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Bringing Serious Bling to Colorado Boulevard

After a century of faux finery, the 2005 Rose Queen will wear a $100,000 crown.

November 27, 2004|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

When Rose Queen Ashley Moreno travels down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's morning, two security guards will walk alongside her float, not so much to protect the teenage queen, but to ensure the safety of the $100,000 crown perched on her head.

After nearly a century of rhinestones and cubic zirconia, the 2005 Rose Queen will be crowned with diamonds and pearls, handpicked by jewelers who just don't get that many chances these days to build a royal headpiece -- unless "Miss Universe" counts.

Jeweler Mikimoto, which claims the Japanese royal family on its crown resume, took on the challenge of designing a crown that will be seen across the globe by more than 350 million people. It may be only 15 seconds of TV fame. But it's enough of a publicity pop for Mikimoto to spend $370,000 on the crown and six matching tiaras for the princesses.

Among the crown requirements: It must be large enough to catch the eye from afar. Its weight must not cause head cramps. It must be delicate and youthful looking, yet sturdy enough to withstand travel.

And, as part of the company's sponsorship agreement with the Tournament of Roses, it will be the first crown not to be stored at the Wrigley Mansion, tournament headquarters. Instead, the crown and tiaras will go on the road after New Year's, visiting four Mikimoto stores in the U.S.

The crown contract specifies that at least four more Rose Queens must wear the Mikimoto crown.

A team of designers and jewelers in New York and Japan began working last June, studying Rose Parade history before settling on a design. The Tournament has retired crowns sporadically, using some for only a year, others for a decade or more.

In 1939, the Art Deco rhinestone crown was treated like a souvenir, broken down after the parade into bracelets, brooches and a stickpin for the queen, princesses and the tournament president. The crown used from 1987 to 1992 featured a design of rhinestone-studded roses.

"I noted a lot of them are very big," said chief Mikimoto designer Amy Kim-Araneo. "Everything was rhinestone, feathers."

An early Mikimoto design featured the parade's trademarked rose logo. But Tournament officials nixed that one. "We felt like it kind of cheapened it," said Tournament spokeswoman Caryn Eaves.

They like to describe the new version as simply classic, with overlapping lines and a lot of movement. Kim-Araneo said she wanted it to have a "sweeping sash look, with a little swoop ... and a lot of dangle."

Heart-shaped loops, said Eaves, give it "a youthful appeal."

In recent years, the five-pound sterling and cubic zirconia crown forced young queens to undertake a regimen of neck-strengthening exercises and take aspirin before the parade to ward off stiff necks and headaches.

The new crown weighs in at just over one pound because of the lighter pearls and diamonds. Queen Ashley said wearing the crown "took a bit of getting used to" because its height demands straight posture and a level head.

Because Mikimoto has been making crowns for more than 100 years, Kim-Araneo said they've become experts on "how to fit a head."

The first design, she said, used a Japanese model. But American heads tend to be bigger.

"We had it much smaller," Kim-Araneo said.

For 10 weeks, jewelers in Japan selected more than 600 pearls for the queen's crown and attached them to its silver base.The team also consulted a hairstylist to design an appropriate "up-do" for the queen -- and to ensure the crown's three silver combs are attached in the proper places.

To guard against a catastrophic fall, 60 to 70 bobby pins will affix crown to hair.

"It's very secure," Queen Ashley said. "As long as I am not sprinting off somewhere, it will stay."

The list of instructions that accompanies the crown in its bubble wrap-lined wooden box reveal much about proper crown-handling techniques.

"Please handle this silver crown with extreme care due to its fragile nature," the instructions read. "When carrying the crown, please hold the base with both hands. Never pick it up from the tip or hold the tip of the crown. Usage of the provided rubber bands and hairpins is recommended.... Please do not use hairspray once the crown is placed on the head, as it will damage the pearls."

Philippe Marquet, assistant manager of Mikimoto's Beverly Hills store, wore white gloves when he lifted the crown out of its box for a viewing, in order to protect it from fingerprints.

A former pearl diver, Marquet will be one of the crown's two guards on New Year's Day. His partner, Rodney Elpheage, the store's burly "loss-prevention specialist," said he's been preparing for the parade by practicing how to memorize faces and scan crowds. "I can handle it," he said of his special mission.

The duo will start their day early at the store, retrieving the crown and tiaras from a vault and taking them to the Wrigley Mansion, where a team of hairstylists will place them on the royal heads.

"At the end of the parade, we get the crown, and get it back here," Marquet said. "Then, after a good nap, we'll go to the game."

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