Inside “Rock the Jewels” by BIJC & NYC Jewelry Week

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

In support of diverse and equitable opportunities in the world of jewelry, as well as the celebration of hip hop’s 50th anniversary, New York’s finest got together at Elsie’s Rooftop for NYC Jewelry Week. The creativity and innovation that Black voices have brought to the art of jewelry design was undeniable on November 16th. Despite the consistent erasure of black design within the industry, black jewelry designers can be found in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue on the vessels of Cher, Twiggy, and Bette Davis following dates back to the 60s. 

“Rock the Jewels” is a celebration of these voices as we continue into a new century of metalsmiths and fine design artists. Elucidating that the black designer is not only seen but celebrated. 

From Simon I. Smith to industry shakers such as Lorraine West and Aziza- Abdullah, the attendees were just as impressive as the iconic New York Skyline. WBM had the honor of speaking with the designers in attendance, those who have been paving the way, bearing the light to make the industry more inclusive, and those who are just getting started.

 Here is what they had to say.

Malyia McNaughton 

What impact do you aim to have as a board member of BIJC?

As a co-founder and board member of BIJC, my aim is to provide Black jewelry professionals with the necessary resources and network to flourish and grow in their careers. Creating a network where they feel connected and valued. 

Your collection celebrates the intersection of art and nature, how do you decide what to center your collections around?

 I often draw my inspiration from nature – mainly water, the ocean and the solar system. Nature is the best creator and I am always inspired by the mystery and beauty of nature. When designing a collection I spend time near the beach or other water source and allow the movement of the water to inspire me. I may see an earring design form in a wave or splash in the water. I am inspired by what I see around me.

What’s next? Do you have something you’re looking forward to? 

I am working on a bridal collection, as well as a new collection. I recently received my Graduate Gemologist Diploma from GIA and right now I’m enjoying the moment. I am excited to share what I do next. 

Lorraine West

Do you have an item in your personal jewelry collection that you cherish most?

Our signature design, the Diamond Open Heart Ring

What/Who inspired you to design jewelry?

I’ve had a love for jewelry since I was a child playing in my mothers curated jewelry box of engraved rings, necklaces, bangle bracelets and brooches.  That informed my affinity for jewelry and its expression of symbolism and storytelling.

Flash forward to 1997 while attending the fashion institute of Technology’s BFA, Illustration program, I took a stroll in midtown on a break from classes, and came across the jewelry supply shop, Toho Shoji.  I was mesmerized by the colorful array of beads & findings. I walked in with $23 and out with pliers, cutters, wire and beads and the rest is history.

You are undeniably a visionary and trailblazer within this industry. What’s been the biggest turning point in your career?

Transitioning from Fashion Jewelry to Fine Jewelry.

Gwen Beloti

What inspired you to start your jewelry line?

I’ve always loved fashion and stylish things.  I took a particular interest in jewelry because it was more accessible than clothing was for me, years ago.  My weight was fluctuating and shopping for apparel wasn’t always fun.  What I did instead was obsess over accessories.  I have now collected and revered jewelry for years.  I’m in awe how impactful something so small in size can be.  My life experiences and love for accessories is what inspired me to start my jewelry line.

You’re known to love golden hues, how does wearing gold make you feel?

Gold for me equates to luxury. When I think of gold I think of specialness, confidence and grandeur.  I feel special and luxurious when I wear gold jewelry, be it subtle or statement, and that’s how I want our customers to feel.

Lauren Newton

What is the overarching theme amongst your jewelry?

It started in silver mostly, with a lot of animal motifs, and I think certain people have animals that they gravitate towards or have symbolic meaning to them. Currently I’m doing mostly fine and bespoke jewelry, the pieces I make evoke feelings of nostalgia, and their intention is to show that fine jewelry need not take itself too seriously.

What do you want people to feel when they wear your jewelry?

When people wear my jewelry, I want them to feel comfortable, I want them to never take it off. I want them to feel like their best and most authentic selves when they wear it.

Diente by Ola

What kind of jewelry do you enjoy making most?

I find immense joy in crafting bespoke engagement rings. Each piece becomes a unique expression of love and commitment, a tangible embodiment of the profound connections shared between individuals. 

Who inspired you to start your jewelry line?

The genesis of my jewelry line finds its roots in a captivating narrative of entrepreneurial brilliance, a tale that was ignited by the fervor for exquisite jewelry passed down through generations. This narrative begins with my mother, whose love for jewelry was not merely ornamental but a profound connection to her roots, fueled by the influence of her own mother.

When I asked these designers why BIJC, Black In Jewelry Coalition, was so important, most mentioned the abundance of talented black jewelry designers but the lack of black household names within the industry. Gwen Beloti says “ BIJC committed to doing the much needed work of highlighting, championing and fighting for black artists and their immense talent.” The Coalition provides support like mentorship and is continuously opening doors for black designers. Stay updated on WBM and these designers as I’m sure your next piece of jewelry will come from them.

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