September 4, 2022Emerging designers looking to break into the fine jewelry industry face a number of challenges, but one of the biggest is obtaining the means to access quantities of essential — and precious — materials: gold, platinum, diamonds and colored gemstones. Since last year, the Natural Diamond Council (NDC), a marketing organization that aims to educate the public on, and advance the desirability of, mined diamonds, has been providing support to select BIPOC designers through a program called the Emerging Designers diamond Initiative (EDDI).
Working to finance the initiative in concert with acclaimed designer Lorraine Schwartz, whose opulent creations are worn by Beyoncé and Blake Lively, the NDC x EDDI selects designers annually with the goal of building a more equitable diamond jewelry industry. Candidates are reviewed by a committee of experts for artistic merit and other criteria. The designers chosen to participate are furnished with funds for diamonds, production and samples, plus press opportunities, diamond education and mentoring by industry experts.
This summer, the initiative’s latest edition launched exclusively on 1stDibs in a blaze of shining metals, glistening diamonds and edgy, innovative ideas.
The 2.0 cohort features the emerging talents Casey Perez; Corey Anthony Jones, of Gaudy Atelier; Halle Millien, of Heart The Stones; Lana Ogilvie, of Sabre Jewelry; Ruben Manuel; and McKenzie Liautaud. The designers were each paired with diamantaires, from whose stock they selected stones in varying cuts, colors and shapes that spoke to them.
All this funding and support is intended to help the designers produce a series of capsule collections that give full expression to their artistic vision.
The opportunities resulting from participation in the program are plentiful — and seem to have the power to transform their career trajectories.
Oakland, California–based Dorian Webb says her collection hasn’t changed much since being a part of NDC x EEDI in 2021, but her exposure and name recognition have increased dramatically. “I have always created intentional jewelry that celebrates women and my African American heritage,” she says. “Within a year however, I have had my work featured on the cover of five magazines, have launched a capsule collection of customizable eighteen-karat gold and diamond jewelry for [DeBeers-funded digital jewelry brand] Gemist and have begun to establish a more reliable supplier network that is able to scale with me.”
According to Webb, the NDC x EDDI has helped her grow her business at a sustainable and strategic pace.
“When a neighboring studio became available, I was able to discuss it with my new, jewelry-industry-specific accountant to review my finances to determine whether I would comfortably be able to take on the added overhead,” she explains. “I am pleased to say that in September, I will be tripling the size of my current studio. Each introduction the NDC has made for us, and the information we have gained, have well-positioned us for sustained growth.”
Another breakout star from the inaugural NDC x EDDI collective is Jameel Mohammed, of the now highly recognized New York–based line Khiry. “I learned a lot about the ways that customers come to value brands and the pieces that they create,” he tells Introspective, adding that the program connected him with a manufacturer who has helped improve his company’s workflow for customer service, repairs, delivery and new product development.
Reflecting on the ascent of Khiry, Mohammed adds, “With each new creation, it is my goal as an artist to suggest a world that is engaged in creating equity, justice and beauty.”
That’s a fine objective for any emerging designer but especially, it seems, for those who find their career path through this program. Below, three members of this year’s group each tell us about a meaningful piece in their collection.
Lana Ogilvie, Sabre Jewelry
My background is in fine art, and then I became a jeweler. So, I really look at my jewelry designs as art. I work in wax and rarely draw anything. I just have the idea in my head and sit down at the bench with some wax. There is a different energy and feeling in handcrafted designs like these earrings, which are complementary but not identical mirror images of each other, as they are made with four individual stud-and-drop components. I don’t like everything to look perfectly finished or identical. I think there is great beauty in imperfections and the unfinished quality of things. The earrings are also very delicate looking for their size. The metal appears malleable and soft — I enjoy the contrast of a material that is hard and static appearing to be soft, fluid and in motion. Movement is an important theme in my work: movement of lines, movement of the eye or even the perception of movement, if not literal.
Ruben Manuel Designs
Colorado Springs, CO
I’m a first-generation designer with a forty-year background in high tech. I always thought I could be a designer of some kind, but then, so does every gay man I’ve ever met. I was a fine-jewelry consumer before designing my own line and tend to see it as more than adornment — it’s an investment that must provide the wearer with options. So, my pieces often have a convertibility element that sets them apart. This Autumn ring can be worn four different ways with a simple twist on the finger: white pavé diamonds, yellow diamonds on a heavy bark texture, champagne diamonds on a high-polish surface and granulation. These granulated beads are a great daytime option and function as a sort of “worry stone” to calm the nerves on a hellish day! What more can you ask of a piece of jewelry?
As a child, I would collect rocks, seashells, feathers, even marbles I found buried in my parents’ backyard. My favorite class trips were to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, where I discovered my love of crystals, rocks and gemstones in the mineral galleries. My background is in fashion, and I started making crystal jewelry as personal talismans seven years ago. Crystals hold power and energy and can bring clarity to questions rolling around your mind. The Magic Cupola necklace is a unique and special emblem of my work because it features a rare, clear rock-crystal pendant. Rock crystal is known as the “master healer,” as it helps to align you with the highest form of yourself so that you can reach your fullest potential. With its solid gold dome hand-set with flawless white diamonds, the piece is a salute to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower in Brooklyn, which I can see from my home in Fort Greene, and it is inspired by my belief that, through meditation and setting intentions, you can program your crystal to manifest your heart’s deepest desires.