T he second installation of Brilliant & Black takes a step further in presenting the creativity and craftsmanship of contemporary Black designers. The selling exhibition, which runs from September 22 to October 2 in London, showcases the work of returning designers while welcoming new voices and remembering the legacy of Castro. Shop the pieces from both editions on our online store.
“Going from ‘African-inspired’ to people of African origin being the actual creators shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is,” says writer Melanie Grant who returns in her role as curator for Brilliant & Black: Age of Enlightenment.
After last year's triumphant selling exhibition celebrating Black jewelry designers, the new edition of 'Brilliant & Black' focuses on enlightenment and the continuous representation of Black talent.
Brilliant & Black: Age of Enlightenment
Inspired by jewelry from ancient cultures, Disa Allsopp creates hypnotizing one-of-a-kind silver and gold pieces embedded with island-colored gems that reflect her upbringing in Barbados.
Disa’s passion for jewelry was cultivated at an early age during a trip across South America. After studying the craft in the UK, she established her business in London in 1996. To emulate the handmade, weathered aesthetic of jewelry discovered in Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, Disa melts 18k gold and sterling silver before hand-forging them to create textural, organic shapes. The pieces are rinsed to induce rich patinated hues, and are sometimes blackened with oxidation. Using rare-cut gems ranging from white and colored diamonds to pastel tourmalines, citrines, garnets, sapphires and morganites, Disa creates rings, bracelets, cuffs and necklaces, along with her spaghetti line composed of thin wrapped strands of precious metal. Additionally, she offers bespoke services to customers with heirloom gems in search of repurposing their cherished treasures.
Using ethically sourced gems, traceable diamonds and recycled metals, Disa’s soulful and timelessly appealing jewelry has been exhibited in the UK, US, France and Japan, and can be viewed at select retail and tradeshows as well as at her studio in London for private clients.
Gina Love for Auvere
High karat gold is the hallmark of New York-based jewelry brand Auvere, named after the symbol for gold (Au) in the periodic table of elements as well as the Italian word “avere” meaning “to have, to hold, to wear.”
As chief creative officer and co-founder of Auvere, Gina Feldman Love left behind a law career in Manhattan real estate to pursue her passions in jewelry design. Born in Jamaica, she learned how to draw from her mother, who was herself a designer, while her father emphasized a more practical profession. Working for international law firms, Gina also took courses at Parsons and started a small leather goods business, Peryton. After meeting entrepreneur Steven Feldman, the two endeavored to found Auvere based on their love of precious metals. Auvere was launched in 2017, and they wed in 2019.
Working with 22k and 24k gold, Gina creates sculptural jewelry ranging from elegant, minimalist pieces to bold shapes. Inspired by celestial skies, architecture and nature, she creates a new collection each year and has recently explored diamonds and rubies. Lovingly handcrafted, the luminous jewelry from Auvere is made of the purest forms of gold that are investments as much as they are adornments.
Karen Smith disrupted the Senegalese saying that “only men wield the hammer” during an apprenticeship with a master metalsmith in Dakar. The life-changing experience transformed her work from everyday art fair jewelry into high art, and it was an impactful reminder that Black female representation is crucial to inspiring the next generation.
Previously self-taught, having relied on library books and online courses, Karen got her start making Buddhist prayer beads. After commissioning a metalsmith to make a bracelet, she realized her own passion for creating metalwork. Karen’s contacts through academia brought her in touch with the 5th generation metalsmith in Senegal, where she discovered that the skill is only passed on from father to son. As the sole woman in the workshop, Karen constantly drew attention from wide-eyed villagers as she learned the fundamentals, melting silver and copper to create sterling before she could begin her design. Upon returning home to Oakland, California, Karen established We Wield the Hammer to teach metalwork to girls of African descent.
Inspired by African masks and textiles, Karen creates bold wearable art made of sterling silver and 14k and 18k gold. She’s living proof that women can and do wield the hammer, after all.
The San Diego-based jewelry brand is helmed by founder Latoya Boyd, a U.S. Army veteran who discovered her passion in creating fine jewelry which radiates positive energy and playful high style.
Latoya studied jewelry and metalsmithing at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles before attending the GIA in Carlsbad, where she earned a graduate gemologist diploma as well as a certificate in CAD/CAM for jewelry. Although a first-generation jeweler who has been in the profession for less than a decade, Latoya has been creating her own jewelry for the past 24 years. Her focus on interchangeable jewelry has led to the creation of Pieces of Me, a series of chains that can be layered around the body according to the wearer’s sense of style. Other collections include In Bloom, featuring flame-painted copper pieces which have been hand-hammered, producing a one-of-a-kind patina. The Celestial Goddess collection is an array of summery gold-filled jewelry that’s tarnish-resistant.
Latoya has been honored with the Female Veteran Grant from Women’s Jewelry Association, sponsored by Jewelers’ Mutual Group in 2020, as well as a grant to attend Conclave through Titleholders’ DEI Committee in collaboration with the Black in Jewelry Coalition in 2022.
Born in Manchester, Ndidi Ekubia has been silversmithing for 27 years and is currently based in Surrey, UK. Her hand-raising technique was influenced by her Nigerian heritage, resulting in sensuous vases, trays and other functional pieces warmed into life by her skilled touch.
Ndidi studied 3D design at the University of Wolverhampton, where she discovered silverwork and repoussé. After honing her talent at a residency for Bishopsland Educational Trust in Oxfordshire, she was accepted into the prestigious Royal College of Art, where she learned the value of making beautiful works of art that served a practical purpose.
In 2013, her Sparkle Vase was placed in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s permanent collection, and she was honored with an MBE for her merit in silversmithing in 2020. While the artistic challenge of hammering and torching the metal, then bathing it in water and mild acid may be physically rigorous, for Ndidi it’s a meditative dance between “order and chaos” where “where every hit counts.” She’s represented by Adrian Sassoon and her work can be found in public collections such as The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Crafts Council in London and Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museum.
Pascale Marthine Tayou
The artwork of Pascale Marthine Tayou merges with fine jewelry as wearable talismans inspired by voodoo and African tribes. They are intended as good luck and protection for nomadic souls.
Pascale rose to international prominence in 1996, just a couple of years after his debut in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Born in Nkongsamba, he originally studied law, but his artistic impulse was more urgent, leading him to explore the world—he now has studios based in Belgium and Cameroon. Believing that art and life are inseparable, Pascale creates large-scale installations and sculptures incorporating found items such as graffiti, electronics, plastic bags and doll parts, taking inspiration from diverse objects that help him address life’s existential questions. Pascale’s work comments upon postcolonial Africa, the AIDS crisis, the emergence of the EU and the ambivalence toward citizenship and identity.
Pascale’s Gri-Gri rings, showcased at Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery in London, have a spontaneous yet casual feel, combining gold and pearl with elements that recall the artist’s heritage, using cloth, threads and beads, along with a protective secret potion for the wearer. Pascale’s work has been exhibited at Documenta 11 and the Venice Biennale, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, among others.
Having trained for two years at De Beers and graduated from the Gemological Institute of America, London-based designer Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden has earned her way to the top.
While working as a diamond grader at De Beers, Roxanne discovered she had talent in evaluating and reworking heirloom jewelry. Drawing clientele who entrusted their beloved pieces to her careful hands, she modernized each jewel while maintaining some sense of its personal history. The experience encouraged her to found RRH Jewellery.
Launching the company in 2013, she emphasized the need for a transparent supply chain and ethically sourced materials. The majority of RRH diamonds are sourced from the ocean off the coast of Namibia, ensuring that the mining methods are environmentally friendly while supporting the local artisan communities. Using Fairtrade-certified gold pieces with conflict-free diamonds and other precious stones, Roxanne designs collections and bespoke pieces, as well as wedding and engagement rings for strong-minded, principled women whose power and grace are reflected in the values of RRH.
As a daughter of a Jamaican mother and Indian-Guyanese father, Roxanne understands the importance of encouraging diversity in the jewelry industry, and has partnered with the Natural Diamond Council, mentoring young designers through RRH Diamond Academy.
Countering jewelry as products of fast fashion and capitalist imperialism, Sewit Sium delves deeper into the spiritual and ancestral resonance of objects—and how they can be powerful political reminders that offer resilience to the people who wear her talismans and amulets.
Having formerly taught in NYC high schools, Sewit received her MA at NYU Tisch and launched her eponymous label in 2015. She continues to educate through her jewelry, which references history’s icons and cultural and artistic movements within Africa and throughout the Diaspora. Sewit’s jewelry line includes the Freedom Collection, a series of medallions of Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X, Power Claws made of precious rocks and minerals, and Cosmos Keys that symbolize a connection to home as well as a metaphysical tool for crossing barriers. Other collections take inspiration from the ancient kingdoms of Kush, Punt, Kemet and Eritrea, embellished with serpent and lion motifs, honoring the Pan-African continuum while transmitting a sense of power in the search and struggle for Black freedom.
Through the language of Sewit’s jewelry, she celebrates legacy while reminding us that change is possible, and it’s her mission to encourage higher institutions to adopt the promotion of jewelry that has authentic value.
Angie Marei for Marei Fine Jewelry
Egyptian-Dominican designer Angie Marei was born and raised in NYC, acquiring a degree at the Pratt Institute in NYC in communications design. She has experience as a creative director, having worked for global luxury brands such as Gucci, YSL and Tom Ford. Marei discovered her love of jewelry tracing back to her Egyptian ancestry, which inspired her to enroll in a fine jewelry school in NYC. Her passions include wax modeling and metalsmithing, while collecting rare gems. Her fans include Rihanna, Beyoncé, Demi Lovato and Billy Porter.
Known previously as Diaboli Kill Jewelry, Marei Fine Jewelry was launched in 2013. The brand is distinctly sexy with a dark edge for those daring to redefine elegance. Channeling the spirit of her Egyptian-Dominican heritage, tapping into the experiences of growing up in NYC and traveling the world, and combining her passions for vintage occult films and Old Hollywood, Marei experiments with a hybrid of architectural Art Deco-inspired design and spiritual mythology. She creates luxurious pieces that include talismans in the shape of horns, Aphrodite pendants, skull earrings and crucifixes.
Catherine Sarr for ALMASIKA
Paris-born, Chicago-based jeweler Catherine Sarr celebrates the symbols, stories and forms that unite people across cultures and generations, through fine jewelry that combines art, design and storytelling. After a decade in London working in the highest echelons of the luxury diamond industry, Catherine founded ALMASIKA with the aim of creating jewelry that is not only beautiful, but meaningful.
An avid art collector, patron and co-founder of the Prix Sarr in partnership with Beaux-Arts de Paris, Catherine has long been inspired by the power of art to spark dialogue and tell stories. Having lived on three continents, she is fascinated by the universal significance of shapes and symbols. Her designs are rooted in symbolism that transcend culture and connect people who share an appreciation of creativity, craftsmanship and form. ALMASIKA has adorned the likes of Issa Rae, Alicia Keys, Zoë Kravitz and Reese Witherspoon.
All the colors of the rainbow radiate positive energy in Harwell Godfrey’s line of jewelry. Lauren Harwell Godfrey worked as a creative director in advertising and trained as a chef before founding her company in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her burgeoning label was inspired by her love of ancient textiles and patterns as well as an affinity for mid-century modern geometric shapes. She conveys a sense of history through references to the Four Elements, block printing and weaving. Endowing every detail with symbolism, she handcrafts her collection in 18k gold, using precious gemstones and vivid enamel.
Politically mindful, Godfrey designs her jewelry with healing messages, thoughtfully placing gems to express Black unity in the aftermath of George Floyd. Many of her pieces feature inscriptions on the back, reinforcing the intentions of each design. A dedicated philanthropist, 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.
Jacqueline Rabun describes her passion for jewelry-making as a desire to express the need for more compassion in the world. Using ethically sourced gold and silver, she creates pieces that tell a story through organic and architectural forms. Having studied fashion in Los Angeles before bridging over to metalwork, Rabun launched her debut line in 1990 with the “Raw Elegance” collection of hand-sculpted forms, which earned immediate acclaim among collectors of contemporary art and design.
Inspired by nature and universal life themes, such as birth and the passage of time, Rabun’s creations often have movable pieces in poetic silhouettes imbued with meaning in different configurations. Rabun has a long-term collaboration with Georg Jensen, sharing an intuitive understanding of Scandinavian design; other collaborations have included Halston and Studio Mama, and she’s a consultant for Zaha Hadid Architects.
G rowing up amid a community of Yoruba weavers in Nigeria, Jariet Oloyé watched and participated in the art of woven textiles and basketry. These skills led her to studying at the Cass School of Art, Architecture & Design at London Metropolitan University, and she graduated with honors in Jewellery & Silversmithing. Basing her business in London, her education informed her own visual language of weaving with metal wire.
Working with recyclable materials, Oloyé creates thought-provoking sculptural jewelry and objects that explore the happiness of people and the serenity of public spaces. She also explores the relationship between the mediums of glass and metal. Her jewelry is influenced by her African upbringing and is inspired by art, architecture and the natural world. Oloyé’s experimentation with metal alloys has successfully yielded one-of-a-kind art objects in abstract colors and textures, depicting the beauty of nature.
Born in England and raised in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Johnel Jamison launched the Johnny Nelson jewelry brand in 2017, influenced by the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and hip-hop culture in the 1980s and ’90s. Each piece is handcrafted in NYC, using various fine metals and stones. Jamison’s journey from emcee to jewelry designer happened while on tour, when he realized he wanted to look as good as he felt on stage. His first piece was a head-turning three-finger ring, drawing attention from celebrities such as Mary J. Blige, Nick Cannon and Lil Nas X.
Inspired by his diverse passions in punk, hip-hop and spirituality, Jamison’s work honors Black empowerment. His line features rings of sculpted portraits of Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, as well as necklaces emblazoned with the All Power Fist. A recent collaboration with Pyer Moss resulted in a 21-piece “Sister” collection, commemorating such icons as Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. These statement pieces spark conversation among the politically minded, as well as those who want to express themselves with “wearable badassery.”
Listening to her creative impulses, Lola Oladunjoye left her law career in Silicon Valley to found the independent, small-batch fine jewelry company Lola Fenhirst, which is based in Paris. The British-born Oladunjoye was drawn to jewelry design because she felt that it strengthened the connection to her family heritage, fondly remembering the rings worn by her great uncle, who once helped negotiate Nigeria’s independence from the UK.
Known for its iconic Sybil series, the Lola Fenhirst brand creates striking jewelry that merges angular British sensibilities with the distinct essence of Oladunjoye’s Yoruba ancestry. Her work explores the contrasting energies of tradition and modernity, femininity and masculinity, strength and fragility. Her company has taken the value of sustainability to heart, as each piece is crafted from recycled metals and ethically sourced stones by highly skilled artisans who combine traditional techniques with the latest technology.
For over 20 years, Lorraine West has crafted limited-edition jewelry in her NYC studio, after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a BA in illustration. Enamored with the hip-hop culture of the 1980s and ’90s, the Central Islip, NY designer lovingly handcrafts palette earrings with striking dimensions, cuff bracelets and custom engagement rings. Her work has won the adoration of such trailblazers as Ava DuVernay, Alicia Keys, Serena Williams and Erykah Badu, and it was worn by Beyoncé in Black Is King.
West’s signature style is both bold and minimalist, and made from various fine metals along with precious gemstones. Inspired by her Caribbean roots, symbology and geometric shapes, she creates elegant jewelry that connects the wearer to their inner beauty and power. Her work has been celebrated at New York City’s Jewelry Week and she recently launched her first capsule collection at Greenwich Street Jewelers.
Attuned to the materiality of precious stones and the power of the passage of time, Maggi Simpkins sees her pieces as talismans that help us tell stories, outliving us. Based in Los Angeles, Simpkins focuses on one-of-a-kind engagement rings. Born in Portland, Oregon, she had no traditional training in fine art or jewelry, but she grew up in a home that bloomed with creativity. Her artistry is 100% intuitive, which starts with a simple sketch, whether it’s for a piece of jewelry, apparel, interior design or landscaping.
Known for her narrative-driven engagement rings and family heirlooms, she believes that bespoke jewelry celebrates the unique union of each couple, and listens to their stories before dreaming up the jewelry design that will best celebrate their commitment. Her distinctive, dramatic pieces, such as in her “Permission to Shine” collection, allow the wearer to be unapologetically bold, to freely take up space and celebrate their inner magic. Her pieces are handcrafted modern treasures that embrace both luxury and ethically sourced and recycled materials.
Trained in Bermuda, Canada, New York and London, Melanie Eddy holds an MA in jewelry design from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, where she is currently an associate lecturer. Specializing in bespoke services, Eddy undertakes commissions in precious metals and exceptional stones imbued with personal significance to the wearer and giver. As curator of a British Council exhibition, Eddy was involved in bringing contemporary jewelry and gemstones from Afghanistan to London and Edinburgh, and she has also worked with Future Brilliance, the Afghan NGO and UK charity, granting apprenticeship-style training in Jaipur to jewelers and gemstone cutters in Afghanistan.
Eddy describes jewelry as a “form of intimate architecture,” likening it to the angles of the buildings and landscapes around us. Handcrafting pieces from her London-based studio, her sculptural jewelry uses geometry as a tool to explore the relationship of form to the human body.
Ron Anderson and David Ress New York from Tenthousandthings
Named after a line of ancient Chinese philosophy from the Tao Te Ching, Tenthousandthings was founded in 1991 by self-taught designers Ron Anderson and David Rees. After successful careers in fashion retail, Anderson and Rees ventured into jewelry design, drawn to its small-scale sculpture, emotional value and infinite artistic realizations, establishing their NYC storefront on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village.
Working exclusively with natural gemstones and pearls, the jewelry line is known for its meticulously handcrafted heirlooms inspired by abstract shapes found in nature. Their sculptural forms in silver and gold are meant to best highlight expertly chosen stones, including Sleeping Beauty turquoise, opals and American natural pearls. Their raw yet refined jewelry has recently graced the cover of VMAN Magazine, with Lil Nas X sporting a long fern earring for the September issue. Constantly innovating and perfecting their craft, the duo has established a collaboration with craftsmen in Jaipur, yielding luminous shapes carved with subtle detail that will resonate in their work for years to come.
British-West African designer Satta Matturi is originally from Sierra Leone, where her father was the director of the De Beers operation in the 1970s and ’80s. Working for De Beers in London as a diamond valuer for nearly 20 years, she traveled the world for her diamond clients to bid on tenders. The Matturi Fine Jewellery collection was launched in 2015.
Drawing a celebrity following that includes Rihanna and Halima Aden, Matturi’s collection uses powerful motifs from African history, culture and traditions. Her “Whispers of Meroë” collection was the culmination of many hours of research inspired by the capital city of the Kingdom of Kush, and her “Artful Indulgence” collection contains her signature Nomoli Totem pieces, based on West African wooden masks. Responsibly sourced raw materials from Africa are a key value to the brand, and it has strengthened its commitment to working with African-owned companies to source some of its diamonds, including Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi.
Sheryl Jones began her career in fine jewelry in 1999 and established Sheryl Jones Designs in 2002, after working for a decade in the entertainment industry as a film and television publicist. Striking a deal with the Belgian manufacturer Grunberger Diamonds, she learned how to sort gems under the mentorship of David Grunberger in order to break into the industry. In addition to designing jewelry, sourcing gemstones and running her own retail outpost on 47th Street in NYC, Jones also writes a monthly column for Rapaport Magazine.
Bringing to life her dream of creating jewelry that resonates with the vitality of music, Jones is known for her connoisseur’s level of craftsmanship, quality and detail. Attracting a client roster such as H.E.R. and Andra Day, Jones’ work is known for its timeless appeal that illuminates the owner’s individual style and inner beauty.
Shola Branson reinterprets the designs of antiquity for today, aspiring to create the artefacts of tomorrow. After working in various creative roles in fashion and spending countless hours perusing museums, he discovered his passion for jewelry and launched his eponymous line in 2017. The London-based, self-taught designer creates pieces that combine the simplicity of modernity with the rich textures and silhouettes of ancient times. Branson has also collaborated with other young Black designers, including Eastwood Danso and Motherlan.
The style of Shola Branson Jewellery is inspired by the meeting point of early civilization with high technology. His line of playful colors and chunky silhouettes is created with recycled gold, finished individually or in small batches. His uplifting collection includes rings clustered with gorgeous gemstones, Cupid rings and bubble necklaces.
Born in Nigeria, Thelma West moved to the UK when she was 16 years old, with ambitions of becoming an engineer. But the siren call of design and jewelry-making beckoned her to a life less ordinary, and she moved to the diamond capital of Antwerp to train as a gemologist. Armed with her expertise in diamonds, West founded her eponymous line in 2012, located in the heart of SoHo, NYC, drawing the admiration of such celebrities as Zendaya and Uzo Aduba.
Her jewelry combines the traditional big, bold and chunky African aesthetic with more modern, minimalistic styles popular in Europe. The signature “TW” look includes a combination of fine lines and curves, such as the delicate black ceramic curlicue that hugs a 5-carat pear-shaped diamond in her “Rebel Black” collection. Her beautiful and unconventional aesthetic has earned her a reputation for using diverse materials and techniques. While diamonds are central to her work, West also incorporates emeralds, sapphires and rubies.
Vania Leles for Vanleles
Celebrated as the world’s first female-founded, fine jewelry brand with a deeply rooted African heritage, VANLELES champions an unwavering commitment to ethically sourced gemstones and precious metals with an unparalleled belief in the benefits of responsible mining. Founder and creative director Vania Leles is a gemologist with a rare mix of vibrant African heritage, European panache and American dynamism. Born in Guinea Bissau and educated in Lisbon and London, Leles graduated from the GIA, spent over a decade working for GRAFF, De Beers and Sotheby’s, and launched her brand within an atelier on London’s New Bond Street in 2011.
Infused with rich color and sophistication, the brand’s collections are designed for the modern international woman. Each piece is crafted from an inspiring story of Africa’s past and present, interpreted through shapes and colors, and is united by the unmistakable VANLELES elegance. Crafted by the world’s most skilled jewelry makers, the designs from VANLELES, such as the “Out of Africa” collection of rubies and rubellite, are inextricably linked to Leles’ heritage and have become a reference among collectors and connoisseurs.
2021 Brilliant & Black Designers
Born in 1917 in Cuba to Jamaican parents, Art Smith and his family settled in Brooklyn in 1920. Smith was one of only a handful of Black students who received a scholarship to Cooper Union, where he majored in sculpture, cultivating an interest in commercial art. After graduating, he took courses in jewelry-making at NYU and was mentored by Winifred Mason Chenet. He became her assistant and opened his own shop on Cornelia Street in 1946, but moved the shop nearer to Washington Square Park due to racially motivated vandalism.
In the mid-1950s, he sold his jewelry through department stores such as Bloomingdale’s. An avid dance enthusiast and supporter of Black and gay civil rights, Smith was greatly influenced by choreographer Tally Beatty. Through Beatty, he was commissioned to design jewelry for dance companies, encouraging him to make bolder, more theatrical designs. His work has been featured in Vogue, and exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum and Cooper Hewitt, among others.
Smith’s style was inspired by surrealism, biomorphism and primitivism, crafting pieces that were grand in scale yet light enough to be worn by dancers. He is considered one of the leading modern jewelers of the mid-century.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Castro came to NYC in pursuit of a career in fashion. To support himself, he began selling handmade jewelry on the streets of SoHo. Building his reputation there and encouraged by a loyal client to start his own line of jewelry, Castro founded his business in 2006. His fans include such icons as Steven Tyler, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.
Based in Istanbul, Castro designed jewelry that were epic creations with limited output — only 35 pieces a year. Choosing unusual gemstones, he translated his vivid dreams into gem-encrusted doll pendants and designs with biomorphic and avian elements, all with a haunting edge reminiscent of antiques, the Medieval Times and African culture. Castro passed in July 2022 at the untimely age of 50.
A self-taught designer, Matthew Harris was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica, before arriving in the U.S. at age 16 to attend college. After completing his studies, he discovered his true passion for the art of jewelry-making in NYC, immersing himself in the jewelry district. Harris founded Mateo New York in 2009, originally focused on men’s jewelry, inspired by the concept of a working man’s toolbox. With the success of the men’s line, a women’s collection soon followed. Harris was a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and was selected by the Smithsonian Museum to have his collection sold at the Hirshhorn and National African American Museum.
Mateo’s signature style is sophisticated minimalism, drawing inspiration from modern art. Each chic yet unpretentious piece is made with precious metals, pearls and gemstones, with the intention of being easy to wear. Jamaican colors are subtly featured in malachite, yellow gold and black onyx. The brand’s timeless aesthetic has been regularly featured in magazines such as Vogue and Elle.
Rising to prominence at the early age of 21 from the “Freestyle” exhibit at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Chicago-born Rashid Johnson has been part of an influential cadre of American artists whose work explores a wide range of media and themes in art history, individual and shared cultural identities, literature, philosophy, critical history and personal journeys.
Having collaborated with Liz Swig of LIZWORKS, his jewelry draws upon his distinctive visual language. Images from Johnson’s Anxious Men series have been emblazoned onto gold and titanium cuffs, rings, dog tag necklaces and pendants, all in limited editions. Merging art with jewelry, Johnson embeds a personal narrative in everyday materials and objects, referencing his childhood as well as aspects of Black intellectual history and cultural identity.
Winifred Mason Chenet
Born in 1918 in NYC, Winifred Mason Chenet was raised by immigrant parents from the West Indies. She is believed to be the first commercial Black jeweler in the U.S. Receiving a BA in English literature and an MA from New York University, Chenet discovered her talents as an art jeweler while teaching metalsmithing to children at Junior Achievement Worldwide, where she also met her future assistant and mentee, Art Smith.
With a grant from the Rosenwald Fund, Chenet immersed herself in West Indian and Haitian cultures and expressed her discoveries through jewelry. Her first piece appeared in 1940 as a pendant composed of bronze, copper and silver, which attracted commissions from friends in intellectual art circles. In 1943, she moved into a studio in Greenwich Village, where she began working with Art Smith and selling her pieces to stores such as Lord & Taylor.
As a self-taught designer, Chenet was a pioneer in the industry, working primarily in copper, bronze and silver. She sometimes invented her own tools to craft each one-of-a-kind piece. Her jewelry was exhibited in the U.S. and Haiti, cultivating a larger audience and winning the attention of celebrities such as Billie Holiday.