With 2023’s campaign theme #EmbraceEquity, today is International Women’s Day. Equity means creating an inclusive world. We mark this day – and continue for the next two days – by celebrating the achievements of successful women in our industry, who talk about their jewellery journeys, female empowerment and inequality issues.
MELANIE GRANT, Executive Director, Responsible Jewellery Council, author and curator
Describe your jewellery journey
As a child, I was fascinated with metal – the gleam and strength of it and the ways it could be bent into magnificent sculptural shapes on a large scale in museums but also on a small scale on the body. I went to the Tate Modern with my mum and saw Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913, cast in bronze, and it was like being hit by a truck. I was mesmerised, and I knew in some part of my mind that I’d find a way to be close to metal as I got older.
Then while I was at The Economist, I had a similar moment at the Cartier: Style and History exhibition at the Grand Palais, but it was about diamonds this time. I went to cover the show and stood next to a vast display of stunning tiaras with a gaggle of local women who had tears in their eyes. I asked them what was wrong, and they told me they were cleaners and had never thought they would be allowed to see anything this beautiful, and they were overwhelmed. So we just stood there together crying because, really, I felt the same.
From that point on, I started writing about jewellery in earnest, and it changed my life. It consumed me, and I became obsessed with it, and still today, I can’t believe how much it has taught me. I know it’s art because when I look at the best jewellery, I feel exactly how I did at Tate Modern. My new role at the RJC is exciting for me because I’m examining an entirely new side of the industry, and I’m learning all over again. It’s thrilling meeting new people and discussing the challenging issues around sustainability, to be involved with the future of jewellery. I feel honoured to have been asked.
Would you say that being a woman has impacted your career?
I like to think that everything I’ve been through (good and bad) has led me to this moment. Being a woman and being a black woman has been an extremely enriching experience for me, even before the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements shed light on what it was to be us, and our voices became stronger. I remember when women were expected to wear skirts to work, and no one seemed to want a female boss when expectations that we might change the world or challenge the status quo were much lower than they are today. When I was a teenager, most of my friends wanted to get married and start a family; my goals were always around career, and I feel lucky to have achieved so many of the things I wanted. I’d say being a woman has been one of the highlights of my life.
Do you think women have had to work harder to be more ‘visible’?
One thing I’ve realised is that the ‘work’ is everything. Put all you have into it, finesse it, learn through it, believe in it and do it because you have to and love it. If you find your calling and connect with it tirelessly every day, then suddenly, when you least expect it, visibility occurs. It soars when your moment comes, but that can take 20 years, and women often have a lot of distractions because we’re expected to look after everyone else. So yes, we often work harder because we’re working multiple jobs at home and at work all our waking hours. When my book Coveted: Art and Innovation in High Jewelry came out, I was unprepared for the reaction to it because visibility wasn’t something I thought about. It was a by-product of a decade of learning. Women are still so often celebrated for their physical rather than mental beauty, but we deserve to be recognised for our intellectual contribution, whatever that might be.
Does the jewellery sector actually offer workplaces where women can thrive?
There are so many phenomenal women in jewellery on the design side, such as Michelle Ong and Jacquline Rabun, but also running mining companies, such as Eira Thomas and Naseem Lahri. Ninety per cent of the jewellery created globally is worn by women, and more and more of us are buying at the highest level with our own hard-earned money. It’s a female-centric industry, and I think workspaces reflect that. I recently visited some workshops at The Goldsmiths’ Centre in London, and most of the people I met were women. It feels like a good time for women to be in jewellery.
Have you ever been in a situation where you have had to call out inequality?
I curated two Sotheby’s exhibitions called Brilliant and Black, where the work of designers of African origin was showcased in New York and London to highlight talent previously overlooked at the highest level. This type of inequality is hard to address because it’s systemic and fused historically to business, but it felt like a good start to an ongoing conversation around access to opportunity. Inequality, in my view, is about social and economic power, and if you have it, do something with it.
What does ‘female empowerment’ mean to you? Does it allow the promotion of self-worth and/or the ability to influence change?
Female empowerment, to me, is about freedom. Having the freedom to wear what I want, go where I want, spend what I want, be with who I want and be who I want. I’m not asking for permission or seeking approval because these are my choices. I love and believe in myself, and I share that positivity with others. This, in turn, creates change. I think confidence is the key, and behind that is self-worth. My mum told me I could be anything and do anything as a child, and I believed her, so tell your little girls they are brilliant without reservation, and great things will inevitably happen.
This article appeared on 3rd March 2023.
Earrings by Cindy Sherman and LizWorks, Feathered tiara headdress by Verdura.