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Jewellers Of Colour: Connecting BAME Jewellers In The Jewellery Industry

Today we chat to Banita, a jeweller and founder of 'Jewellers Of Colour', an Instagram page with the aim to educate, inspire and create a voice for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) jewellers. In this interview, we get to know Banita and her experience in the jewellery making industry, the challenges she has faced and learn more about how Jewellers Of Colour is making a difference, alongside other inspiring jewellers and creatives. We also ask Banita, what more can be done in the industry and elsewhere to support the BAME community.

At Kernowcraft, our small business is committed to doing more to support BAME jewellers and continue to educate ourselves and support initiatives within the jewellery making industry and elsewhere. If you are a BAME jeweller, who would love to share your work and feature in our 'Meet The Jeweller' series please get in touch, we'd love to share your story and designs.

Hi Banita, firstly tell us how you discovered jewellery making!

I had trained to become a corporate lawyer but was a ‘compulsively’ creative person and desperately missed having an outlet. I had spent my student life painting and writing poetry, from the doodles that covered my notes down to how I chose to spend my spare time lost in drawing with my headphones on.

I was seduced by the first diamond I had ever touched/seen in real life and got so lost in learning about the processes and mystery of jewellery that I quit my job in law (which in hindsight was surprisingly fearless for me!) I enrolled in a jewellery making course in Hatton Garden and 8 years later, jewellery still has that same hold on me now.

Tell us about your handmade jewellery and what techniques you love to use

I am currently in the middle of making my first collection in 7 years. After starting my own brand I began working for other jewellers and only had room for bespoke commissions for years. I work in precious metals and am currently experimenting with incorporating up-cycled plastic into my fine jewellery as a way of ‘capturing’ this nasty material in a more desirable form.

You founded 'Jewellers Of Colour' on Instagram - a place to connect BAME jewellers. Tell us the inspiration behind this

I did a count of how many jewellers I personally knew who were BAME and after 8 years in the trade I only knew 5. I also had a number of experiences that I was always reluctant to identify as passive racism in jewellery. I wanted JoC to be a place where I could connect and celebrate the work and stories of BAME jewellers, so that collectively we can talk more about shared experiences and tackle topics that we haven’t broached in the industry yet.

I also want JoC to be a platform where we can shout about opportunities in the trade. During Covid-19, so many incredible grants and pledges of support were made by the industry bodies, but considering how few JoC I had met to date, I wondered whether or not these ‘lifelines’ were even reaching their inboxes.

Can you share any great initiatives out there to help BAME jewellers right now?

The Black Jewellers Hardship fund as launched by Kassandra Lauren Gordon, in partnership with The Goldsmiths Company, was an incredible initiative and feat of determination and action on Kassandra’s part. Applications are now closed but please keep tabs on Kassandra’s profile for more information on this initiative and the work that she is doing.

Please also follow @bijulesincubator - a great platform that is collating a lot of the work that is going on across the industry in gaining better representation and parity in the trade for BIPOC jewellers.

jewellers of colour

What content can we expect when following your page?

Beautiful jewellery by talented craftspeople, topics of conversation that discuss more subtle cultural and ethnic issues in the trade and a visually more ethnically diverse experience of the trade.

You said over on Instagram "I love my trade but I am almost always the only person of colour in the room" - what impact do you think this has on yourself and other BAME jewellers who experience the same thing?

You can’t shake the thoughts that keep you questioning why you are the only person of colour in the room. I know we are a minority, but in some instances, it can be extreme and not reflective of the industry at all. Questions of inclusivity, the feeling of not being good enough and accessibility are all constant worries. Let me ask you this - if I made a set of grillz in pure gold, beautifully finished and pave set with precious stones, a perfect fit for my client (which is no easy feat when you consider this is an intersection between jewellery and dentistry): would this piece of work be considered as fine jewellery, of the highest level of craftsmanship in the industry by those who set the standards of quality (tutors, curators, magazines, industry bodies, bloggers)? If there is doubt, or you haven’t ever considered grillz as high-end, then you need to ask yourself why.

What advice can you give to other jewellers and businesses in the industry on how to support BAME jewellers?

Listen to and read the content that has recently been written by BAME jewellers and creatives as this will go some way towards understanding the issues that are barriers to entry. I have links to a few articles listed in my bio written mainly by Black jewellers which are definitely worth reading. Is your business / do you come across as approachable and inclusive? Can we do anything to call out racism or be an agent for change where we see it exists?

Please share with us 3 jewellers you are loving right now!

Emefa Cole @emefacolejewellery – her experience in the ancient Kingdom of Ashanti with Master Goldsmiths is such a privilege to be able to see.

Cut & Hang @cutandhang – Bold and strikingly simple earrings with actual personality.

Marcus Osbourne of @mybespokejewellery – incredible wax carved jewels and a contagious positivity!

How can the jewellery industry keep the conversation going with the Black Lives Matter movement?

Apologies for the overused phrase, but it truly needs to be a movement and not a moment. It should be a collective effort. I think it’s been noted plenty that there are many examples of brands showing support by posting the black box on their feed, sharing BLM material or promoting Black businesses and names, but are returning to their ‘normal’ content now. I just think when people or brands make statements they should realise that their integrity is at stake if they don’t follow up or stick to their word – and it’s the consumers that should call them out for that. As for the trade itself, we as jewellers are consumers too and should apply pressure on the businesses, suppliers and organisations that we work with to stick to their word, or to at least ask the right questions about inclusion, diversity and equality before you part with your money.

What progressions would you like to see in the jewellery industry in the next few years?

Greater representation of BAME jewellers in the press and with seats at the table which will come with greater participation. I’d love to see more BAME apprentices – it’s an incredible route to entry for young jewellers.

How can a jeweller get in touch if they have something to share?

Please message me on instagram @jewellers_of_colour and I’ll check out your work and would love to speak with you!