Black History Month: Meet The Jewellery Designers Who Shaped Trends Today
In honour of Black History Month, we’re celebrating Black jewellery designers whose ingenuity and craftsmanship shaped jewellery design as we know it today. As contemporary Black creators are uplifted by Sotheby’s Brilliant and Black exhibition and championed by fashion publications including Vogue, Bustle, Elle and Cosmopolitan, join us as we explore the heritage of Black jewellery designers and their too-often overlooked impact on wearable design.
Art Smith with Spiral Necklace, circa. 1958
Embrace modernism and seriously heavy metal with a pioneer of mid-20th Century design. A lover of jazz and modern dance and a self-taught metalsmith, Arthur Smith blazed a trail with his predilection for sleek, malleable metal and intriguing organic shapes, each designed to work with the human body and all its individual eccentricities.
Model wearing a Smith bracelet, circa. 1948
Eschewing the tropes of classic princess cuts and tennis bracelets, Smith’s surreal statement jewellery referenced art and architecture with nods to friend and artist Alexander Calder, while transcending traditional motifs. Despite racist and homophobic attacks on his Manhattan shop, he persevered and ultimately, it was Smith’s bold approach to conventional materials that cemented his cult status. His works are held in the permanent collections of MOMA and Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Discover more about Arthur Smith here.
Mississippi born designer, Patrick Kelly
Sew you love fun fashion? A bastion of the 80’s scene, Patrick Kelly’s witty colour-pop accessories laid the foundation for many playful jewellery trends today and even briefly featured on Antiques Roadshow back in 1980! Embraced by the French fashion scene, offbeat lips, dice and anarchistic button-studded crowns were signature Kelly jewellery designs, interlaced with explorations of Black history.
Actress Bette Davis sporting Kelly's button adorned accessories on Late Night with David Letterman, 1987
As Kelly explored how he could subvert Black caricatures and stereotypes, his journey as an avant-garde designer was also inspired by strong female role models, particularly his grandmother. Her habit of mending his shirts with mismatched buttons played a role in cultivating the larger than life designs associated with his name which were adored by formidable women such as Grace Jones, Princess Diana and Bette Davis. Choose joy and read on about Kelly’s legacy here.
Award-winning photographer and designer, Coreen Smith
Say it with us: monochrome is the movement. Noted fashion photographer and Brooklyn-born creative Coreen Simpson challenged preconceptions of conventional cameos with her subversive 1990 collection, Black Cameo. Renowned for documenting Harlem nightlife and African-American political and social events, Simpson turned her hand to neo-classical silhouettes as an unapologetic homage to Black women. The aim? Her subjects would see themselves represented in her powerful, wearable portraits - a creative extension of her documentary photography, which even featured the works of Art Smith.
Coreen Simpson with seminal Civil Rights campaigner, Rosa Parks
These sought-after monochromatic pieces were feted by Oprah Winfrey, with women waiting in line on launch day; fashion designer Caroline Herrera declared to Glamour Magazine that “each piece is more magnificent than the last.” Discover Coreen’s designs here and find out more about the Cameo Collection with The Fader.
Artist and designer, Vaughn Stubbs
“More is more” your raison d'etre? Meet Philadelphian artist and metalsmith Vaughn Stubbs, whose experiments in jewellery design were rooted in an affinity for transforming found objects into kitsch, genre-busting accessories.
'Disney Land Brooch', circa. 1989
Blurring the lines between designer and maker, Stubbs’s creations sit comfortably with outsider art and the eclectic runways of contemporary fashion: reconfiguring feathers, children’s toys, cartoon icons and plastic beads into wearable tchotchkes. Renowned as a hero of unorthodox design with pieces residing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, make time to read about Stubb’s exuberant mixed media works now.
We’re delighted to share brilliant Black creatives whose work contributed so much to jewellery design and its heritage, how it’s worn, collected and now studied. From set stones to precious metals, surreal structures and intricate beadwork, share your favourite Black jewellery designers past and present with us over in our DMs here.