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5 BIPOC Jewelry Designers to Watch

Guest writer Michelle Orman is highlighting some of our favorite BIPOC jewelry designers.

Guest author Michelle Orman of Last Word Communications discusses the challenges BIPOC jewelry designers face and highlights 5 emerging artists to watch.

The barriers to entry into the world of jewelry are high for anyone, but for many BIPOC jewelry designers, those barriers can be even more daunting. My hope is that one of the primary benefits that comes out of the BIPOC Open Letter, a collective statement from BIPOC designers in the jewelry industry, is that a renaissance of talent can take place, and that the voices of these exceptionally talented individuals can be amplified. By demonstrating support through mentorship and education, creating equality in access, equity and opportunities, and highlighting BIPOC designers' work in editorial coverage, unprecedented creativity can be unveiled. As a result, the entire jewelry industry will be elevated as a whole.

Angely Martinez, who was the driving force behind the creation of the BIPOC Open Letter, is a New York City-based designer who weaves fantasy and nature into phenomenal pieces that defy expectations of adornment. With a unique use of color combinations, Angely also ensures that all fundamental elements of her work are ornamental, adeptly marrying form with function. Born in Dominican Republic, Angely attributes her drive for success to her parents, who sacrificed to provide her with opportunities. From learning a new language, to establishing mentors, to receiving accolades, to attending business school and then ultimately, honing in on her passion for jewelry design and studying at FIT, Angely has showcased a fierce determination to evolve as a human, and as an artist. She expresses her commitment to her craft gracefully, thoughtfully curating her brand's identity and voice.

Angely Martinez
Angely Martinez
Calla Lilly Opal Ring by Angely Martinez
Calla Lilly Opal Ring

There is a sense of quiet defiance in the work of designer Olivia Shih. Born in the U.S. and raised in Taiwan, Olivia has dual degrees in creative writing and jewelry/metal arts. The inspiration for her initial collection was finding a use for acrylic castoffs in the waste bin of her art school. She continues to utilize recycled metals and reclaimed acrylic to explore the paradox of finding vulnerability in strength. Her intention is to create pieces that allow women to express their most authentic selves on their own terms, without regard for societal expectations. A self-described feminist and introvert, Olivia is devoted to adorning soft-spoken women with strong backbones.

Olivia Shih Headshot
Olivia Shih
Liquid gold streamline earrings with 14k vermeils
Liquid Gold Streamline Earrings by Olivia Shih

Influences of the founder's heritage run throughout the Yoté (Yo-Teh) collection. Leah Prada Harrison is a multi-generational New Mexican of Hispanic, Indigenous (Tewa/Apache, Genízaro Nation) and Anglo ethnicity. While this woman-owned, grassroots brand incorporates global themes throughout its body of work, its heart and soul is distinctly New Mexican. One of her most popular collections, Zia, is a representation of one of New Mexico's most distinctive symbols, which is sacred in the Zia Pueblo. Leah has the direct blessing of the Pueblo to use this symbol, and as an homage to Indigenous People's Day, every October Leah donates 10% of the sale of Zia pieces to the Zia Pueblo's Education & Scholarship Fund. Crafted in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico, Yoté is produced by hand in a studio that was renovated from an old horse stall inside a barn, further adding to the mystique and mysticism of this ever-evolving collection. 

Leah Prada Harrison with a horse in a field
Leah Prada Harrison
Group of sterling silver Zia necklaces with turquoise stones
Part of the Zia Collection

Lou Jewels designer, Shannon Cartwright, channels a complexity of emotions into her jewelry designs, often transforming the challenging into the joyful. The daughter of two artists, Shannon grew up surrounded by art, and she began exploring with various artistic mediums at a young age. She eventually attended Parsons The New School for Design and upon relocating to her current home in central Florida, she benefited from the instruction of several incredible metalsmiths and jewelers. It was in opening her home to her "rambunctious" cat Louie that she was inspired to launch her own collection of work. Influenced by Louie's incessant curiosity, Shannon began to notice surrounding details that she'd previously ignored. She coupled her newfound passion for light and shadows, with her minimalist aesthetic as fuel for her creative inspiration.

Shannon McRae with her toddler
Shannon McRae
Gold-fill Truth Studs earrings by Lou Jewels
Truth Studs

Designer Christina Grace of TIN HAUS describes the art of fabricating jewelry as a "spiritual experience." Christina and her family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 1980's, and though she has been dedicated to fine art throughout her life, until recently, her creative expression was through painting and acting. The tactile process of jewelry making ultimately drew her in, and she has been handcrafting her emotive collection since 2015. Christina wants her work to add value to the human experience, and a philanthropic spirit is at the heart of her brand's ethos. Utilizing traditional techniques such as lost-wax casting, Christina's aesthetic is both bold yet minimalist. Christina is the 2020 recipient of the Halstead Grant Award. Explaining the selection, Grant Founder and Halstead President, Hilary Halstead Scott said, "Christina nailed it. She represents the best in both jewelry collection artistry and strategic planning."

Christina Grace headshot
Christina Grace
Display of TIN HAUS jewelry
TIN HAUS Jewelry

These five designers each represent a bold and unique expression of influences, emotions and life-experiences. While these brands are all relatively new, each of these designers is also mindful of adopting and maintaining ethical practices throughout their creative process. This dedication to ethical and environmental sustainability should be emulated throughout our industry, positioning these burgeoning brands as thought leaders and agents of change. Their work is distinctive and poignant, adding an array of voices to the creative space that can allow our industry to expand its appeal to a wider audience of jewelry lovers, thereby contributing to its overall vitality.

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