May 31, 2023

Always Black: Black diamonds, black pearls, onyx, black spinels, obsidian and black gold are just some of the materials that have been popping up in sophisticated jewelry creations lately.

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

For example, the fall 2023 collections from Rodarte, Christian Siriano, and Brandon Maxwell all feature styles that a slightly older Wednesday Addams would love. “Black was definitely a color we saw a lot this season,” says Valerie Steele, director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. “A dark romance comes back into fashion every few years, part goth, part punk, part rock and roll.” Ms. Steele is sure: she curated an exhibition on goth style at the museum in 2008.

Jewelry designers have mined 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 hand-carved to convey a raw feel, and hangs from a black velvet ribbon. “It’s sensual and mysterious, for the kind of woman who is unattainable,” she said.

London jeweler Jessica McCormack said her Lost Boys collection launched last summer was inspired by a similar sensibility. She was a teenager when she first saw “The Lost Boys,” the 1987 cult vampire movie, and thought it was “sexy and scary,” she wrote in an email. Looking back at it recently, she wrote, she was struck by “the fairground, where much of the movie takes place, lit up at night or filled with punks during the day.” I love that something that’s really not glamorous and a bit ugly can take on a dark, sexy edge. That is what I wanted with this collection, to play with contrast.”

So she edged white diamonds with black gold edges and wore a black gold bracelet 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 early Renaissance, so-called sumptuary laws in Europe dictated which expensive and fashionable colors could only be worn by the privileged and the nobility,” said Julie Thomas, an assistant professor emeritus at the American University of Paris and member of the French branch of the International Color Association, wrote in an email. “Wealthy and successful merchants and guild members knew how to show their status by wearing rich black clothing.”

Some contemporary jewelers use black to send different messages.

For Archyn Orijin, black volcanic rock projects something natural and universal: it shows the connections of humanity. “I am Ghanaian, born and educated in London and at Temple University in the US, 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 after the day of the week they were born.

To celebrate, he created an identity bracelet of black volcanic rock, hand-cut into beads in Ghana and strung with a brass name tag stamped with the wearer’s name according to the Akan tribe of West Africa. For those who have no idea what that name might be, he’s created a feature on his Orijin Culture website that allows shoppers to enter the day, month and year of their birth and find out if they’re Abena, a woman born on a Tuesday, or Kwame, a male born on Saturday.

“I chose to use volcanic rock because it’s close to Earth, it reminds me of Mother Earth, at the dawn of humanity,” he said. “The lava beads are perfect to use in the mission of connecting.” The stone also has small holes, which formed naturally as the lava cooled, and Mr. Orijin suggests pouring essential oils into it to boost positive moods.

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

“You don’t want to cut a face and then when you’re doing the nose discover that you come to a hole and the whole piece is ruined,” he said. Instead, he works with black tourmaline, black spinels and black obsidian and creates brooches and rings from sinister objects such as snakes and skulls.

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

Mr. Fennell often uses black diamonds in his creations, and he said, “We’re seeing an increase in demand for them, with the real push over the last five years.” Two of his signature pieces are heart pendants made of black diamonds; one is accented with white diamond-encrusted 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 eye-catching.”

“Many 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 goth,” he said. “Black diamonds express a feeling, they are less obvious, not so brash and blingy. And there is the pleasure of wearing a black heart with the devil’s horns on it.”

New York jeweler Stephanie Gottlieb is also 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 is a woman to whom the traditional heart is not attractive. Making it into black diamonds makes it sharper. It accentuates the classic heart shape.”

Recently, Mrs. Gottlieb has even started using black diamonds in her bridal jewelry line. “We see a lot of brides looking for something unique and different. There is so much exposure on social media that they are looking for a way to get their piece noticed,” she said. “Incorporating a non-traditional element like black diamonds makes it a talking point, something a woman can put her own stamp on.”