Karen and Rita: Black Jewelry Reclaiming Space In The Industry

March 31, 2023

For the Art Jewelry Forum, Sebastian Grant honors the legacies of Black jewelers and designers through carefully curated exhibitions. One such example is Black Jewelers: A History Revealed. This series, Grant writes, will ‘document the lives of African American artists of the past who have made important contributions to the field of art jewelry.’ In 2020, London based jeweler Kassandra Lauren Gordon penned an open letter to the jewelry industry. In this, she outlined erasure and deliberate behaviors to isolate Black jewelers as well as socio-economic factors that come into play. That same year, Osman Ahmed said of the exclusivity of jewelry, ‘something else in the industry is just as rare as the product: Black people.’ A niche industry, jewelry design and the Black community have gone hand in hand for years. In the 1940’s, Winifred Mason’s clientele included Billie Holiday. Under her, Arthur ‘Art’ Smith went on to become a prominent jeweler in his time. The rise of the entertainment and sporting industries in the 80’s and 90’s further popularized the relationship between the Black community in the States and jewelry.

However, jewelry has always had its place, spanning generations and borders. Despite online trends of Black design and jewelry repackaged and sold as something new, Black designers and jewelers have existed for a long time and continue to create the blueprints of fashion and design. While this industry cannot be gate kept, it’s important to note the imperalist forces that have played into images as pioneers of this field. One such example is the De Beers Diamond Consortium. Today largely communal spaces in jewelry design are being created, largely serving the Black community journeying from past through to present. One such example is Karen and Rita.

Aaliyah Jay for Karen and Rita from Karen and Rita Instagram

Founded by Beauty Influencer, Aaliyah Jay, Karen and Rita creates and supports accessible jewelry online. Named after her grandmother and great grandmother, Karen and Rita is about our relationship to style through accessories and jewelery. The brand caters to more bold aesthetics, chunky rings, colorful earrings, creating a unique combination of the past and the present. Designs offered include simple pieces to more bright and colorful designs, exploring the range of jewelery design available. The chunky rings are playful and fun, a reminder of what it means to accessorize and how to have fun with it.

More importantly, Jay manages to create a space in design that thrives on community and accessibility. This intention pays homage to the community that brought her into fashion and design and the community that will continue to carry it forward.