As Lorraine West recounts her recent trip to Botswana, her emotion is palpable. The Brooklyn-based designer joined a group of fellow jewelry artists whom De Beers had invited to visit the country and see firsthand how diamonds were enabling local communities to develop and prosper.
Together, they visited the Orapa mine, Chobe National Park, and wholesaler KGK’s cutting facilities. They met people involved in all stages of the diamond journey, from women truck drivers to young Batswana designers.
The pride she witnessed in every Motswana she met when it came to working with diamonds made a strong impression on West. She personally relates to the life-changing power of the gemstone. “Working with diamonds has also changed my life,” she shares.
Three years in the making, the Botswana trip was delayed because of the pandemic. Back in 2020, West was selected to take part in, an initiative by De Beers and Red Carpet Advocacy (RAD) to create one-of-a-kind pieces with natural diamonds from Botswana and increase the visibility of Black talents and voices.
Being part of the initiative meant that for the first time in her career, West had access to a wider range of diamonds. Before the Botswana trip, she created a high-jewelry suite comprising a choker, earrings and rings in her signature sensual, impactful style.
“The pieces were created for the sake of art and wearability because it was for the red carpet. To see them on Keke Palmer was phenomenal,” she says. The actress and singer wore the pieces at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards in January.
As a testament to West’s leading role in today’s designer scene, she is an honoree at this year’s Diamonds Do Good (DDG) awards. On June 1 in Las Vegas, she will receive DDG’s Inspiration award for her “talent, perseverance, and achievements in the diamond and jewelry industry.”
From left: Waves stacking rings in 18-karat gold and diamonds, sold as a set of three; Shooting Star choker in 18-karat rose gold with diamonds.
West’s career started in 1999, initially creating fashion jewelry with plated metals, copper and beads. She introduced gold to her practice a few years later and received her first bridal order featuring a diamond in 2012. Since then, she has established herself as the creator of talismanic jewelry celebrating “inner beauty and power.”
Now, reminiscing about Botswana’s landscapes, fauna and flora, the designer wonders how these vivid images will feature in her future pieces. “The oranges, the yellows, the purples, the pinks of the sunset — how can I incorporate that in my work through gemstones and diamonds? I even feel like experimenting with different types of metals and enamels,” she says.
In addition to providing a rich bank of creative inspiration and a deepened reflection on sustainability, the journey has made West want to continue the fruitful dialogue with Botswana’s diamond community.
“In Botswana, the diamonds are about making everyday life run smoothly — the hospitals, schools, initiatives to keep society growing. Here in America, at least in New York, it’s about fashion and self-expression. There’s so much to learn from each other,” she says.
This article is from the May-June 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.
Main image: Lorraine West. (Lorraine West)