Auction house Sotheby’s has brought back the exhibition it pioneered last year to celebrate the artistry of Black jewelry designer, Brilliant & Black—with a raft of new designers showing their work. The second installment, Brilliant & Black: Age of Enlightenment, is again a partnership with acclaimed writer and curator Melanie Grant (winner of 2022’s Gem Award for Media Excellence) and is designed to showcase more than 70 pieces from 25 acclaimed and emerging Black jewelry designers.
On view at Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries in London starting today and running through Oct. 2 (coinciding with Black History Month in the U.K.), this exhibit will be bigger than the first one, which took place in New York City in 2021. And it has a theme; all participating artists will create a single new piece around the concept of “enlightenment.” In a press release, Grant said this theme was chosen because it represents, “a time of growth, individualism, and intellectual reason.”
Returning for the second year are designers and brands Melanie Eddy, Lola Fenhirst, Harwell Godfrey, Sheryl Jones, Vania Leles, Angie Marei, Satta Matturi, Johnny Nelson, Castro NYC (founder Terry Castro sadly passed away this year, but his family is lending his work), Jariet Oloye-Oduto, Jacqueline Rabun, Catherine Sarr, Maggi Simpkins, Karen Smith, Ten Thousand Things, Lorraine West, and Thelma West.
Eight new designers will be showing this year: Disa Allsopp, Latoya Boyd, Shola Branson, Ndidi Ekubia, Gina Love, Pascale Marthine Tayou via Elisabetta Cipriani gallery, Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden, and Sewit Sium.
Here’s a bit about each new featured artist:
Born in London and raised in Barbados, Disa Allsopp’s experience living in the Caribbean influences her contemporary and bespoke fine jewelry designs made for everyday and special occasions. She’s known for her use of colorful gemstones—such as golden citrines, warm garnets, rubies, sapphires, and morganites—as well as her textured, recycled metal finishes. Allsopp employs traditional reticulation and forging techniques to handmake each piece in her London studio.
After serving active duty in the army, which included being deployed as a mechanic during the Afghanistan War, Latoya Boyd moved from Alaska to California to study jewelry and metalsmithing. Boyd’s eponymous collection includes hand-forged silver, copper, and occasionally gold statement pieces. She prefers to work with recycled metals to create her highly textured styles.
London-based Shola Branson began his creative journey as a menswear fashion stylist and art director before pivoting in 2018 to jewelry. His namesake brand is filled with classic pieces destined to become heirlooms. Self-taught, Branson makes each smoothly finished piece by hand, frequently employing 18k recycled gold. He also draws inspiration from ancient West Africa to explore opposites, i.e., the past versus the future and masculine versus feminine.
Manchester-based Ndidi Ekubia creates beautifully textured, museum-ready metal objets, including vases and artworks, along with wearable sculptures for the body; a neckpiece that came out of her drawings of butterflies and moths serves as a symbol of renewal.
After working as a real estate attorney for several years, Gina Love decided to transition her passion for jewelry by founding Auvere (pronounced Oh-Vair)—which is derived from “AU,” the symbol for gold, and the Latin word “vere,” meaning true—to practice the art of handcrafted gold jewelry in its purest forms (22k and 24k golds). Edgy and usually geometric, her designs are fabricated using classic methods, but also feel futuristic.
Inspired by objects from his everyday life, Pascale Marthine Tayou creates vibrant pieces closely centered around the theme of travel and how individuals make their way through the world. Educated as a lawyer, Tayou’s interest in the arts led him to split his time between Belgium and his native Cameroon, and elements of his designs pay homage to his African origins. His “gri-gri” rings (see one above), which are meant to be worn every day as a good luck talisman, incorporate materials such as 18k yellow gold, South Sea pearls, beads, African cloth, and colored threads.
After working at De Beers and taking on commissions to modernize heirloom pieces, London-based designer Rajcoomar-Hadden debuted her own collection using ethically sourced diamonds and fairtrade gold to create elegant gemstone-laden baubles, and styles primed to pass down through the generations. Whimsy runs through her work, as evidenced by a pair of earrings that pay homage to the Italian dish aglio e olio.
Sewit Sium’s handmade designs pay tribute to iconic Black figures of history including Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman and draw on imagery from ancient Egypt and the kingdom of Axum (modern day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia). She’s dedicated to decolonizing the way jewelry is engaged with, and says on her website, “together we can restore jewelry to its rightful place—as documentation, a stunning object of desire and daring catalyst for change.” —Rakhee Bhatt
All pieces for Brilliant & Black: Age of Enlightenment are available for purchase in person or online through the Buy Now marketplace on Sothebys.com. A smaller selection will be available to view through the end of October.
Top photo: Shola Branson ring, price on request