Last year, Sotheby’s New York launched an era-defining exhibition entitled Brilliant & Black: A Jewellery Renaissance, curated by journalist and author, Melanie Grant, in partnership with Frank Everett, Sotheby’s director of fine jewellery, to showcase the extraordinary talents of Black jewellers from 1950s to the present day. Now, the auction house has launched a second, much larger iteration of its pioneering exhibition, this time at its London HQ on Bond Street.
Held to coincide with Black History Month, Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment shines the spotlight on over 70 pieces of jewellery by 25 leading contemporary designers, including Melanie Eddy, Lauren Harwell Godfrey, Jacqueline Rabun, Maggi Simpkins, Thelma West, and Vania Leles, who all featured the original show. They are joined for the first time by eight new artists: Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden, Disa Allsopp, Gina Love, Sewit Sium, Ndidi Eubia, Latoya Boyd, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Karen Smith.
Alongside some of their iconic pieces, each designer has also contributed a unique jewel in response to Grant’s overarching theme of “Enlightenment”. London-based jeweller Thelma West (who counts Rihanna amongst her fans) became inspired by the African Moon Moth, and its obsession with light, which led her to create a delicate gold headpiece with a diamond-studded moth motif that can be removed and worn as a brooch. Meanwhile, Californian Lauren Harwell Godfrey interpreted the theme as pertaining to wisdom and has contributed a show-stopping statement cuff shaped like an owl with outstretched wings, its plumage set with a rainbow assortment of gemstones.
As for the new designers taking part this year, you’ll find a selection of whimsical and daring offerings, such as the silver and diamond-encrusted ‘lonesome prawn’ ring from British jeweller Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden and the pearl rings from Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou, which are covered in African cloth and coloured threads – true works of art in their own right. Then there are the bold pieces by Caribbean-American designer Gina Love, whose brand Auvere – one of the youngest to be included in the line-up – is known for its designs handcrafted from solid gold bars. Her Diamond Arch Chandelier Earrings, which were inspired by the Chrysler Building in New York, and her dazzling sculptural heart pendant, designed to represent the ‘One Love’ vibe of the Rastafarian and reggae cultures of Jamaica, are some of the exhibition’s standout pieces.
“The firestorm of social change we experienced in 2020, that resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement and consequently Sotheby’s first-ever selling exhibition dedicated to the exemplary work of 21 jewellery artists of African descent, is far from over,” says Grant, of her reasons for curating the first Brilliant & Black show. “In our small corner of the jewellery world, we sought to redress the balance by acknowledging Black talent in a show that saw well-to-do women dancing with sheer delight into the exhibition space, children clutching rings in awe and men brought to tears saying they never thought they would see anything like this in their lifetime. It changed everything for all of us.”
“As an exhibition, I think it did two important things. It turned the pain we all felt surrounding George Floyd into a lasting artistic legacy, and it provided a global platform for black jewellers to celebrate this new renaissance of African infused design. Now, in part II and this time held in London, we celebrate a period of enlightenment,” she continues, of the exhibition’s latest chapter.
“We are in a period of enlightenment. A modern enlightenment exploring the depth and breadth of our talent today for all those who don’t have a voice or opportunity to do so themselves…The best is yet to come.”
Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment is on at Sotheby’s Bond Street from now until Sunday 2 October. An edited version will then be available to view for the whole of Black History Month, until the end of October.