Thelma West Is Blazing a Trail for Women of Color in Fine Jewelry—And Making Rihanna Shine


For many people, fine jewelry is the ultimate fashion statement. Precious metals and gemstones have been status symbols for centuries, but the world of bling is surprisingly small. Only a handful of brands operate at the highest levels, and their access to the finest materials allows them to create wearable art. Until recently, the list of creators within this insular community has been predominantly white and male, but Nigerian-born, London-based designer Thelma West is changing all that.

West’s eponymous label focuses on elegant yet outré pieces fit for the grandest events. With fans like Rihanna, who accessorized her Balenciaga cape at this year’s Met gala with one of West’s ceramic-and-diamond Black Rebel rings, and a prominent place in Sotheby’s “Brilliant and Black” exhibition back in September, West is experiencing a banner year. Still, the rising star is hard at work considering the future of the crown. “Before the year is out, I’ve got to create a tiara,” West shared on the phone from London. “They’re so steeped in tradition. What I’m envisioning is modern, cool, connected to my clients’ lives. Their stories inform so much of my work—I don’t think I’d even do this if the creations weren’t ultimately about people.”

Indeed West’s introduction to jewels came courtesy of her family’s inner circle in Lagos. Her mother, grandmother, and their friends embraced color and print to create vibrant outfits that commanded attention. “I was surrounded by women who expressed themselves through fashion and accessories,” says West. “I would watch my mother and notice the way she put things together, how she mixed pieces and selected each element of her look carefully. It was fascinating, and once I was a little older, she started to put pieces on me too if there was a party or big event. My love [for jewelry] started there and just grew.”

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