Life Style

With the Color Black, Fine Jewelry Moves to the Darker Side

All black, all the time: Black diamonds, black pearls, onyx, black spinels, obsidian and blackened gold are just some of the materials turning up recently in fine jewelry creations.

And while some of the appeal may spill over from that enduring classic, the little black dress, for many, dark gems seem to match the goth sensibility of today.

The fall 2023 runway collections from Rodarte, Christian Siriano and Brandon Maxwell, for example, all featured styles that a slightly older Wednesday Addams would love. “Black was certainly a color we saw a lot of this season,” said Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “A dark romanticism comes back into fashion every few years, some of it gothic, some punk, some rock ’n’ roll.” Ms. Steele certainly knows: She curated an exhibition on goth style at the museum in 2008.

Jewelry designers have been mining the look. Orit Elhanati, an Israeli jeweler based in Copenhagen, said her latest collection, called Black Orchid, was largely inspired by her goth days in the 1990s when “I wore a lot of black velvet.” It features a black spinel heart that was cut by hand to convey a raw feeling, and hangs on a black velvet ribbon. “It’s sensuous and mysterious, for the kind of woman who is unreachable,” she said.

The London jeweler Jessica McCormack said her Lost Boys collection introduced last summer was inspired by a similar sensibility. She was a teenager when she first watched “The Lost Boys,” the 1987 cult vampire movie, and found it “sexy and scary,” she wrote in an email. When she watched it again recently, she wrote, she was struck by “the fairground, where a lot of the film is set, lit up at night or filled with punks in the daytime. I love that something really unglamorous, and kind of grotty, can take on a dark, sexy edge. I wanted that with this collection, to play with contrast.”

So she edged white diamonds with borders of blackened gold and featured a bracelet of blackened gold studded with black diamonds that looks a lot like barbed wire.

Historically, the use of black was equally trendy. “At the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, what were known as sumptuary laws in Europe dictated which expensive and fashionable colors could only be worn by the privileged and the nobility,” Julie Thomas, an assistant professor emeritus at the American University of Paris and member of the French branch of the International Colour Association, wrote in an email. “Wealthy and successful merchants and guild members managed to display their status by wearing rich black clothing.”

Some contemporary jewelers have been using black to send different messages.

For Archyn Orijin, black volcanic rock projects something natural and universal: It shows humanity’s connections. “I am Ghanaian, born and schooled in London and at Temple University in the U.S. I now live and work in Philadelphia,” he said in a recent video interview. In the countries where he has lived, he found that names were the way to connect to his African roots — many Ghanaians are named for the day of the week on which they were born.

To celebrate that, he created an identity bracelet of black volcanic rock carved by hand into beads in Ghana and strung with a brass nameplate stamped with the wearer’s name according to the Akan tribe in West Africa. For those who have no idea what that name might be, he has created a feature on his Orijin Culture website, with which shoppers can enter the day, month and year of their birth and discover if they are, for example, Abena, a female born on a Tuesday, or Kwame, a male born on Saturday.

“I chose to use volcanic stone because it is close to the earth, it reminds me of mother earth, of the beginning of mankind,” he said. “The lava beads are perfect to use in the mission of connecting.” The stone also has small holes, created naturally as the lava cooled, and Mr. Orijin suggests pouring essential oils into them to encourage positive moods.

Yet it is that same porous nature that has deterred the London jeweler Theo Fennell from using volcanic rock for what he called his “sculptural jewelry.”

“You don’t want to be carving a face and when you’re doing the nose, discover you come to a hole and the entire piece is ruined,” he said. Instead, he works in black tourmaline, black spinels and black obsidian, crafting brooches and rings of sinister objects like snakes and skulls.

He also specializes in portraits of well-known people (he said during the interview he was working on one of Duke Ellington) or of clients themselves. Some customers want their portraits to show what their skulls would look like. “It’s a memento mori,” Mr. Fennell explained, “not just to remind them of death, but that they are living and they should enjoy life.”

Mr. Fennell often uses black diamonds in his creations, and he said, “We’ve been seeing an increase in demand for them, with the real push starting in the last five years.” Two of his signature pieces are heart pendants made of black diamonds; one is accented with white diamond-set crossbones; another, a set of little devil’s horns in white gold. He first made the heart in red rubies, but when he switched to black diamonds, he said, it became “more gothic and noticeable.”

“A lot of my black pavé pieces express a mood. As the world becomes a less happy place, people’s mood shifts from minimalism to theatricality to gothic,” he said. “Black diamonds express a feeling, they are less obvious, not as brash and blingy. And there’s the fun of wearing a black heart with the devil’s horns on it.”

The New York jeweler Stephanie Gottlieb also is known for her heart pendant made of black diamonds. “The heart is one of our iconic symbols,” she said. “Many of my collectors own that piece. But there’s a woman for whom the traditional heart doesn’t appeal. Making it in black diamonds adds edginess to it. It edges up the classic heart shape.”

Recently Ms. Gottlieb has been using black diamonds even in her bridal jewelry line. “We’re seeing a lot of brides looking for something unique and different. There’s so much exposure with social media, they’re looking for a way for their piece to stand out,” she said. “By incorporating a nontraditional element, like black diamonds, it becomes a talking piece, something a woman can put her own stamp on.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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