Bling is the sound of platinum clinking against gold, the flash of light reflecting off a million-dollar rock. It is at once everything that is wrong with the world, and everything about it that is thrilling and gorgeous. The pull of all that glitters is something that Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly understood instinctively. And were she an edgy, modern girl living in our city, there are certain bling-heavy shop windows she would be pining at come dawn with her croissant and coffee.

Any tour of bling must begin with the obvious, at Tiffany’s on Rodeo Drive. Currently, a squiggly abstract necklace from the Frank Gehry collection, like tadpoles strung on a line, peeps out from behind wood slats in a small, ice-box-size window. “They are not tadpoles,” a saleslady corrects me, “they are fish.”

As with fish, the cost of diamonds depends on the market and fluctuates from day to day. A million on Tuesday, say, might be 2 million on Wednesday. “We don’t have sterling-silver telephone dialers for $10 anymore,” says another associate — suit, tie, impeccable — when I ask him what the cheapest item in the store is, you know, for a girl on a budget. “But we do have glass cups over there in the back for 40 bucks.” The most expensive item is a $2.6 million yellow diamond ring. There is something particularly crazy about yellow diamonds. Diamonds and insanity — not the quiet, simmering, psycho-in-the-basement kind, but the operatic madness that afflicts the truly melodramatic — go hand in hand. Tom Cruise proposed to Katie Holmes with a yellow-diamond engagement ring. Usher’s yellow diamonds (1,000 tiny ones) are mosaicked into a portrait of his face on a watch.

In the section of the store where the million-dollar necklace-bracelet-earrings “suites” reside, some tourists are talking cash.

“What’s your price point?” asks the clerk behind the counter.

“Five,” they say. Five what? Five hundred? Five thousand? Five hundred thousand?

“Oh,” the clerk purrs, “you can definitely buy something in gold for that.”

Tiffany’s is all bustle and light and cheerful blue boxes, but Harry Winston, just a few doors down, is hushed and dark, like being inside a queen’s jewelry box. The walls are lined in chocolate velvet. The windows are padded in gray wool. Just outside the entrance, resting in a honeycomb in one of the gilded, vitrinelike windows, is a single, glorious diamond ring.

Inside: more vitrines. Each with jewels more fabulous than the next, guarded by intimidating men in suits. As the final owner of the famously cursed Hope Diamond, Harry Winston was no stranger to bling and danger. In the ’50s, he donated the Hope to the Smithsonian, then (either cleverly or insanely, I can’t decide) sent it to them in the mail. It is said that he used $145 in postage: two bucks for stamps, and the rest to buy $1 million worth of insurance. What a delicious thought, a massive diamond passing unknown amid a sea of ordinary mail.

Delicious and ridiculous, that is. Not unlike the recent news of a dentist who gave his cat Sebastian a gold grill, in the form of gold crowns for its bottom two canines. Holly’s lonesome Cat should be so lucky.

Next it’s on to that fairy-tale hotel lodged in the heart of every call girl with Cinderella dreams — the Regent Beverly Wilshire, to drop in at Mikimoto, the shop attached to the building like a conjoined twin. Kokichi Mikimoto, the first human to culture a pearl, once said that he would like to adorn the necks of all the women in the world with pearls. Mikimoto Los Angeles has teeny pearls and gargantuan pearls for necks fat and slender. A woman admires a choker strung with pearls hefty as jawbreakers. “Would you like to try it on?” a friendly Filipino salesman asks, handing her a glass of champagne. I listen to his gentle prattle, about oysters, pearl nuclei, nacre, color, luster.

“Oh, no,” the woman sighs. “I don’t dare.”

The original Mikimoto store, in Tokyo, was renowned for its pearl displays, which changed monthly. At night, the windows of the Los Angeles branch glow a radiant, undersea green. Green for money. Green for envy.

Across town, the window displays of Kaviar and Kind are works of art. A faceless Virgin Mary cradles an infant, a jeweled rosary around her neck. Months ago, a group of skeletons had a tea party in that very same spot. Later, a pair of naughty mannequins made love in a thatch of faux grass. Still later, a Botticelli Venus-on-the-half-shell appeared, resplendently pregnant, a mother-of-pearl collar (shaped like a fish biting its own tail) draped around her neck. Chad Michael Morrisette, the designer who assembles the displays, arrives to plan out the next one: A cuddly white rabbit will crouch in a forest as black crows circle above it, ready to pick at its flesh.

The ever-evolving dioramas depict the phases of a young woman’s life: courtship, romance, motherhood. “People almost get into car accidents while looking at our window displays,” co-owner Sunrise Ruffalo tells me. Sunrise is the wife of actor Mark Ruffalo, and her store’s Jennifer Meyer gold-acorn necklaces are on every starlet’s collarbones this season. And just the other day, she sold the store’s most expensive item, one of her business partner Katherine Azarmi-Rose’s pieces — a $29,000 wraparound cuff encrusted with cognac diamonds — to a Saudi princess.

Inside, Ruffalo’s store is, much like her, small but exquisitely beautiful. Rings are shaped like flies, or baby foxes. A near-perfect teardrop diamond dangles from a leather string. Drilled into a peach pit is a sextet of pinpoint diamonds.

Casually, she slips a $19,000 ring with a citrine the size of an egg onto her finger. On closer examination, the edge of the citrine is crawling with tiny gold lizards, snakes, butterflies and snails. Her aesthetic is all about the surprise of unexpected artistry. “We’re in this no man’s land,” she says of the store’s location, tucked into a curve at the intersection of Sunset and Alta Loma. “There’s nothing chic or hip about it. It’s not Rodeo Drive, but we’re like a jewel hidden amidst plain gray concrete.” Sometimes, when she is working in the store late at night, she is startled by a flash of light: Another curious passerby has taken a photo of the display. Not everyone can wait for breakfast.

Tiffany & Co. 210 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 273-8880

Mikimoto Pearls 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 205-8787

Harry Winston 310 N. Rodeo Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 271-8554

Kaviar and Kind 8533 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, by appointment at ?(310) 659-9523

LA Weekly