In September 2021, jewelry industry giant Melanie Grant added a new feather to her cap of achievements by becoming a curator, bringing to life her brainchild: Brilliant & Black: A Jewelry Renaissance – a selling exhibition in New York, done in partnership with Sotheby’s, to call attention to the extraordinary skill, imagination and craftsmanship of Black jewelry designers. Fast forward to almost a year later, Grant is bringing this empowering and inspiring show across the pond. Chapter two of this groundbreaking exhibit is set to open on September 22nd in London. Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment, will bring many of the US-based designers previously featured in chapter one to London, as well as a few newcomers. Featuring 25 contemporary jewelry designers, this chapter focuses on what Grant calls “the age of Enlightenment.”
“The New York show looked to the past. With the intensity of the protests calming down in the US, we are now looking at what is going to happen in the future. This second chapter is bigger. Everything is contemporary and forward-thinking.”
An array of exceptional talent will be on display at the Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries from September 22nd through October 2nd. Each designer will present three original works, several of which were designed specifically for the London show. We were delighted to hear that many of the pieces on display will be full of stunning natural diamonds: “I am a champion, through and through, for the use of natural diamonds” says UK-based jewelry designer Satta Matturi, founder and creator of the brand Matturi Fine Jewellery.
“When mined and managed properly, everyone can benefit from the wealth that they bring”. Having been a part of the New York Brilliant & Black show, Matturi is excited to bring something completely unique to the London installment: “The hero piece I will be showing at Sotheby’s London is my most opulent and exuberant piece yet – the Nomoli Totem pendant”. Featuring 13 carats of colorless natural diamonds, Matturi has crafted an exceptional piece in homage to an African mask called a Mansa, which in the West African language of Mandinka means, the ultimate ruler and leader.
Crafted from yellow gold metal, the mask-like figure features a crown of diamonds in various shapes and sizes: “To me, those diamonds represent all of mankind. One ruler reimagined into this signature piece will direct the light and shine a path that will lead the way to a better self.” The Nomoli Totem pendant is one of Frank Everett’s favorite pieces on display at the exhibit: “Satta has taken her signature motif and created something very special. I love that she has re-interpreted the piece so beautifully for our show in this new and elevated way.”
London-based designer Thelma West followed a similar inspirational journey when creating her three pieces for the show: “I spoke to people, read books, listened to music from different places and then I created three pieces for the show”. West’s Mae in the Sky with Diamonds ring features a rare 10-carat Asscher-cut diamond. Inspired by Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to go to space, West sought to create a piece of jewelry that would pay reverence to the important role Mae plays in history: “I want all who see it to feel inspired to reach for the top, find the light and to come out of the darkness.” West hopes that viewers will see beyond the beauty of her creations and understand the message contained within each piece: “I would love for people to get something else from looking at my creations other than just beautiful pieces. I want them to understand the inspirations that sparked in my mind, the people that I was obsessed with and the journey I went on to get to the final product.
For her three pieces, Brilliant & Black veteran Sheryl Jones took a different approach to her interpretation of the word Enlightenment: “The starting point of each of my designs came from the light and sparkle of the stones themselves.” In her standout Moonstone Waterfall earrings, Jones strategically uses diamonds to bring out the hues of the featured colored gemstones. A self-proclaimed “magpie-eye,” Jones hopes her sparkling creations will draw viewers in through their natural shine. The only woman of color to have a retail space on the famous diamond destination of 47th street for many years, Jones often felt isolated in her profession: “I have been alone for most of my career truthfully, in terms of having a community of people that look like me. So when we did the New York show, it was the first time that I even met designers in New York. It was a pivotal moment for me.” Her hopes for the London show are to continue to foster and grow her relationships with her fellow Black contemporary jewelers.
Someone who will be greatly missed from the exhibit is the late jewelry designer Terry Castro, who passed away on July 18th this year. A boundary-pushing contemporary jeweler, Castro was a friend and icon to many jewelers featuring in the London show: “I am shocked that he is no longer here with us but his presence will certainly be felt,” says Melanie Grant, who mentioned a pair of his earrings as one of her favorite pieces to be displayed in the upcoming show.
Many of the pieces Grant highlights in the show feature natural diamonds: “Lawyer turned jewelry designer Gina Love, a newcomer to the Brilliant & Black family, will be showcasing her Arch Diamond Earrings, which are truly breathtaking. Our diamond-queen Thelma West has fashioned the Nocturna headband out of diamonds for the first time which I am very excited about, and Shola Branson has created brown diamond earrings inspired by African trading beads.”
Full of rising talent, exceptional and one-of-a-kind-jewels, Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment is poised to be one of the most important and exciting shows in jewelry history. More than the artworks themselves, Grant hopes to shine a light on the brilliant artists who are behind the creations. “This whole thing is about community, being together, having a proper relationship, looking at people’s work, and understanding who they are and what inspires them. I think one of the highlights of the last show year was recognizing and appreciating the importance of deep relationships and how they come into play. To introduce these designers to Sotheby’s, to foster a community, to get things moving for Black designers who have struggled in the past to access materials and high-level networks, this is the real point of the entire show.”