THE FINE-JEWELRY DESIGNERS, DISRUPTORS AND ACTIVISTS YOU NEED TO KNOW NOW
CHARLIE BOYD speaks to influential tastemakers as they reflect on a year of nascent yet instrumental change in the fine-jewelry industry and forge a fair, equal and inclusive future for all
Melanie Grant, curator of Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance
A seasoned author, stylist and luxury editor of The Economist’s 1843 magazine, Melanie Grant recently partnered with Sotheby’s New York to stage a selling exhibition showcasing exquisite jewels by Black jewelry designers. Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance featured 60 pieces by more than 20 talented Black jewelry designers. “Initiatives like these are important because they open a conversation about who has power and how that affects everyone, including women and those not from privileged backgrounds,” says Grant.
“This is a joyous moment for Black talent, but we need to do more over time to dismantle the barriers to opportunity that still very much exist in the industry; greater access to, and education on, getting investment for independent designers, plus higher-level networking is required. I’d also love to see more people of color and women run some of the big jewelry houses, and sit on the boards of global luxury companies.”
Matthew Harris, founder of Mateo
Perhaps the most coveted example of alphabet jewelry within both fine-jewelry and fashion-editor circles is the Mateo diamond and quartz ‘Initial’ pendant, yet its ingenious design was partly down to happenstance. Harris’s original sketch came back from the atelier crafted in clear quartz, rather than its intended opaque malachite – and he immediately knew he had fortuitously hit “a jackpot”.
Entirely self-trained, Harris works within a signature color palette of precious materials that pay homage to his native Jamaica: yellow gold to symbolize the sunshine; verdant malachite and emeralds to echo the island’s lush flora; and onyx, a protective stone that represents the communal strength of Jamaica’s rich and diverse melting pot. “I only see myself as a jewelry designer and not a Black designer,” explains Harris. “At the end of the day, I just happen to be Black and make beautiful, personal jewelry,” he adds. “My advice to aspiring Black designers is to just do it,” he ventures. “Remove all fear and just start the magical process of jewelry-making – our ancestors have been making jewelry and ornamentation from the beginning of time; we can see evidence of it in museums around the world.”
Lauren Harwell Godfrey, founder of Harwell Godfrey
“I’m grateful to be making jewelry at a time when there is an emphasis on recognizing and celebrating diversity in our industry,” says Harwell Godfrey, who champions talismanic designs set with myriad gemstones referencing vintage African textiles. Artisanal savoir faire is self-evident in her work – pavé gemstones form flush rainbows of kaleidoscopic scintillation, complemented by intricate marquetry and complex geometric motifs. “Black talent is under-represented in fine jewelry, so to have initiatives like Brilliant & Black is important to move the industry forward.”
Kassandra Lauren Gordon, jeweler and founder of the UK’s Black Jewellers Network
In June 2020, jeweler Kassandra Lauren Gordon wrote an open letter to the fine-jewelry industry. She spoke from the heart, stating, “What is going on now is not a Black/white issue, it’s a humanitarian issue.” Gordon cited the blatant racism she has experienced in her career, including being followed by store staff while buying jewelry supplies – while her white peers are left unbothered and unsupervised.
In October 2020, Gordon paired up with The Goldsmiths’ Company and Goldsmiths’ Centre (a UK-based charity for the training of goldsmiths) to publish a survey of Black jewelers’ experiences in the industry. The responses highlighted a lack of funding, business experience and role models. Gordon has since founded the Black Jewellers Network, which offers its members educational events and resources. Supporting Gordon’s work, Goldsmiths’ has since launched a £50,000 Goldsmiths’ Global Majority Fund for projects that will increase representation in the jewelry and silversmithing industries in the UK.
Catherine Sarr, founder of Almasika
The sculptural designs of Catherine Sarr’s Almasika call upon global traditions, showcasing jewelry rooted in universal symbols and stories that span generations and cultures. The brand’s fusion of gleaming yellow gold and diamonds could be considered modern art in miniature, featuring scintillating accents set in undulating forms and potent symbols, such as the protective evil eye.
“Like most industries where there are recurrent talks about perceived pipeline issues, we now realize that it really comes down to pushing key decision-makers – from editors and stylists to buyers,” she says. “There are stories out there to be told that reflect other cultures and dynamics, and I know that customers are becoming more thoughtful about who makes their pieces, and what narratives and stories that jewelry holds.”
Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden, jeweler and founder of RRH Diamond Academy
Jeweler Rajcoomar-Hadden had a vision for an educational academy that would allow participants to meet and learn from top experts in the diamond world. She launched the RRH Diamond Academy in collaboration with the Natural Diamond Council and ran a two-week course, providing hands-on advice regarding production methods, Responsible Jewellery Council training, pricing methods and sourcing, plus marketing and press pointers.
“I really hope to normalize jewelers from diverse backgrounds in fine jewelry, and ensure that knowledge and social mobility isn’t their barrier,” she says. “I created this 10-day program with the support of the Natural Diamond Council based on my journey, with the hope to support others on theirs.”
This article appeared on 14th October 2021.
Written by Charlie Boyd.