The Radiance by Couture — a showcase of capsule collections created by 13 designers featuring De Beers’ Code of Origin Diamonds — is debuting at the 2022 Couture show.
This initiative is the culmination of the inaugural mentorship program of Couture’s Diversity Action Council and was created in partnership with De Beers, which provided each of the BIPOC designers with Code of Origin diamonds and a budget for production costs.
“When we met the designers last year, they had been selected by Couture and already been on the program for 12 months,” said Sally Morrison, director of public relations for natural diamonds at De Beers Group. “I was immediately struck by their energy and enthusiasm, their curiosity about materials and their origin story, and all these things really inspired us to figure out a way to be part of this program.”
The 13 Radiant Designers whose work makes up The Radiance by Couture are: Angely Martinez, Ashley Thorne (A.M. Thorne), Jules Kim (Bijules), Kassandra Gordon (KLG Jewellery), Khadijah Fulton (White/Space Jewelry), Lola Fenhirst, Lorraine West, Maggi Simpkins, Melanie Eddy, Olivia Shih, Sara Bautista, Viviana Langhoff and Zulaikha Aziz (Mazahri). The DAC Mentors are: Erin O’Donnell (Couture), Elizabeth Bonanno (The EAB Project), Fernando Jorge, Floriana Annibali, Jennifer Maxwell (Leigh Maxwell), Joel Cheatwood (Gems & Tonic), Julez Bryant, Lauren Godfrey (Harwell Godfrey), Megan Aoki, Monica Stephenson (Anza), Pamela Love, Polly Wales, Prerna Sethi (Sethi Couture), Stephen Webster and Zoë Chicco.
While conceptualizing and creating their Code of Origin diamond capsules, the designers were briefed by multiple teams within the De Beers organization on provenance, traceability and social and environmental responsibility, including the Building Forever, pipeline integrity and offshore mining teams. All these areas together support Code of Origin.
De Beers Group established a production budget of $10,000 per designer to cover everything except the diamonds — models, CAD, production, precious metals and more. They set up individual sessions with a diamond specialist, “to really think through what kind of sizes, shapes and qualities made sense for their design vision, and served as a kind of “Diamonds 101” especially for those who had not worked with diamonds before,” Morrison said.
“What was so compelling about the ethos of this program is that it aims to be holistic and give mentorship, training and 360 support to each participant in all areas of the business. For this project, we tried to follow that approach and beyond the materials, we built in a lot of briefings, education and coaching.”
She continued, “It takes time. Our aim is for all the participants to come out of this year with a great sample set to present to the market, but as importantly, the information and confidence to power that sample set into a sustainable business.”
The DAC was formed in the summer of 2020 to create a catalyst for addressing the issues of systemic and institutionalized racism, which have contributed to the lack of diversity within the fine jewelry industry. Through demonstrated leadership, as well as collaboration with its community, the DAC’s mission is to contribute to the creation of a more diverse, inclusive and equitable industry through the implementation of programs and initiatives that promote and support Black, Indigenous people of color within all facets of the jewelry ecosystem. It is made up of retailers, designers, press and industry insiders from the jewelry and timepiece community, as well as members of the internal Couture team.
“We are honored to partner with De Beers to provide a platform for these 13 talented designers,” said Gannon Brousseau, Couture director and EVP, Emerald. “It has been so enriching engaging with the designers and watching their businesses flourish and evolve over the last 18 months. These capsule collection launches are certain to add a high level of excitement to our event and we are delighted to welcome these designers to our community.”
A key focus of the DAC has been its inaugural mentorship program. In January 2021, designers from the BIPOC community were paired with designers and industry insiders from the Couture community for one-on-one mentorship that included ongoing guidance, resource sharing and support. The DAC augmented the contributions of the mentors through weekly or biweekly education sessions with experts in a variety of fields, including brand development, business fundamentals, financial guidance and ethical gem purchasing.
“After we began to engage with the mentees, we were so impressed with their vast areas of interest,” explains Eric Ford, Precious Jewelry Buyer of Neiman Marcus and head of the DAC. “We very quickly began to offer education sessions that allowed us to expand upon the expertise of their individual mentors. In hosting these weekly “clinics” on topics ranging from insurance to establishing brand identity, to complex financial questions such as when to get an investor and when to get a factor, a strong sense of community among the mentees began to emerge and became a central tenet of the group. I don’t think any of us realized how frequently designers, and especially largely disenfranchised BIPOC designers, feel as if they’re operating in a silo. It was truly incredible witnessing these bonds form and strengthen and to watch these women offer one another advice, support and encouragement. They continue to lift one another up and their connection to one another in inspiring.”
In developing our mentorship program, “we wanted to ensure that the parameters we established first and foremost benefited the specific needs of the participating designers,” Ford said. “Within the application process, we sought feedback from the applicants so that we could thoughtfully pair them with a mentor who was uniquely positioned to meet their needs. It is a key focus of the DAC to not only promote and support BIPOC talent, but to amplify their voices and provide resources based on success metrics determined by and for BIPOC to directly address the barrier to entry in the jewelry industry.”
Ford explained that because they really wanted the metrics for success for the program to be determined by the designers themselves, the DAC asked them a host of questions in the application process to determine their exact needs and goals. “After that, it was a matter of matching up the skill sets and personalities of our pool of prospective mentors with the appropriate mentee. One of the questions we asked, which proved to be extremely insightful, was who their top three dream mentors were. Understanding this archetype, in many cases, allowed us to pair them with the right person,” he said.
The highly anticipated capsule collections will be revealed in a salon in the show’s main show floor, with each being available commercially, providing retailers a unique opportunity to support mentorship program and foster new talent.