The Black list of jewellers
If you’re into fine jewellery and want to support a Black-owned business, Lezlie Bailey has a list for you.
The Bermudian gemologist started compiling names while under lockdown at her home in London last March. With no experience she built a website, The Ten Times, and put the names on it.
Two things spurred her on: the few Black faces she saw in the gem industry and the Black Lives Matter movement which was then “quite big in the UK”.
“It is literally just for anyone who’s Black who does anything in the jewellery industry,” Ms Bailey said. “It was really basic at first. I started a Google Sheets document and began collecting the name of the company or the name of the person, their Instagram handle and their website.
“It’s now a searchable directory. You can go on and browse pictures; click on it and then it will come up with a little bit about the jeweller or the company or the person, a link to the company website and their Instagram handle. So if you were looking to buy jewellery and you wanted to make sure the business was Black-owned you can browse the list and see anything that jumps out at you, any styles you like.”
She decided to call it The Ten Times as the term would be easily recognised by everyone in the industry.
“If you work in the jewellery district everyone knows you need your ten times loupe, basically a little magnifying glass. You cannot do anything without it. In gemmology I use it to look at the stones a bit closer up, to look at inclusions, to assess the quality.
“A jeweller may use it for checking everything’s polished correctly, maintaining a bit of quality control, making sure everything’s set straight. Dealers would use it to look at hallmarks. It’s such a basic tool but it’s really useful for pretty much everything in the jewellery industry.
“You can have 20 times, 25 times but ten times magnification is industry standard and so it’s kind of a play on words – The New York Times, the LA Times and then, The Ten Times.”
Ms Bailey left Bermuda for school in the UK as a teenager. As part of a work experience programme she was thrilled to find herself paired with a gemologist who let her “hold a diamond” and took her into central London to buy “lots of stuff”.
“They just gave us cash and said go and buy some rubies and some sapphires. I thought it was incredible,” she said.
At university Ms Bailey studied geology, figuring it was “the next best thing” to gemmology which was not offered as a degree programme. Once she received her bachelor’s degree she took gemmology courses to get her knowledge and qualifications up to speed.
“I was the only Black person in my cohort,” she said. “And then when I graduated, my friend and I were the only Black people in the room – and she was only there because I was there. It was just something that kind of stuck out to me.”
On a visit to the Diamond District in New York City she was surprised, yet again, that there were so few people who looked like her.
“I was walking around and the only Black people in this whole area were the security guards. I was one of the few Black people going in and out looking at jewellery.
“A similar thing happened in Hatton Garden [in London]. It’s just one road full of jewellery shops. There’s all sorts of ethnicities: lots of Asians, lots of Indians, lots of Jewish people – Hasidic Jews, Israeli Jews – all sorts of people but there were no Black people visible on the streets, no Black people in the shop fronts.”
Eventually she met a Black jeweller who laid the problem out for her: “He was saying when he first started he found it really difficult to buy diamonds and stuff. Nobody would sell to him because he was Black. And I was like, this is crazy. It’s not something I ever imagined would be going on, especially nowadays.”
Having soon exhausted a Google search for Black people in the industry she turned to Instagram and used the social media site’s algorithms to her favour.
“[On Google] the same few articles kept coming up over and over again. It actually became a lot easier during Black Lives Matter. The movement was quite big in the UK and so a lot of Black jewellers, Black-owned companies in general, were being highlighted
“That’s when I started finding all the Black people in Hatton Garden. They were just hiding away – in basement shops or they have this one tall building in particular. But they are there. They have been there for years and they are very skilled.
“I just thought it’s such a shame that there are all these shops that are terrible, that have bad jewellery, bad quality stones – I used to see pretty much everything that was in the area. And then I see the work [the Black jewellers] are pumping out of their tiny workshops in this tall building and I’m like, you guys should be in the forefront.”
There is no charge for being on The Ten Times list. With the view that it helps promote their business, people are grateful to have been included.
Apart from maintaining the site, Ms Bailey has a full-time job as a gemologist with Vashni, “a fairly new jewellery manufacturer in the UK”.
“The business started growing really, really quickly,” she said. “It went from being a very small operation to them needing to get some people that know how to handle, organise and deal with the gemstones.
“It’s less gemmology science-y, more organisation and logistics and sorting the stones and getting everything ready for the job they have to go into. So I’m still in the industry but not as hands on.”