A New Exhibition at Sotheby’s Celebrating Black Jewelry Makers.
On September 17, Sotheby’s will open its doors to “Brilliant and Black: A Jewelry Renaissance,” marking the first-ever exhibition dedicated to Black jewelry designers. The show keeps the momentum high for the auction house, who also recently announced it will be selling more than 1,000 collections from Karl Lagerfeld’s estate (ranging from Jeff Koons paintings to Marc Newson furniture) later this year.
“Brilliant and Black” is set to take place at Sotheby’s New York gallery, with a curated selection from some of the jewelry world’s most acclaimed Black talents, including Art Smith and Winifred Mason Chenet, along with newer emerging names. Among the roster is also renowned artist and former AD cover star Rashid Johnson, who began translating his anxious men series onto metallic rings and necklaces in collaboration with LIZ WORKS two years ago.
Multihyphenate artist Maggi Simpkins boasts what is perhaps the literal crown jewel of the exhibition: a custom ring made for the occasion, on auction for $1 million. The piece in question is 2.43 carats, made to resemble a blooming flower via diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. If purchased, it will mark the most expensive jewelry item by a Black designer ever to be sold at auction.
“It feels unreal to be participating in this event, and in such a major way with a $1 million piece. The jewelry industry can feel really inaccessible—especially to those who don’t have access to crazy resources or tons of capital—or even contacts to secure materials,” Simpkins tells AD, “The fact that there are 21 Black artists who have broken through those barriers and are being celebrated in this way feels absolutely remarkable, and I am so thrilled to be included.”
It’s no secret that Black culture has long inspired the realm of luxury jewelry design. Curator of the exhibition and acclaimed author Melanie Grant hopes that this event will mark a shift in thinking, focusing the spotlight on Black makers rather than the countless “Africa Inspired” pieces that have trickled across the market for ages. “Jewelry Renaissance,” part of the exhibition’s title, echoes what Grant believes is a pivotal time for Black jewelry designers: a Renaissance in which their voices are not just heard but celebrated.
The rest of the selection will include a range of 60 different pieces from the 1950s to the present day, with a host of styles from Gothic romanticism to abstract modernism. The show will feature a total of 21 Black artists and jewelry makers and is sure to be a momentous occasion for the auction house.
Written by Sophia Herring on 17th September 2021.