September 28, 2022

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Sotheby’s Brilliant & Black Ushers In The Age Of Enlightenment For Black Jewelry Design

After creating an era-defining moment with the Brilliant & Black: a Jewellery Renaissance selling exhibition at Sotheby’s New York last September, jewelry authority Melanie Grant has brought the second edition of the show to the UK. From today, Sotheby’s London will be taking the sale to the next stage with Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment, spotlighting new work from contemporary Black designers at the top of their game.

Last September’s Brilliant & Black show brought boundaries crashing down, and the shockwaves are still being felt over on the other side of the Atlantic. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement, it was hard not to be touched by the feeling of watershed, and by the strength and togetherness that emanated from Sotheby’s New York salons last year. Designers let loose with their boldest ideas, pulled all-nighters, and traveled across the Atlantic with jewels worth tens of thousands in their carry-ons. As a new community, intent on celebrating their creativity and addressing the barriers to Black jewelers in the industry, they collectively kicked it out of the park.

This year, Melanie and Frank Everett, Sotheby’s sales director for luxury, brought Brilliant & Black to her hometown of London – and a wholly different cultural and political context – with another line-up of impressive stylistic breadth. Jewelers have been tasked with interpreting the new flourishing of Black creativity, eyes focused firmly on the future and an ‘Age of Enlightenment’, and eight new names have been added to the original 19 who showed in New York. As ever, they have each pulled out the stops and pushed their imaginations further for the showcase.

This time, it’s is bigger and better, with over 70 pieces on show from this year’s cohort. The original line-up of Shola Branson, Melanie Eddy, Lola Fenhirst, Harwell Godfrey, Sheryl Jones, Vania Leles, Angie Marei, Satta Matturi, Castro NYC, Jariet Oloye-Oduto, Jacqueline Rabun, Catherine Sarr of Almasika, Maggi Simpkins, Ten Thousand Things, Lorraine West and Thelma West, are joined by Disa Alsopp, Latoya Boyd, Ndidi Eubia, Gina Love of Auvere, Pascale Marthine Tayou via Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery, Roxanne Rajcoomar-Hadden, Sewit Sium and Karen Smith.

Returning designer Thelma West, born in Lagos, Nigeria and now based in London, where she runs a diamond company alongside her design house, was inspired by the theme of enlightenment to design around the African Moon Moth. The Nokturna headband (above) features a Moon Moth picked out in gold and scattered with diamonds, perched on a stalk of golden sugarcane: “I am beyond excited that Melanie Grant and Frank Everett decided to bring this exhibition to London. It has been a joy to bring new pieces to life once again… There is an old Neapolitan poem, that I find mesmerizing and desperately romantic, about a moth that keeps circling around a lit candle while she’s warned that the candle is not a harmless light, it’s a dangerous fire. It’s really about an impossible love story. I had the idea of mixing the poem with the Moon moth, related to my African origins.”

“A community was born in New York and it was breathtaking to see how much talent there was,” says Melanie, “this second exhibition in London is a chance to go deeper, we’re at a moment where Black creativity is flourishing, we’re entering a period of enlightenment and this exhibition is dedicated to that re-birth. It’s important that we continue to celebrate the contribution artists of African origin have made.” From Almasika’s arresting oversized comb earrings (top), to Disa Alsopp’s hypnotic Paraiba tourmaline set in her signature hammered gold, Sotheby’s is placing the art and culture of this new community firmly front and center.

Johnny Nelson, whose All Power Fists garnet ring was the first item to sell at the New York sale, has created a tribute to pioneering Afrobeat musician Felu Kuti, with the Breaker of Chains necklace, while Lola Fenhirst’s Edan Staff gold and diamond earrings are rooted in her noble Nigerian ancestry. Melanie Eddy’s Anthem ring encourages the viewer to find beauty in the unexpected – like the inclusions of its golden beryl – and think about our own imperfections as we look forward, inspired by the Leonard Cohen song of the same name. One designer missing, yet very much present through his work, is Terry Castro, of Castro NYC, who passed away suddenly in July and was a much loved and respected member of this group at the vanguard of Black jewelry design.

New this year to Brilliant & Black, is Gina Love of Auvere, who described herself as “humbled to be a part of a show curated by Melanie Grant, and which includes so many talented jewelers. The energy is palpable.” She has created three pieces for the show, which tell the story of her life: the Mega Apex ring (above), representing the mountains of her native Jamaica, the serrated-edge One Love heart necklace, and chandelier earrings that pay tribute to New York and her own “path to enlightenment”, inspired by the Chrysler Building.

“The ring also represents a lotus flower, which is a symbol of enlightenment. The closed flower shape of the ring represents enlightenment not yet fully explored — which is usually the case when we are young and still figuring out the right path.” With this second Brilliant & Black exhibition, there is a sense of finding that path, of rightfulness and recognition. And not before time.

The full Brilliant & Black: The Age of Enlightenment selling exhibition will be on show at Sotheby’s New Bond Street Galleries, London, until October 2. An edited version will remind on show until the end of the month.