after some movie came out, I don’t remember what it was. And I was having a lovely time with this guy Geoffrey and he said, “Listen, I know this is crazy, but we’ve been flirting all night; I’m going to Europe tomorrow, would you like to come with me?” And I said, “Okay, as long as I can stay in my own room.”
He said, “Sure, of course.” So I went, and we wound up at this gigantic estate in Surrey that belonged to Robert Stigwood (he produced Saturday Night Fever, he managed the Bee Gees—Uri Geller was there, all these people, I didn’t know anything; I was in way over my head. We had a fun time at the party and then when it was time for bed, what do you know, we only had one room for the two of us. Geoffrey said, “Don’t worry, I’m a perfect gentleman.”
Then the next day he asked if I wanted to go to Paris to meet his friend Salvador Dalí. I knew he was some painter and I hadn’t been to Paris so I said sure, why not?
OND: Did you have a nice time with Salvador Dalí? Was he a weird guy?
LR: I had an eye-opening time, that’s for certain. He took us to La Tour D’Argent, and to my right was Amanda Lear who told me all about transitioning into a woman, and to my left was a Russian countess who kept reaching for me under the table. I thought she was looking for her napkin. And then my clearly new boyfriend Geoffrey—and Dalí. Then we went to dinner, then to a drag bar, then to Dalí’s room at the Ritz. He had a bathtub full of naked young men and he was pouring cream on them and taking photographs. I turned to ask Geoffrey “uh what’s going on?” and he was making out with a boy!
I said, “Um, why are you kissing a boy?” He said, “What do you mean? Loree, I’m gay!”
I was like, “Well then what the hell am I doing here?”
OND: Because you needed to launch your jewelry career.
LR: No, not yet. I fell into interior design because I was with this musician and I wanted our home to look nice. His friends liked it so then I did their homes as well: Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Sean Cassidy, David Cassidy, Bernie Taupin. But that wasn’t interesting for very long.
[Being the keen-nosed investigative journalist that I am, I executed a quick “Loree Rodkin musician boyfriend” Google search while she was finishing that last sentence]
OND: Was this when you were with Don Henley?
[As I scanned the blurbs under my search I learned that parts of the Hotel California album, in particular Wasted Time, were written about their relationship and breakup. WTF]
OND: You’re like…part of the all time lexicon.
LR: But I don’t get royalties. You know, when you’re with a writer or musician, they write what they know, so snippets of your life end up in these songs.
OND: And [I just learned] you were engaged to Bernie Taupin [the man who wrote/co-wrote the majority of Elton John’s discography].
LR: I was. We’re still friends.
OND: You have a type.
LR: I like wordsmiths. Wordsmiths with good voices.
OND: Have you ever been married?
LR: No. I like the idea of being with someone forever, and I am a serial monogamist, or a serial romantic—but the idea of a contract, to then have it go south and fight over who gets to keep the good chairs: that’s never been romantic to me. My father was married to my mother twice, and to my stepmother twice, and I lived with musicians who sometimes maybe weren’t so good to their wives. So my point of view on marriage was always framed by instability.
OND: But then you found stability designing jewelry.
LR: Then I fell into managing. I had a brief affair with a Russian ballet dancer named Alexander. I broke it off but I think he was worried about being able to stay in the United States, so he begged me to manage his career. I didn’t have any credentials but I figured, why not? I launched Brad Pitt, Robert Downey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Judd Nelson, Billy Zane—a lot of ‘em.
OND: What the hell! We as a society owe you a tremendous debt. How’d you find Brad Pitt?
LR: An agent sent him to me, they couldn’t get him hired. I thought, he’s cute, I can find something for him. I sent him in for Thelma and Louise a hundred times. They said, “Loree do not send this kid in again. He is cute, but he doesn’t know how to act.” But after a while they still hadn’t found their guy, so we sent him in one more time and he finally got it.
OND: So you launched that jewel out into the world and then thought, hm, I should do more of this.
LR: I was always making things for myself. But other people liked them. The first thing I ever sold was one of the little earrings I was wearing. One of the Gettys bought it out of my ear and gave it to Elizabeth Taylor. And that’s what really launched my jewelry career.
LR: She called me and said, [here Loree breaks out a wonderful Lizzie T impression] “Honey, it’s Elizabeth. Can I come over?” I said, “You…want to come…to my house?”
She said, “I’m in my pajamas, I hope you don’t mind. But I’d love to get some more of that cute jewelry.”
I said, “Oh…kay, sure, you can come over.”
She said, “I have my dog with me – but don’t worry, she’s housebroken.” Well she came over and the dog immediately pooped all over my carpet. And Elizabeth said, “Ohh sugar.” And I cleaned it up. And then I lifted up my sofa where I was hiding all my jewelry I had made and we sat on the floor and she picked out what she liked. And then she’d call every week and say something like, “Honey, can you come over? I don’t have my face on, I hope that’s okay. Let’s do blue things today.” So she was client one, and Barbra Streisand was client two and that’s how I got my start. But I was still managing at this time; jewelry was a hobby. I didn’t think it would go anywhere.
[POV: You’re Elizabeth Taylor, you’re in your pajamas, and you’ve just lifted up Loree’s sofa.]
OND: How did you transition from hobby to full blown career? Was it a natural progression?
LR: Kind of. Neiman Marcus found me, then Japan, then Russia. These big markets were into it, I kept getting these bumps up. I have a collaboration now with Rick Owen’s wife Michele Lamy. I made a line for stores around the world, but I was doing celebrities privately. When Madonna saw my articulated bondage ring she was like, “Uh, I need that.” So she had one and she wore my stuff on billboards, magazine covers…Steven Tyler was doing an interview on TV and said he didn’t feel cool until he put on my stuff…I walked by Rihanna when she was giving an interview at Paris fashion week and she grabbed me and said, “This is the lady who made my jewelry!” I’ve had a lot of loving support from people, and that’s helped. A lot of word of mouth.
OND: Can you flex on me? I want a brief but proud list of who you’ve worked with.
LR: It’d be easier to list who I haven’t.
OND: Ooh that’s a good flex.
LR: Hahaha. I’ve made things for Bruce Springsteen, Cher, Puffy, Madonna, Mel Gibson, Jennifer Lopez, Alex Rodriguez, a ton of stuff for Elton, a lot for Miley starting when she was doing Hannah Montana. Musicians, actors, heads of state…
OND: When you do a piece for someone – how do you know what to make for them? What’s that process? Or is it just them picking out something you already made?
LR: Well for Steven Tyler, he said he wanted a diamond belt. He wanted things hanging off of it, something different. So I made a mesh belt that draped down over his leg with all these diamond charms hanging off it. Cher wanted earrings but they had to be “bigger. Longer.” So they’ll give me a parameter and then I run with it.
OND: What part of the process makes you feel like, “Oh baby, I was born for this”?
LR: Buying stones. That’s what makes my heart beat. I find a beautiful diamond or some other stone, and then the design comes to me. I’m stone up.
OND: Natural diamonds only?
LR: I want something that a dinosaur could have worn as an earring.
OND: Have you ever sold something that broke your heart to part with?
LR: I used to have a little grouping of unique stones I’d collected. I’d found some unusually large vintage cut diamonds—I love rose cut, old mine cut, the old European cut—and then of course those were the ones that certain clients just had to have. Some clients would only try to buy things off my hand or ear, so I’ve had to watch what I wear around them. But yes, I did part with some of those and in hindsight, it does break my heart a little. The designs I can duplicate, but the stones, no.
Olivia Harrison, George Harrison’s widow, bought this amazing turquoise ring that I loved and every time I see her wearing it I’m like…Grrrr!
OND: Like Gollum and Frodo.
OND: You haven’t seen or read Lord of the Rings?
LR: I haven’t. I know, sacrilege. Maybe I made something—I don’t remember what movies I’ve made things for, but I don’t think I made anything for Lord of the Rings.
OND: There’s a lot of jewelry in the series, talismans and such with magical properties. I’m googling “Loree Rodkin Lord of the Rings.”
LR: Ooh that’s a cute name for me.
OND: It is. You owe me. Obviously I didn’t do a ton of research before this, but I did see that you worked with Michelle Obama. What happened there?
LR: I thought I was being punk’d. I got a call from ‘the White House,’ they asked me, “Would you like to do Mrs. Obama’s jewelry for the inaugural ball?”
I said, “Ha ha who is this?” After a couple of tries I believed them. I called Cher and told her I was designing eight suites of jewelry for Michelle Obama, and if she ended up choosing one to wear, it would end up in the Smithsonian. But she couldn’t tell anybody. And of course she told everyone.
OND: Dammit, Cher. She can never keep her mouth shut.
LR: She really can’t. She’s very enthusiastic. She said it’s my fault for sharing secrets with her, that I should know that about her. Fair enough.
OND: Two questions: what is a suite, and how did Michelle Obama come to request you as her inauguration jeweler?
LR: A suite is an ensemble, like earrings, necklace, bracelet, ring. And yeah, when they called me I said, “Are you sure you know who you’re asking?” They said yes, and they were hoping I’d do something a little less rock and roll, but Mrs. Obama had a pair of earrings that Oprah had given to her a while back and she liked them, and liked that I was from Chicago. The whole thing was very hard to process. I designed eight suites for her and she wore them all over the period leading up to the inauguration, and she saved the best for las—for the Inaugural Ball.
OND: Yeah, that’s like…world history. And you’re a part of it. What was it like to see something you made on that stage?
LR: My first thought was, “what the hell, someone copied my jewelry!” and then I lost my breath for a moment and realized that no, that was mine. It was so exciting. Probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to me so far.
OND: If there’s a museum a thousand years from now with a Loree Rodkin exhibit, what do you hope is on display?