When the news of Paris Hilton’s 20-carat, pear-shaped engagement ring broke last week, questions immediately arose about where it came from, who made it, and, most perplexingly, who paid for it.
Her fiancé, actor Chris Zylka, was once homeless and now has a reported net worth of $4 million, so how could he afford a ring whose creator, Michael Greene of Greene & Co., told me has “a conservative value of $2 million”?
When Richard Johnson of the New York Post asked him if the couple “negotiated a big discount in barter for publicity” (Hilton tagged Greene & Co.’s Instagram account in one of the images of the ring), Greene says he misunderstood the question and thought he was being asked about how Zylka physically paid for the ring when he responded, “Those are the kind of things I wouldn’t talk about.”
“I should have just said he wired the money to my account,” Greene told me, adding, “I don’t do barter and trade—I don’t need their publicity.” He acknowledged that Zylka paid slightly less than $2 million but declined to reveal the precise figure.
Still, one industry insider says the story doesn’t add up.
“I just don’t think it’s plausible, knowing her and knowing the reported information on him, that this was 100 percent up and up a straight buy,” says Jack Yeaton, a publicist who has worked with celebrities and fine jewelry brands including Verdura and Kimberly McDonald. “For her there would always be someone else around the corner that she could get a deal from,” Yeaton says. “It’s what she’s built her career on—getting stuff for nothing.”
A representative for Hilton, who is reportedly worth $300 million and controls a retail empire that includes 50 stores, 19 product lines, and sales from 23 different fragrances exceeding $2.5 billion, did not respond to a set of emailed questions.
Greene is hardly the only Hollywood jeweler whose name is frequently mentioned alongside celebrities. Lorraine Schwartz’s 551,000-follower-strong Instagram account is filled with photos of famous people wearing her jewelry, and she has designed engagement rings for Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé—she even gets name-checked in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s 2006 hit, “Upgrade U.” Schwartz was unreachable by press time, a representative said, but her collaboration with Kanye West on Kardashian’s ring attracted attention from Extra on a red carpet in 2013.