“They love each other. They love, love, love each other.” Kyle Chan, the jeweler who designed Brittany Cartwright’s 3.14-karat engagement ring, which she and fiancée Jax Taylor debuted on social media earlier this month, tells me about the newly betrothed Vanderpump Rules couple.
Never mind that Jax cheated on Brittany with ex-costar Faith Stowers. Never mind that he allegedly did so with an ailing 95-year-old woman in the room. Never mind that he dumped Brittany after she stuck by him for all of season 6.
“I have no concerns,” Chan says by phone. “I was very emotional when they got engaged.”
The cast of Vanderpump Rules is among Chan’s most loyal clientele. They wear his pieces on screen and to events (fans might recognize his unicorn pendant or Love Initial charms); they turn out for his annual birthday bash (he throws parties with elaborate themes like “Dark Disney”); and they’ve so far commissioned him twice for engagement rings (he worked on Katie Maloney’s 2-karat, pear-shaped diamond in 2015).
“It wasn’t like, ‘We’re all going to band together and only wear this jeweler,’” Scheana Marie, one of the show’s stars, explains while on break from shooting the series’ seventh season, during which viewers will get to see Jax’s proposal. “We just all think [Kyle] is that awesome.”
Chan, 43, met the cast at the grand opening of Pump, one of series matriarch Lisa Vanderpump’s West Hollywood restaurants, in May 2014—about three years after he launched Kyle Chan Design, and shortly after they began filming Vanderpump Rules’ third season. (The series premiered in January 2013.)
“I personally loved the show, so I talked to them and told them, ‘Hey, if you guys need jewelry, I’d totally help you out,’” he remembers.
Like most upstart designers, Chan wanted public figures to wear his pieces. But while many of his competitors sought only stars of a certain caliber or influencers who would promise to post on social media, he wasn’t quite so fussy—put differently, he wasn’t a snob. “I was just happy to have celebrities wear my stuff,” he says. Besides, he really liked those Vanderpump kids.
“They are all very, very nice people,” Chan insists. “The friendship has grown naturally throughout the years. And I somehow managed to have no drama with any of them. That is not an easy task!” The secret? “I never talk about the show with them unless they bring it up—then I just listen. I pretend I don’t know what happened. You don’t want to be the one who stirs up [trouble].”
Tom Schwartz remembers meeting Chan at Pump years before he commissioned Maloney’s engagement ring. “Kyle became a friend first,” he remembers. “We soon after realized what an incredible talent he was… When it came time to pop the big question, Kyle was a no-brainer of a choice.” Schwartz was on a budget, he says, but Chan was able to apply his wholesale and retail experience to create the perfect ring that would “knock Katie’s socks off.”
“Every time we want to make something special for friends or family, with minimal information, [Chan] has a knack for making exactly what you want, even if you [can’t] exactly articulate it,” Schwartz continues. “It’s a great pleasure to be in his orbit and we [Tom and Katie] both value his friendship greatly.”
Despite appearing on several episodes of the series (he got his most ample screen-time in season four, when he consulted Schwartz on Katie’s engagement ring—though, one of his campaign launch parties, which was hosted at SUR, was featured on the show as well), Chan doesn’t have a formal deal with Bravo—he says he’s never even had direct contact with anyone from the company.
“Bravo has been very kind to me, because I know that they don’t have to continually mention my name,” Chan says. But his relationship with the Vanderpump cast isn’t contractual: If the girls wear Kyle Chan Design on a reunion episode, as they all did in May, it’s because they want to.
“When I give them stuff, I tell them, ‘This is your gift,’” Chan says. “It never comes with a condition. That’s how I always work.”
Chan, who moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong when he was 13, began his business inside a Los Angeles hospital room, where his boyfriend was being treated for cancer, in 2010. For nine months, Chan spent eight hours a day making Wish bracelets. “My mind was just like, ‘I’ve gotta make it or it’s not going to happen,’” he remembers.
Not only was his partner sick, Chan had also recently quit his high-paying job as manager of a wholesale jeweler. “I started to send the bracelet to whoever I could find on Facebook,” he says. “I probably only got D-list celebrities at that time, but I was hopeful and I was persistent.”
Within two years, he was selling his designs out of local boutiques, one of which Miley Cyrus frequented. She became a fan, and Chan’s first real A-list client.
Though, in terms of celebrity, Chan really credits Kyle Richards as his first big break: After she wore his turquoise blue chalcedony earrings on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and tagged Chan in a photo, he says he sold about 1,000 units at $142 a pair. “I think she’s probably one of the reality-TV stars who can move the most items,” he recalls.
He’d met Richards the year prior, just as he was starting out, at a flea market in Pasadena. “He had a booth set up with his jewelry, and I just loved his things, and more importantly, I just loved his energy,” Richards says. “So I started wearing his stuff on the show and I’d tweet about it back when, my gosh—it wasn’t like I had that many followers then. It was definitely in the beginning, before I was as known. But he was so grateful.”
Chan experienced a different kind of mainstream exposure in 2015, when costumer Mary Zophres contacted him about using his green moss aquamarine necklace in La La Land (she’d seen the piece in an issue of InStyle).
“I wanted a very simple necklace for Mia [Emma Stone’s character], to wear—she’s a struggling actress so she’s not going to wear a fancy necklace,” Zophres says. “I was like, ‘I love this. It’s exactly what I’m looking for.’” Chan sent her a few copies and later made custom pieces—like the necklace and matching earrings Mia wears with her now-famous green dress—at the costume designer’s request.
“He was so helpful and really bent over backwards for us,” Zophres tells me. “And I think he was really smart about making the most of it. He came to visit us on set, posted on social media. But he was gracious and not obnoxious about it.” He even gifted Zophres a necklace to wear to the Academy Awards.
Richards remembers a similar act of generosity from Chan, who sent her a ring after her home was burglarized earlier this year. “All of my jewelry was stolen, except for what I had on me—I’m talking everything from a little chain I had when I was a little girl to my dad’s push present to my mom from when I was born to my 20-year anniversary earrings that my husband gave me,” she recalls. After hearing the reports, Chan sent Richards a 14-karat white gold ring with a 9.86ct Tanzanite stone surrounded by white diamonds. “He said to me, ‘I know that your mom’s purple ring was stolen,’” she remembers. “He was thinking of me.”
Richards wore the piece to the premiere of American Woman, a new Paramount Network TV show loosely based on her childhood. “I’m just so happy to watch his journey from being at the flea market to doing what he’s doing now—these beautiful engagement rings.”
Stylist Ali Levine, who’s worked with several members of the Vanderpump cast, thinks Chan’s success stems in part from his foresight to work with reality-television stars. “A long while ago, before reality was kind of respected, nobody really wanted to be involved with it,” she says. Now, in a post-Kardashian world, Levine believes new designers would be foolish to overlook the genre: “Reality has taken off, I think in some ways more than certain TV shows and even some movies, [and] that’s made an opening for designers… They can go for the reality stars who are well known but aren’t at an Angelina Jolie level right now, and they can get in.”
Also key to Chan’s success are his (relatively) accessible prices, which start at around $50 (for a green onyx bar bracelet) and go up to almost $10,000 for a 14-karat rose gold aquamarine diamond ring. “People watch these shows and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, I want a ring like that,’” Levine says. “And they can actually buy it.” (Chan declines to share profit information, but says total sales went from $100,000 in his first year to in the “multi-millions” today.)
And so, back to Brittany and Jax: Chan says he knew for three months that Jax was going to propose. “I was just waiting on him to come to me and say, ‘Hey, we’re ready.’” Once Jax gave him the green light, Chan had about a month to complete the ring—while keeping his mouth shut. “They trust that I won’t say anything,” he says. “I’ve survived all these seasons.” He didn’t even have to sign an NDA.
If Chan is to Bravo what Neil Lane is to ABC and The Bachelor franchise, it’s in part because the Vanderpump cast (and Richards) loves his work. But it’s also because he’s as loyal to them as they are to him. Since news of Brittany and Jax’s engagement broke, for example, “we’ve gotten a lot of inquiries from customers asking how much or saying that they want [the ring],” Chan says.
But, for now, he isn’t making replicas. “I want them to have their moment. I’d like to make a few more dollars, but I don’t think that’s more important than the friendship,” he explains. “It’s not a PR stunt. The friendship is real.”