It’s impossible to watch Black Panther, the Marvel comic-turned-blockbuster movie that’s banked $476.6 million at the box office so far, and not be wowed by the breadth and variety of the African-inspired jewelry and metalwork flashing across the screen.
The warriors, royals, and residents of Wakanda, the utopian fictional African country where the story takes place, wear striking metal pieces that range from beautiful hammered and feathered earrings to newfangled tribal adornments such as breastplates, metal-as-bone necklaces, neck pieces, and stacks of protective bangles.
There’s also the fact that jewelry—and precious metal—is central to the film’s plot. Wakanda sits on deposits of a fictional metal called Vibranium that’s allowed Wakandan culture to advance technologically more quickly than the rest of the world, and also gives the movie’s protagonist, King T’Challa, his superhero powers (he drinks it).
Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa wearing the Black Panther’s tribal-inspired necklace, which makes his black protective suit materialize (Image: @chadwickboseman)
Wakandans all wear bracelets with chunky Kimoyo beads, which according to Marvel Wiki tap into the Vibranium of Wakanda and act as an advanced communication system. They also receive a so-called Prime Bead at birth, which “provides a lifetime worth of medical knowledge about the individual Wakandan, from birth they are given this one bead,” also per Marvel Wiki.
Beads are added throughout their lives and everyone’s eventually given an AV Bead: an audio-visual bead that provides a holographic display, allowing Wakandans to access the Wakandan database (Wakanda’s internet!). They can also access video files and receive broadcasts on any frequency—which the film’s characters do throughout the movie. (The rub is that the jewels only work in Vibranium-rich Wakanda.)
The designer behind Black Panther‘s jewelry is Los Angeles–based Douriean Fletcher, who’s credited as special jeweler on the film, working under the project’s Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter.
“Ruth chose me to be on her team because of my ability to give her the aesthetic she wanted, something that looks Wakandan,” Fletcher told JCK.
And that desired aesthetic was clearly relayed: “Once I joined her team, Ruth and I had very thorough conversations of what was expected and needed,” the designer adds. “We would discuss the pieces, she would explain the nature of the character, the scene, and sometimes there were specific design details that she wanted to see in the pieces.”
For the majority of her time on set, Fletcher was a one-woman show, fabricating pieces in a workshop: “So any time cast members would come in, I might’ve had two torches in my hand or a hammer, with a safety helmet on. And I’m really petite, so it was probably weird to see this little black woman just hammering away,” she recently told the Los Angeles Times.
Fletcher’s favorite Black Panther piece includes “the metal piece on Ramonda’s dress as seen on the official Marvel’s Black Panther poster,” she says, along with “the Dora armor for the same reason—the technical aspect was quite challenging, but those pieces communicated the status of pride, royalty, poise, femininity, and a demand for respect from the people.”
Lupita Nyong’O and Black Panther jewelry designer Douriean Fletcher—both in Fletcher’s jewelry (Image: @douriean)
Okoyoe (played by Danai Gurira) of the Dora Milaje warriors (photo: @marvelverso)
Shuri, the king’s brainy little sister, played by actress Letitia Wright (Image: @marvelverso)
Fletcher lived in South Africa for a school semester, and it’s where she became inspired to design jewelry, she told the Los Angeles Times. “The thing that got me into jewelry was seeing the Zulu people…. I was really intrigued by the functionality of the jewelry. Everything they put on means something…. It made me realize, ‘Oh, these things aren’t just noncommunicative tools.’ You can tell someone who you are without having to speak.”
Black Panther ceramic-over-alloy Mask pin, $75; Douriean Fletcher