A New Exhibition Celebrating Black Jewelry Designers Is Coming to New York

It’s not a secret that “Africa-inspired” design has been preferred over designers of African ancestry throughout the past century. Although Melanie Grant, writer and author of Coveted: Art and Innovation in High Jewelry, intends to solve that, she has partnered with Sotheby’s to organize the first-of-its-kind “selling exhibition” about jewelry, in which prospective buyers may view actual pieces that have been up for sale.

The new exhibition, Black and Brilliant: A Jewelry Renaissance, is set to open on September 17th and will highlight the work of 21 Black designers from the United States and Europe. A curated display showcasing about 60 items with prices starting at $1,500 is being held in conjunction with Sotheby’s director of jewelry Frank Everett. Above that is a one-million-dollar ring created by Maggi Simpkins for the special occasion. The most costly gem by a Black designer at a major global auction house is most likely to sell if it does.

A New Exhibition Celebrating Black Jewelry Designers Is Coming to New York - Courtesy of Vanleles
A New Exhibition Celebrating Black Jewelry Designers Is Coming to New York – Courtesy of Vanleles

The company established this record-setting price tag, the first of its kind in this industry, as an expression of its founder’s view that “economic power is the foundation of real change,” and also marks a watershed moment for an industry that has been historically dominated by white, wealthy, and connected businesspeople. It has several causes. Also, collectors who are well-known among their peers are considerably more inclined to acquire from well-known companies. They’ve already talked to that person for generations. How can they decide to pick you instead? “Grant states,” Not to mention the fact that the greatest stones are only available through established ties, which are usually decades deep. Additionally, there are the finances necessary to acquire the aforementioned stones. Grant shares, “It’s possible for jewelry designers to have a piece that stays on the shelf for more than ten years and no one buys it.” It is out of the question.” This ensures that expensive jewelry stays a closed club for the affluent.

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Satta Matturi Nomoli Totem earrings
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Thelma West Rebel Black ring

Also, there is a certain irony in the fact that while a large portion of the materials used come from Africa, the number of African designers (Black Jewelry Designers)employed in the design community is still lacking. Many of those who are participating with Brilliant and Black want to bring true African-led artwork to the rest of the world. She dedicates her work for her label, Vanleles, to her native nation of Guinea Bissau because it’s where she spent much of her childhood. While sourcing sustainably from African mines, she used brightly-colored Mozambique rubies in the ‘Enchanted Garden’ earrings, which is a reference to African textiles. This Castro NYC supplier of mysterious, gem-encrusted doll necklace necklaces takes design cues from South America as well. Since the early 2000s, Castro has created pieces; however, he informs me that having the pieces shown at Sotheby’s makes them easier to find and obtain more exposure, as it’s an opportunity for “those that may have ignored my work or be unaware of it.” When it comes to small, independent designers who lack sufficient marketing budgets, gaining recognition is difficult, and the other designers who worked on Brilliant and Black concur. Thelma West of London is offering a ring called “Rebel Black,” which is faceted to resemble an inkwell and has a pear-cut diamond that is almost 1.5 times longer than the norm. “As a creative, you must give your work enough exposure for it to be successful,” she adds. This show provides this group of outstanding designers from all areas of life with unparalleled international exposure and respect. Here We Are, an initiative created by the New York City Jewelry Week, aims to give opportunities to designers from different backgrounds in the jewelry industry. In 2020, a study of Black jewelers’ experiences revealed that 44% of respondents said they didn’t have role models, while 77% stated that they did not have sufficient finances. 

Additionally, in the UK, Grant serves as a judge for the Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden Diamond Academy, which pairs emerging talent from underrepresented backgrounds with industry-leading mentors. According to this designer, designers who have been in the industry for a while may not be at the top level because of a lack of support. It’s about who they are.” If you get out of the industry once you get to a certain stage, there is no sense in creating a pipeline. For example, artist Rashid Johnson created a ring using LIZWORKS, an LA-based jewelry line. This ring, referred to as “Anxious Men,” has five rubies, whose faces have been carved into the surface. African masks decorated with magnificent cut natural diamonds, emeralds, and South Sea Pearls served as a basis for Satta Matturi’s ‘Nomoli Totem’ earrings.

To answer your question, is that ring that’s worth $1 million? This gem displays a beautiful pink, clear diamond of 2.43 carats, with three hues of pink sapphires and rubies all around it. Designed by LA-based designer Simpkins, the Permission to Shine blouse was inspired by a flower budding. Two additional pieces in the collection are being offered alongside it, and all three have received Simpkins’ Permission to Shine permission. They claim to tell the tale of how I achieved my designer-celebrity status and permitted myself to fulfill my full potential. With Harwell Godfrey, Jacqueline Rabun, Johnny Nelson, Lorraine West, Mateo New York, Alaska, Melanie Eddy, Sheryl Jones Jewels, Ten Thousand Things, Lola Fenhirst, Jariet Oloyé, Angie Marei, and Shola Branson, current brands including Simpkins will have the focus.

The exhibition features jewelry designs created by Winifred Mason and Art Smith, two prominent African-American jewelry designers (Black Jewelry Designers). The former was said to be the first black-owned and operated business that made jewelry for African Americans, while the latter was an important figure in 20th-century modernist design. I see Smith as a sort of a totem for me, Grant explains. He came into contact with a significant amount of bias since he is a homosexual Black Cuban-Jamaican. I’d want to see him get a bit more attention for what he accomplished since it was a big challenge. Royalty wore traditionally high jewelry. If you had certain jewels, you ruled the world. “It’s a huge shift to provide the opportunity to somebody who doesn’t usually receive authority,” she states. All I want is for youngsters to watch it and then for them to think, “I could do that, too.”


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