You know Ariana Grande’s famous crown. You probably even remember the one perched on R. Kelly’s head on the cover of his The Buffet album, or the time Paris Hilton ‘Grammed a photo of her pup, who looked like royalty in a gold-studded miniature version.
The maker of these regal creations? Mary Collins of Vauje Jewelry, who inadvertently became the go-to supplier for all of Hollywood’s crown needs. It didn’t start out that way, but ever since she launched her crown and tiara collection in 2012 (three years after Vauje Jewelry was born), she’s built quite an impressive roster of celebrity fans, making custom-made pieces for Blue Ivy, Jason Derulo, Tyra Banks, Rick Ross, Jordin Sparks and Kevin Hart.
So how did it all happen? We chatted with Collins about how she got her start, the first celebrity to wear her designs, and what it was like to make Ariana Grande’s crown.
How did you begin designing jewelry?
I used to dabble in photography, and I liked retro styles, so I started to make jewelry because I couldn’t find it anywhere else. People started complimenting me on them, asking if they were for sale. I really got into it after I was laid off from my job. I picked it up and I’ve been doing it ever since, launching Vauje Jewelry in 2009. I love it. It’s so strange, because I didn’t come from a family that created or made anything. Nobody was creative. I may have taken a sewing or art class, but other than that, I didn’t know how to make anything. I just started researching, and I loved the idea that I can have an idea and I can make it manifest. I can see it, I can hold it, it’s me — it’s something I made. I love the creative and designing process.
How did you get into crowns?
I was creating pieces for retail, and sales were pretty low. I was getting bored and discouraged, so I decided to focus on photographers and stylists. I wanted to go big. So I came out with my crown line in 2012. I started showing pieces, and they got so much attention. Photographers and stylists began to pull my items for editorial, and it took off. Sometimes I have to remind people I don’t just design crowns, but that’s usually what they’re looking for. And it’s for everyone, not only celebrities — I make them for birthdays, a newborn and so on.
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Where do you draw inspiration from?
My overall inspiration is from Renaissance and Victorian fashion. Sometimes I add a modern twist to it. I watch movies or shows with kings and queens in castles. Most of the time I don’t have a particular inspiration. I buy different materials and make designs without a plan. I like being spontaneous in the creative process. I love the idea of knowing today I’m going to create something but I don’t know what that something is going to be.
Who was the first celebrity to wear one of your pieces?
I thought my first celebrity would be a woman, but it was a male. It was Jason Derulo, and one of my good friends knew him and I hadn’t heard his music. I didn’t know much about him. I did my research before I met him. He was very nice and sweet — a really, really nice guy. I got to see my first big celebrity and be backstage after his concert. He wore a gold crown with a 2-inch metal in the middle and four or five little ornates on top.
Why do you think celebrities are drawn to crowns?
Because people want to feel like royalty. I noticed it with Rick Ross. He always carries himself with confidence, but when he wore his crown on his birthday, and I could see a notable difference, that he was like, “I’m the king. I own this. I’m the boss.” I see it with little girls too. When I had my pop-up shop, little girls wouldn’t want to take their crowns off.
What’s the design process like?
Typically, I’ll design it and send it to my showroom. Sometimes it’s custom, especially with men because it has to fit their swag. For Rick Ross, I wanted to make one for him that was different, and I thought ruby red would be perfect for him, even though I had never seen him in the color. I thought it exuded him. So when he wore it on his birthday, he had a ruby red bracelet to match. It was perfect. For some designs, I keep people’s personalities in mind.
The process is extensive, depending on what I use. I use solid brass on 99 percent of my crowns, and it’s made in America. I use the best-quality brass that I can find because I don’t want it to break and bend. Most people who make crowns don’t use solid brass — they use sheet metal that comes from China. Once I have the metal, I clean it, strip it down, polish it, strip it again, coat it to keep the brass from tarnishing. And then I place everything together, add the stones — it’s a long process. It can take up to a week to make, depending on the crown.
Do you design more crowns than tiaras?
I mostly do crowns, but I’ve made a couple of tiaras — I want to do more tiaras. They’re more lightweight.
What’s the most interesting crown that you’ve designed?
The crown for Paris Hilton’s dog was exciting and different — it was my first crown for a dog. It didn’t take as long.
Which has been the most complex?
Ariana Grande’s crown is very complex because the metal is so thick. I cried a couple of times out of frustration. It’s heavy, weighing about 3 pounds. But it was worth it in the end. I’ve only made a couple of them after the first. The one that’s being auctioned off — I sold it to a person who I thought was a fan, since Ariana’s fans are really loyal; they love her a lot. I was under the impression it was a fan buying it, and now this person is auctioning it off.
Is the Ariana Grande crown your favorite?
I won’t say it’s my favorite because it makes me cry, but I will say that out of all the crowns that I’ve made, that’s the one that takes the most work, and I feel the most accomplished after I make that particular design. If I don’t stop and cry with frustration and don’t take a break, I can finish it in about a week. One of my favorites is a rainbow iridescent one from my new collection.
You can buy Mary Collins’ crowns (priced between $180 and $775) at vaujejewelry.com.