Groundbreaking Sotheby's exhibition to celebrate black jewellery designers

Brilliant and Black will feature 21 designers who have never sold at an auction before

A groundbreaking exhibition dedicated to black jewellery designers from around the world, none of whom have sold at an auction before, will open at Sotheby’s New York on Friday.

Brilliant and Black – A Jewellery Renaissance features 21 designers, each contributing three designs, with pieces starting at $1,500 and reaching $1 million for a pink diamond ring by Maggi Simpkins.

All items from the exhibition are on sale in-person at Sotheby’s New York space from Friday, or online via the auctioneer’s website.

Curator and jewellery expert Melanie Grant described the line-up as the “pinnacle of black excellence”.

“In the aftermath of Covid-19 and as we continue to battle for justice with Black Lives Matter, economics continue to be the basis of real power and real change. I’d love to see a black designer breach the $1m ceiling at auction and maybe this can be the start of that journey,” she said. “This is a watershed for them and for us.”

Los Angeles designer Simpkins, whose $1m ring was specially designed for the exhibition, was inspired by a flower blooming.

The piece contains a 2.43 carat fancy pink, internally flawless, cushion-cut diamond centre, surrounded by three shades of pink sapphires and rubies.

Other featured designers include Castro NYC, who is from the US but is based in Istanbul, with past clients including Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.

Former model Vania Leles, who was raised in Guinea-Bissau, designs for her eponymous label Vanleles, with all her pieces inspired by African culture, history and architecture. Jariet Oloye, meanwhile, is known for her intricate metal works, a skill she learnt during her childhood in Nigeria surrounded by a community of craftspeople.

Another piece of note includes a four-finger Mount Rushmore ring by Brooklyn designer Johnny Nelson, which features the faces of Civil Rights leaders instead of US presidents.

“Spanning from the 1950 to today, these artisan’s creations – many of which have been newly created for the occasion – showcase a range of styles and materials, illuminating the diverse source of inspiration,” said Frank Everett, Sotheby’s senior vice president and sales director of jewellery.

“We are delighted this first exhibition will contribute to revealing their talents and contributions to the art of jewellery to a wider audience.”

Brilliant and Black – A Jewellery Renaissance is on view at Sotheby's New York from September 17 to 26. Customers can purchase pieces online and in-person until October 10

Updated: September 16th 2021, 9:53 AM