Of all the amazing things we saw at the Couture show in Las Vegas this year, one of the most memorable and moving is The Radiance by Couture – a showcase of capsule collections created by 13 fabulous designers. As the culmination of the inaugural mentorship program of Couture’s Diversity Action Council (DAC), the initiative was created in partnership with De Beers, which provided each of the designers with Code of Origin diamonds to be used in collections that are as innovative as they are beautiful.
We caught up with the talented women behind the collections to learn about their inspirations, the discoveries they made during the creative process, and what it means to be part of this game-changing new platform.
Mazahri designer Zulaikha Aziz has had a lifelong love of jewellery and gemstones. After fleeing Afghanistan with her family as a child, Zulaikha went on to become a human rights attorney with a specific focus on Afghanistan. Her brand is named after her grandmother and is a celebration of the beauty and joy of her culture and heritage. Her newest collection explores the connection between materials and their formal limitations and the impact they have on both the individual and the collective
What inspired your collection? Inspired by my own life experience, the collection explores the connection between the origins of designs and materials and their impact on people and the planet. I used Fairmined gold and responsibly sourced gemstones, including the De Beers Code of Origin diamonds and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. I also incorporated ancient Afghan symbols and motifs representing women, peace, community, the universe, oneness and transcendence.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you: It has been transformative. Couture and De Beers have been generous not only with access to resources but also in connecting us with the top experts in the industry who have been important to me personally in laying a strong foundation for my brand, Mazahri, I believe that is the ultimate goal of the project, to ensure that BIPOC designers who have historically been excluded are able to access resources and information equitably so that we may expand the impact moving forward. Further, I think this initiative benefits the entire jewellery industry, as we ask new questions and share our unique perspectives it will only add to the richness and depth of the entire industry.
The artistic expression of Common Rite Supply designer Sara Bautista is rooted in academia and is informed by her fascination with stories of humanity. The tension in her work between the analytical and the playful stems from Sara’s exploration of duality and multiplicity. Her most recent collection focuses on the human predisposition to bring something from the immaterial mind into physical reality.
Collection: Realize True Riches
What inspired your collection? The tension between being motivated by the pursuit of wisdom and the ability to admit foolishness and ignorance. I presented my first ever gold tooth set, Super Smile. It features a 30 pointer diamond with my signature smiley face inspired by the smiley piercing placement.
Tell us a secrete about Realize True Riches: I used a special technique to make it but I don’t want to talk about publicly lol. It wasn’t waxed like normal grillz and is super thin.
Designer Melanie Eddy takes a comprehensive approach to her creative process. From bespoke jewellery to wax carving to hand-finishing to exhibition curation and writing, her experience and expertise allow her to effectively explore the relationship of form to body. In her most recent collection, Melanie plays on her penchant for deeply personal work with pieces that can be tailor-made to express the style sensibilities of the wearer.
What inspired your collection? A distinctive trio of bright stars – Vega, Altair and Deneb – known as The Summer Triangle. They are the brightest stars in their own constellations, much like all of us coming together in collective brilliance, but each a star with our own individual influence and impact. When the stars of the Summer Triangle light up the eastern twilight dusk in June, it’s a sure sign of the change of seasons, of spring giving way to summer. I hope our launch of these collections collectively at Couture as the Radiance echoes a welcome change coming to the jewellery industry.
Tell us a secret about your collection: The collection is recognisable within my signature faceted body of work but incorporates a new setting style where stones are embedded and set into deep highly mirrored triangular recesses in the pieces creating a kaleidoscopic effect as the diamonds reflect against the polished gold.
Lola Oladunjoye, designer of the brand Lola Fenhirst, pays homage to her West African Yoruba heritage through her design work. Combining ancient goldsmithing techniques with state-of-the-art technology, Lola strikes a graceful balance between European tradition and a distinctly African aesthetic. Her work is an ongoing exploration of contradictions and contrasts, and her ability to create statement jewellery that can be worn effortlessly has roots in her family heritage.
Collection: Beaded Radiance
What is the story behind your concept? I describe the aesthetic as African Modernism, which is a theme that runs through all of my work. I am from South Western Nigeria, and I’m ethnically Yoruba. The Bead is an important motif in traditional Yoruba culture symbolising royalty, wealth and fertility. Each piece in the capsule illustrates one of these themes. The diamond stud earring, for example, is called the Téton, which is the French word for nipple. These earrings are a celebration of fertility.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? I really enjoyed being part of this incredible group of designers and partnering with De Beers on its new trusted source initiative, Code of Origin. Code of Origin provides assurance that the diamonds are natural, conflict-free, responsibly-sourced, and that revenues from the diamonds are reinvested into infrastructure and social programs that benefit the source communities. That’s something I’m very proud to be associated with.
Minimalism and an art-driven inspiration underpin the work of White/Space designer Khadijah Fulton. Tracing a thread that comes from ancient goldsmithing and tribal art, she follows that commonality through multiple art mediums to the distillation of basic forms, resulting in a versatility and timelessness in her work. Her most recent collection is a continuation of her ongoing exploration of line, form and the power of simplicity.
The designer behind KLG Jewellery, Kassandra Gordon, is drawn to the intimacy of jewellery. Worn next to one’s skin, its ability to transcend time and convey emotions was first made clear to her with the gift of a gold locket from her mother when she was 9 years old. Kassandra’s most recent collection is a reflection of heritage, legacy and relationships, and an exploration of how we persevere and create future cultures.
What inspired your collection? Knots and ties. I’ve been looking into my ancestry and genealogy because I’m interested in heritage, legacy and relationships. Looking at myself as a British Jamaican and thinking of the hybridity and intersectionality of spaces that are part of living in multicultural Britain – traces of imperialism with modern flavours and twists. The collection explores how we persevere and create, looking at what we want to wear as future heirlooms – something of special value handed down from one generation to another. The twists are inspired by the twist in braids.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? It helped me to produce a 18ct gold and diamond fine jewellery collection.
Developing, building and strengthening community are guiding principles for Bijules designer Jules Kim. Her background in music – as a classical flutist, DJ and nightlife promoter – is evident throughout her avant-garde interpretations of traditional forms and silhouettes. Her work is infused with emotion, intention and a fierce commitment to creating equity and transparency among the all-female team of artisans with whom she works.
What inspired your collection? I find jewellery an enriching and beautiful way to cope and navigate. When we select the fine pieces we use to present ourselves, we are choosing who we are that day, in that moment, forever! This concept fuelled Compass(ion). I believe we must lead our choices with empathy and compassion. Combining the drive to see clearly through stormy weather and the uplifting lilt of music, I have imposed specific shapes like the “Infinite bezel” that encircle the nearly flawless De Beers COO diamonds.
In what ways did this project inspire you to innovate? My hero piece, the Compass Ring is a design evolution of over a decade. I have finally perfected the notion to wear one ring in all directions. Like a compass, the wearer can navigate from North-South or East-West depending on how they feel in that moment. Sitting below the clarity of the diamond is a murky labradorite that splashes colourful hope from within. Herein lies the concept of wearing fine jewellery as a deeply sentimental navigation tool.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? I served as a design talent, as well as a council member on the Diversity Action Council’s committee. This role honoured my twenty-year commitment to mentoring and community exchange, which has always been hinged on supporting non-traditional jewellery talent from diverse backgrounds. I hope this program continues to foster talent who must be seen and understood by the world, not just an industry… we as creatives are culture makers and it is our duty to reflect on what the world needs; not just jewellery but jewellery with a soul.
After exploring multiple design mediums, Adornment and Theory designer Viviana Langhoff, knew she’d found her true calling when she discovered metalsmithing. She found the meticulousness and need for patience in the craft satisfying, and she was drawn to the art form’s ability to beautifully convey history, family and storytelling. Her cool contemporary jewellery is recognised for an aesthetic that is sexy, bold and highly detailed.
What inspired your collection? Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. The four elements that, according to Greek philosophy, make up the Universe. This jewellery suite symbolises a truth that has transcended time: Each of us has a unique origin but we share a commonality that binds us.
What was new, or unexpected, about being part of the Radiance? This is actually my first white gold collection. My mind naturally thinks in warmer tones so to transition my metal work to a cooler tone while also allowing all of the details to show was a fun exploration.
What has being part of this initiative meant to you? I have been in the industry over 12 years and this was the first time I truly felt community. Being a BIPOC independent designer in this industry is tough and can be an isolating experience. The mentors in this program have been phenomenal. Available, candid and ready to pass on their connections and wealth of knowledge.
Designer Angely Martinez weaves fantasy, nature, poetry and a touch of romanticism into her bold, organic designs. Obsessed with these themes since childhood, Angely is a frequent visitor to museums and galleries. Her most recent collection is an introspective journey into her life and was inspired while walking the halls of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Biodiversity in New York City.
Collection: Fertile Ascension
What inspired your collection? A visit to the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Biodiversity in New York. Utilizing the earthworm as a metaphor of physical inspiration, my collection represents the different stages of a person’s life, from birth into adulthood. I never thought I would be inspired by earthworms. I got to learn so much about them and their purpose in nature!
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? As the author of the BIPOC Open Letter that led to the creation of the Couture Mentorship Program that resulted in this initiative, I am happy to have had the opportunity to create my first gold and diamond collection, via access to materials and funding. This initiative has been life-changing for my career and I am happy to see my fellow mentees benefit from it too.
The grace and fluidity in the work of designer Olivia Shih belies the physical prowess and dexterity inherent in its fabrication. A self-proclaimed introvert, Olivia was raised in both Taiwan and the United States and attributes her attunement to small moments to her need to navigate paradoxical cultures.
What inspired your collection? That moment when your eyes are open, your mind sharp, and you make a decision with absolute clarity. That split second is captured by the bolt of gold that pierces through the faceted rock crystal.
How did you use your craft to explore this theme? I learned lapidary in New Mexico last year, so when carving the rock crystal I created matte facets, with one clear facet in the front which acts like a window, allowing light to pass into the crystal and create a luminous glow. The play between light and form was inspired by the photo of an iceberg that had flipped upside down, taken by photographer Alex Cornell. When an iceberg flips, its underside is this incredible sea green-blue. To me, it looks naked without its blanket of snow but somehow remains striking. I wanted to capture that curious mix of vulnerability and strength in my work.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? Like a warm hug where I was embraced by my fellow designers, our mentors, and the Couture and De Beers communities.
Designer Maggi Simpkins believes that the stories contained in a piece of fine jewellery add to its inherent value, and has long put an emphasis on storytelling in the creation of her narrative-driven engagement rings and future family heirlooms. An intuitive designer, Maggi’s most recent collection is a play on masculine and feminine energies and encapsulates her affinity for history and vintage aesthetics.
What did you want to achieve with this collection? My capsule was made up of 5 "bubble rings" each one featuring hand cut, domed, natural stone inlay. I wanted to create something that felt classic, but still a little playful. Like most of my work it is vintage inspired and the rings are meant to be unisex.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? It has been a wonderful experience. My favourite part has been the community-building aspect, and getting to know so many of my peers in the industry.
Artist Ashley Thorne has long tapped into her spirituality in the development of jewellery for her brand, A.M. Thorne. For her most recent collection, Ashley began the creative process with clay, forming curves that began to dictate the concepts of her designs.
What inspired the concept? An exploration of being in flow. I work with a shamanic herbalist and during a breathing meditation I visualised what it meant to be in rhythmic flow. With this wave of continuous movement came a sense of freedom and surrender to all outcomes. It is a given that in life we will have highs and lows. The collection is reflective of adapting to change as gracefully as we can, and that the beauty of life resides in riding the wave. Another influence is artist Maya Lin’s wave sculptures which are sculpted from earth and grass.
How has your own practice evolved through this project? Whereas my previous work has followed simplistic lines and gems that have unique character, in this collection I wanted to embrace the beauty of the Code of Origin Diamonds and bring a sensory experience for the wearer to have something to feel and gaze into.
This was also the first time I explored using clay to create my 3-dimensional designs. I really loved being able to easily bring out the bold and wavy nature of each piece and being able to translate that same feeling into the buttery 18k yellow gold.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? Being around so many talented individuals and designers has strengthened and pushed me to go a bit further.
Relationships are always at the forefront of designer Lorraine West’s mind while conceiving and fabricating her designs. She thinks of her relationships to the materials with which she works, the ways in which her jewellery will ultimately be worn, and how her pieces can help convey the sentiments and emotions of their wearers.
Collection: Luminary Collection x Stack your Carats.
What inspired your collection? The capsule collection is inspired by movement, waves, and the stars with a special muse in mind; Josephine Baker. Her beauty, finger waves, originality in style and performance on stage was groundbreaking and innovative. To this day her influence shines like the brightest star. We were inspired to tap into her mystique and create something fresh and classic.
Love the name! Tell us more: Stack your Carats is a culmination of three offset solitaire diamond rings with 1 carat or more in each ring featuring De Beers Code of Origin Diamonds. The bands are engineered to stack and gems to stagger with room in between for the diamonds to breathe, the sides and back of the shanks nest seamlessly together when worn. The ring stack is about your jewellery journey. The idea of one ring for engagement, the second for anniversary and the third for a push gift. Or you can get the whole stack of three to celebrate a personal milestone or simply for a self-love purchase.
It’s giving “make solitaires sexy again”.
What has being part of this initiative meant for you? The opportunity to learn about and utilize the De Beers Code of Origin Diamonds which benefit the mining communities in Canada, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa has been invaluable. Then to come full circle and present at Couture – one of the most prestigious and luxurious trade shows in the world – was a dream come true.
Designer Q&As: Maia Adams
Designer biographies: The Radiance By Couture