Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
March 18, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Who could pay attention to Marisa Tomei’s flustered thank yous last year when she won Best Supporting Actress for My Cousin Vinny? All eyes were on her jewels: Dangling from her ears were 20 diamonds reflecting the sudden limelight; her bedizened wrist carried a bracelet of another 42 carats. How did the ingenue snag the $400,000 baubles? Simple. She just asked Harry Winston.

In the last 10 years, the elite jeweler has made its salons the place for Oscar’s Cinderellas to borrow their transforming trinkets. Winston invites presenters and nominees to browse and select from its five stores, which include locations on Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue. And browse they do. Geena Davis, Sharon Stone, Jodie Foster, and Whoopi Goldberg have come away with diamonds and pearls. Susan Sarandon wandered into the Beverly Hills store two years ago with her son Jack Henry asleep in his stroller and selected diamond hoop earrings set in 18-karat gold.

The stars aren’t half as piggy as they might be. Brigitte Devine, Winston’s publicity director, says the average loaner is worth a mere $100,000 — the price of a diamond necklace and earrings. Winston has yet to regret its generosity. Thanks in part to the security guards it offers the actresses, all the goods have made it back. The closest call? Three years ago, for her Oscar-night performance of Dick Tracy‘s ”Sooner or Later,” Madonna lived up to her reputation as a Material Girl by hand-plucking four bracelets, a necklace, earrings, and a 34-carat pink diamond ring that alone was worth $14 million. In midsong, Devine says, ”one of the earrings fell into her hair and she flung it into the audience.” The jeweler’s heart may have skipped a beat, but this is Hollywood, home of happy endings. At the last minute, fearing the earrings didn’t fit well, Madonna had substituted her own fake pair.

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