Something extremely cool is happening in the jewelry world right now: an all-new exhibition at Sotheby’s that is solely dedicated to celebrating the work of Black jewelers.
Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance opened at Sotheby’s New York on September 17th and will run through September 26th. Co-curated by jewelry writer and stylist, Melanie Grant (who is a fantastic IG follow, btw) and Sotheby’s Sale Director of Jewelry, Frank Everett, the exhibition showcases custom-made creations and signature designs by more than twenty of the world’s leading Black jewelry designers spanning a range of periods and styles from the 1950s to the present day and every piece is for sale.
And yes, my darlings, it is as dazzling as you’re imagining. The range of style and personality and sheer luminous beauty is electric. If you’re in NYC, go see this in person. It will be awesome.
I’m not going to waste your time by blathering on when I know we all just want to see the jewelry. I don’t have room to show you all 63 pieces by these brilliant Black jewelers, but I’m going to spotlight some of my faves.
Maggi Simpkins is a jeweler I’ve admired for years. I found her through Instragram and always enjoyed seeing her creative, colorful rings. When I heard she was designing several pieces specifically for Sotheby’s Brilliant & Black, I knew they would be good…but the reality is even more incredible than I had imagined. She BEYOND knocked it out of the park. I mean, LOOK at these rings.
These rings give me chills. When I look at them, I feel them in the pit of my stomach. This is exceptional stones and visionary artistry combined in the best way. Yes, Maggi Simpkins, yes!
Castro is another superstar Black jeweler who you may already be familiar with. If not, congratulations, because you get to see his work for the first time and that’s a treat. It was a real struggle deciding which of Castro’s pieces to show you because they’re all SO COOL.
Born in Ohio and now based in Istanbul, Castro’s work is opulent, elaborate, striking, and always a revelation. Just look at these two pieces and you’ll see what I mean. The necklace on the left, Antique Bisque Doll, converts into a shorter necklace and a detachable pendant – and the doll pendant is wearing a removable mask.
I was trying not to go too in-depth on any particular artist in this post, but I had to give you a closer look at the pendant from the Bisque Doll necklace. On the left is Castro’s other lot in the sale, a pair of earrings. Each design is worth staring at for hours. They almost have a Renaissance jewelry vibe, don’t you think? What an incredibly talented artist.
Art Smith is a full on jewelry icon/legend. An avid supporter of dance who was known for his support of gay and Black civil rights, Smith is considered one of the leading modern jewelers of the mid-century. Not only did he open his own shop in the 1946’s, but Smith’s work sold in department stores in the 1950’s and has been repeatedly featured in Vogue, and exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum and Cooper Hewitt.
My eyes love to dance across the whorls of this Art Smith necklace – my gaze is pulled up and down and across. I can’t resist it.
Almasika by Parisian-born Catherine Sarr is a brand I already know and love. Utterly chic and luscious, the designer’s work is heavily inspired by meaningful symbolism like the cowrie shell that forms the building block of these gorgeous black rhodium and diamond earrings earrings. The cuff and the other pair of earrings are buttery 18K yellow gold with tsavorite garnets.
That ridged gold just looks so satisfying to touch, doesn’t it? I want to pet that cuff bracelet.
Sheryl Jones is a jeweler with a background in the entertainment industry and her experience in the performing arts has become a strong influence in her jewelry designs. Her jewels speak for themselves – look at this extraordinary use of color! I love a necklace that uses surprising colored gems and this combo of asscher cut peridot, pink sapphires, rubies, tourmalines, kunzites, and diamonds. It’s called “The Heroine’s Necklace” which is a name I absolutely love.
This necklace appears to be convertible as well; the listing shows it with and without the pendant as well as the pendant alone. You can see this piece modeled in one of the editorial photos at the end of this post.
If you’ve seen Thelma West’s Rebel Black ring recently, it may be because Rihanna rocked it on the Met Gala red carpet last week. There aren’t many fancier ways for a piece of jewelry to be seen.
As the photos make clear, West’s jewelry is bold, badass, and impossibly cool. Sleek lines and graphic slashes of blackened gold and black ceramic showcasing dynamic diamonds make each one an unforgettable head-turner. Look at the prongs that hold the diamond in the ring – prongs are often an afterthought, merely a structural necessity, but these prongs are fully part of the design. Top notch glamour with a twist. I love it.
Jacqueline Rabun’s pieces in the Brilliant & Black exhibition use one of my favorite materials: rutilated quartz. Those beautiful, thread-like lines are the rutile inclusions and what makes this stone so cool. This collection is called Black Love and is a great example of Rauben’s organic, architecturally influenced style.
Harwell Godfrey is another well known contemporary Black jeweler whose work I’m always delighted to see. Her designs are bold and joyful, with bright colors and a warm, wonderfully welcoming vibe. Her work is inspired by the four elements, block printing, and weaving.
Godfrey is known for her philanthropy, and in the past few years she has created charity heart pendants with 100% of the proceeds going to the NAACP, No Hungry Kid, World Central Kitchen and Human Rights Campaign. Harwell Godfrey also helped establish the Art Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund to support Black students concentrating in jewelry at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.
Oh, these earrings! Their quiet beauty and sense of peace is so powerful. They’re by Tenthousandthings, a brand with an NYC storefront that is designed by Ron Anderson and David Rees. The collection is sculptural, organic, and simultaneously bold and serene, with a knack for unexpected abstract shapes and bewitching natural gemstones.
These earrings are just such a knockout. Such a distinctive, eye-catching neutral. I love the idea of these as an everyday statement piece.
There’s so much more to love in Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance! Click through here to see every single piece on Sotheby’s website. The online catalogue also has mini-bios about every single designer, so it’s worth a look for several reasons.
I love the Sotheby’s is doing an exhibition to celebrate Black jewelers and the curation is spectacular – truly a joy to behold, even just over the internet. Remember, this incredible exhibition of Black Jewelers’ work only lasts through September 26th, so don’t sleep on it.
Want to see more auction posts? Visit my Auction archive here.
All images and info c/o Sotheby’s, editorial photos c/o Menelik Puryear.
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Couple Jewellery says
Amazing celebration of black jewelers
Isn’t it wonderful?? I’m so glad you enjoyed this beautiful exhibition too. Which piece is your favorite?
love the harwell godfrey pieces, and the maggi simpkins rings. the castro necklace was interesting—i’d like a closer look at that. and i admire the way the rutilated quartz was used in jacquwline rabun’s subtle pieces…i’ve a feeling they are very beautiful and compelling in person.
Isn’t it such a fascinating and beautiful array of designs? I think that’s my favorite thing about this exhibition: there’s so many strong pieces from different thrilling points of view. Such an incredible curation!