Sotheby’s is holding its first-ever exhibition and selling event dedicated to Black jewelry designers, exposing them to a new audience of enthusiasts and collectors. “Brilliant and Black: A Jewelry Renaissance,” open to the public from Sept. 17 to Sept. 26, will feature approximately 60 pieces by more than 20 of the world’s leading Black jewelry designers, including custom-made pieces spanning a range of periods and styles from the 1950s to the present day with prices ranging from $1,500 to $1 million. Sotheby’s has curated the exhibition along with British writer, author, and stylist Melanie Grant.
Pioneers such as Art Smith and Winifred Mason Chenet will be featured alongside designers Harwell Godfrey, Jacqueline Rabun, Johnny Nelson, Lorraine West, Rashid Johnson, Thelma West, Vanleles, Castro NYC, Almasika, Marei New York, Mateo New York, Matturi Fine Jewellery, Melanie Eddy Jewellery, Sheryl Jones Jewels, Ten Thousand Things, Lola Fenhirst, Jariet Oloyé, Maggi Simpkins, and Shola Branson.
“This show represents a shift in thinking from ‘African inspired’ to Black talent being the inspiration,” said Grant in a statement. “I think we’ll look back at this moment as a game-changer, amplifying the often overlooked and sometimes underappreciated talents and stories of Black jewelry designers…and to essentially help them make their mark in history.”
Simpkins, designer and owner of her 6-year-old eponymous line, was approached by Grant on Instagram to appear in the show. “[Grant] said to me, ‘I pitched an exhibition of 20 Black designers because nobody knows who the Black talent is now,’” Simpkins tells JCK. “I said, ‘Yeah, let me think about it and I’ll get back to you’—yeah, right!” Simpkins quips. “In five years, one of you is going to do $1 million,” she says Grant told her. “I’m thinking $1 million in sales. No, she meant a $1 million piece!”
That happened much sooner than even Grant anticipated. Simpkins herself is currently crafting a custom-made $1 million ring for the exhibition. No photographs yet exist for the piece, but Simpkins tells JCK it’s a 2.43 ct. cushion-cut fancy pink internally flawless diamond surrounded by custom-cut rubies and three different shades of pink sapphires. “I’m very much a small independent designer,” she says. “It feels really unreal.”
Catherine Sarr, designer and owner of 7-year-old Almasika, is also participating in the exhibition. “To me, it’s an honor that Sotheby’s found my gold work and aesthetic to be worthy of an exhibition without big diamonds and big stones,” says the French-born designer who now calls Chicago home. The brand features a lot of curves and circles in its designs—“as humans, we are naturally attracted to curves instead of straight lines,” says Sarr. One of the pieces on display will be Almasika’s Universum bangle with 18k yellow gold with tsavorite gem in the center. The piece will go for $24,000.
Angie Marei will showcase her Isis Goddess Tahitian black pearl and green tsavorite garnet ring in 18k black gold in the exhibition. The price for the ring is set at $10,000. “It is an absolute honor to be selected as one of the designers of African decent,” Marei said in a statement, noting she’s influenced by ancient Egypt, art deco, and Gothic architecture. “I am half Egyptian and Dominican and born and raised in New York City. My culturally diverse background and growing up with both Muslim and Roman Catholic parents inspired my nonconforming unique aesthetic. My work is about continuing the legacy of my ancestors.”
“Sotheby’s is enormously proud to be involved in such a momentous project and to highlight the compelling stories of the individual designers,” said Frank Everett, Sotheby’s director of jewelry, in a statement. “We are delighted that this first exhibition will contribute to revealing their talents and contributions to the art of jewelry to a wider audience.”
All the pieces in the show, held at Sotheby’s New York galleries, will be available for purchase, either in person or through Sotheby’s Buy Now online marketplace, from Sept. 17 to Oct. 10.
Top: Vanleles Enchanted Garden earrings made of diamonds, rubies, rose gold, and titanium, $108,270 (all photos courtesy of Sotheby’s)Follow JCK on Instagram: @jckmagazine
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