When the Duchess of Cambridge wore a delicate pair of imitation diamond-and-pearl earrings to the Diamond Jubilee service at St Paul’s Cathedral earlier, she could not have anticipated the chain of events she would set in motion.
The £58 fake pearl and cubic zirconia earrings were instantly familiar to Belinda Hadden who was at home watching the TV coverage. Especially for bridal wear or on the balcony at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As a result they've suddenly proved...rather popular! They were part of a range of jewellery sold on her website Heavenly Necklaces — an online business selling convincing, understated fake jewels which Belinda used to describe as a ‘well-kept secret’.
But shortly after those earrings were worn by Kate, her secret was out — and life hasn’t been quite the same since. Belinda, 55, is no stranger to celebrity clients and the essence of her cottage industry has been its polite, discreet service.
She thought that would be the end of it, but soon internet chatrooms and websites such as www.whatkate wore.com, which catalogues everything that the Duchess wears, were abuzz with news about where the Duchess had bought her earrings.
Orders started rolling in — from all over the world.
Heavenly Necklaces was swamped, selling out of the earrings almost instantly. More than 400 orders were placed within 48 hours — as many as the company might normally expect in a year. Belinda hurriedly set up a waiting list to cope with demand.
The company generated a year’s worth of business in a matter of days, as customers from the U.S. to Japan, disappointed at having to wait for up to two months for ‘Kate’s earrings’, consoled themselves with shopping from the rest of the catalogue. They bought everything from the cheapest £16 stud earrings to a fake diamond necklace costing just over £2,000.
Belinda is a grateful beneficiary of what has been dubbed ‘The Kate Effect’ which describes the phenomenon whereby when Kate wears a pair of shoes, a high-street dress or a fascinator hat, sales sky-rocket.
She says: ‘Here was the future Queen of England wearing fake diamond jewellery and everybody celebrated it. I think there’s a feeling that anyone can look great on an unlimited budget but the people with real style are those who can look good on a limited budget, particularly if they do that combination, Topshop-Prada thing.
‘Those are certainly the people I admire . . . and the Duchess of Cambridge is the patron saint of that message.’
Belinda’s own lucky break came after nearly 20 years of hard work building Heavenly Necklaces from a kitchen-table start-up to a business with a global client base.
The concept of fake jewellery became big in the Thirties when people went on cruises, left their jewels in the bank and wore replicas onboard.
When Belinda started her business in the early Nineties, after quitting a job in PR to spend more time with her three young daughters, her aim was to do fakes with a modern twist.
‘At first it was semi-precious stones on invisible thread, but it morphed into the whole fake thing. Then I found a supplier in Hatton Garden [London’s jewellery quarter] who made very clever pieces that looked like the real thing, then I started designing and commissioning my own pieces.
‘You don’t have to insure them or worry if they get lost, and everyone thought, “How clever to sparkle without the risk”.’
Even the wife of one of Bond Street’s top jewellers is a customer.
‘If she borrows from their shop, it has to be delivered under armed guard.
‘But when she wears one of my pieces she says everyone assumes it’s real and that if she loses the item, ‘it’s 40 quid instead of 40,000”.’
Another customer told Belinda that when she was burgled recently, the thieves ignored laptops, TVs and other luxury items — and took two of her rings, worth just £76.
Belinda says: ‘What has changed is that people now see it as an intelligent rather than a cheapskate thing to do.’
That means her ‘superb client list’ continues to grow. This list — Hollywood stars, wives of millionaires, and now, thanks to Kate, royalty — is anything but fake.
I'll sign off for now.
Aisling in Bahrain with Brian Viner.