How 'Jurassic Park' Inspired Hollywood Jewelry Designer Daniela Villegas
THR visits her studio to view her personal jewelry box, and latest creations worn by sister-in-law Salma Hayek, Allison Janney, Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore.
Long before her collaboration with the film franchise became official, Hollywood jewelry designer Daniela Villegas was already creating pieces that look like they would be at home in Jurassic Park.
In the last decade, she has made a name for herself with colorful, creepy-crawly, insect-inspired fine jewelry that's been worn by her sister-in-law Salma Hayek Pinault, Allison Janney, Brie Larson, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downey Jr., Halle Berry, Demi Moore and director Jane Rosenthal.
On the occasion of the launch of a special collection designed for NBCUniversal in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Jurassic Park franchise (the fifth film ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ hits theaters June 22), Villegas invited THR into her studio to view her latest creations ($1,500-$70,000), which are available at Just One Eye in Hollywood, Roseark in WeHo and Nordstrom stores.
The rustic Beverly Crest home she shares with her husband, Sami Hayek, a furniture and interior designer, doubles as a shrine to nature. Shadow boxes showcasing hundreds of bugs hang on walls covered in Josef Frank’s floral Milles Fleurs print, while a menagerie of jewelry clad taxidermy animals stands watch, including an armadillo with a ring on its tail, and a bison head with a pierced earring. “I create everything here, starting with watercolor sketches, because it's more quiet, and then the pieces are produced at my studio in downtown L.A.," says Villegas, who hails from Mexico City and moved to Los Angeles in 2008.
THR: Tell us about your design signatures.
I love to use natural elements with a hint of whimsy. Even my wedding band is shaped like a worm because my husband calls me worm (‘gusano’ in Spanish) as I’m always picking up stones and leaves. I started the company in 2008 with the Freedom collection that’s inspired by feathers. My second Backyard collection is what people tend to know me for; that started with a few insects and then the whole family came: worms, walking sticks, crickets, scorpions, beetles. I collect insects and I love them because to me they’re like living jewels! Next I created porcupines and then monsters from the abyss like angelfish and eels, and now I’m moving more into crabs, shrimps, lobsters and sea urchins. In 2015, the Peruvian government invited me there for two weeks so I made guinea pigs and alpaca, and my Chromatic Paradise collection is inspired by Mexico with coyotes with jeweled crowns, scorpions (I’m a Scorpio) and snakes.
All the collections are permanent and I add to them depending on my mood or my travels or what I want to express. I’m planning to launch an anniversary collection during Paris Fashion Week in September that will be a sort of retrospective with at least one new piece from every collection. People always tell me they like my color combinations; I tend to use a lot of contrasts inspired by nature and also by cookbooks, even though I don’t cook that often. Paella with yellow saffron, red peppers and clams could become citrine with ruby and black diamonds.
How did the ‘Jurassic Park’ collection come about?
NBCUniversal contacted me because they knew my work. We had a few meetings and they liked what I was doing, so they gave me rights for a limited-edition collection that drops throughout the year in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park. It was such an important movie, all the summer blockbusters start from there, with the technology showing the dinosaurs looking so real. I have childhood memories of watching it, so this was really a dream come true.
Funny enough, I had wanted to design dinosaurs before this so I already had sourced a lot of the stones. Obviously, they are a huge corporation but they gave me a lot of freedom and allowed me to make a few changes. I wanted to show the dinosaurs looking more happy like they were smiling and with bigger eyes; you don’t want to show the T-rex like it’s going to eat you! We made T-rex (Demi Moore has some of those pieces), triceratops and brachiosaurus. They are a symbol of strength and also of evolution, as the goal at any age is to grow into a better version of ourselves. In the beginning, we decided to do seven pieces. It’s a lucky number because, when I started the company, I used my savings and with that money, I was able to make seven one-of-a-kind pieces, so now every time I do a new collection I start with seven. Everybody loved them so we did seven more. And so far I have designed about 50 Jurassic Park pieces.
What’s in your jewelry box?
I made this necklace that’s like a branch of wood meant to look like part of your collarbone for Salma to wear to one of the Oscars after-parties with a beautiful Alexander McQueen dress as a tribute the year that McQueen passed away . Here is a rough tourmaline pendant I made with a gold lotus growing out of it (as if from a pond) with a sapphire and tourmaline scarab on the side. My husband gave me a black opal for our first wedding anniversary so I made that into a ring. I've made three lockets for myself: One is a weevil-inspired pendant engraved inside with a photo of my sister, my brother and me, and the words "always together," and I have my husband’s picture engraved in a bicolor opal locket and another one engraved with my dog. My husband said, "Wait, Tito has a bigger one than me!"
Has there been more demand for your jeweled vapes since marijuana was legalized in California?
Our friend is an investor in Beboe and she introduced me to Scott [Campbell] and Clement [Kwan]. I’m not a smoker, but I love the company because it’s so luxury. I thought, "I don’t want to be caught with Beboe in my purse like a drug dealer." I like it but I don’t want it to be seen. So I made a gold branch necklace for myself that was kind of a James Bond thing because the Beboe fit inside; then I added my scarabs and pearls and opals. I started selling them at Just One Eye for $50,000 last year and so far I’ve made 10. One of my clients commissioned his spirit animal; I’ve made sacred snakes and, for myself, the axolotl salamander (with the body as a pearl) holding a Mexican rug that’s like a magic carpet. I found these Monq aromatherapy vapes with essential oils for sleep or energy that also fit if you don’t want cannabis. Now, you’re the first person to see this, I just made my first lighter-case necklace [with diamonds and emeralds] that will also sell for $50,000.
Any favorite places that you find inspiration in L.A.?
I bought my tickets far in advance for the Bug Fair [at the National History Museum] and I’ll be there at 9:30 when it opens! I also go to one in Pomona. The Los Angeles Public Library downtown is one of my favorite places to go with all my books and I love to sketch at The Huntington Library botanical gardens in Pasadena. I went to the Getty’s Egyptian wing last week. The inspiration for my next collection is exploration, adventure and a state of mind of growth. I’ve been working with chakras for the past year, so intention is important: rose quartz for love; pink tourmaline if you need more feminine energy; and more specific stones for the thyroid, the lungs, because jewelry is something you’re wearing every day. I also buy a lot of jewelry for inspiration. My husband, we call him "Tiger," sometimes says, "You’re buying too much jewelry for yourself!" And I say, "But it’s something I need to do!"