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From punk to princess: Black’s designs enable the look. Photos: Julian Love
From punk to princess: Black’s designs enable the look. Photos: Julian Love

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Meet Maria Black – jewelry designer to the stars

Danish jewelry designer Maria Black is an international phenomenon. Today her pieces can be seen adorning the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Jessica Alba. But behind her success is a surprisingly simple philosophy.

When Maria Black launched her business, she saw a gap in the market. There were basically two alternatives for the consumer: fashion jewelry and traditional jewelry houses. There was grungy jewelry, and there was fine jewelry. Black wanted to bridge the gap.

This is Maria Black

Profession: Goldsmith, founder of Maria Black Jewellery, MBJ
Lives: London
Training: Four-year apprenticeship in ­Denmark and the UK
Career: Founded Maria Black Jewellery in 2010. Opened Danish flagship store in 2013
Famous customers: Scarlett Johansson, ­Rihanna, Nicole Richie, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Helena Christensen, Ke$ha, Jessica Alba, Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, Norah Jones, Lisa Marie Presley

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She would create jewelry with attitude, but using precious metals.The idea was immediately successful, and Black worked all hours to satisfy demand in the early days. “I worked myself almost to death that first year,” she says. “I did everything myself – from production to marketing and website design. I realized I made 4,000 pieces of jewelry in that first year!”

Maria Black Jewelry works in the same way as a fashion house, with new collections launched each season. Retailers want to see new things often, as do the customers who come to her store in Copenhagen.
Black’s work is based on further development of the same shapes and styles, so you can combine pieces to create a jewelry wardrobe.
Black gained an understanding of consumer tastes by having a weekend stall at Brick Lane market in London. “I learned to build up a collection by being in direct contact with customer preferences,” she says. “I fine-tuned my ideas, taking inspiration from Camden and the punks there. But I realized I had to make things that were more sophisticated.”

One of Black’s main ideas is to give people scope to vary their accessories.
“Many people don’t want to have the same look all the time. They might want to be Goth one day and bohemian the next. To have different looks for different moods. My jewelry gives this kind of flexibility. I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve done so well.”

Black’s love affair with jewelry was sparked by travel.
“I traveled a great deal when I was in my twenties,” she says, “spending time in places like Ibiza, where I began selling jewelry at a hippie market. I started a four-year apprenticeship in Copenhagen, but I had itchy feet. In my final year as an apprentice, I went to London. I fell hopelessly in love with the city and ended up staying.”

Photos: Julian Love

All masters are created in her East London studio where she works with two assistants.
“I am a goldsmith by profession,” Black says, “while one of the girls is a trained designer, so we have a fantastic interchange of ideas. I learn new things all the time.”

Every piece is handmade, every surface filed and every part set in place by human hands. Maria explains that exchanging knowledge is an important aspect of the goldsmith profession.
“You need passion for our profession. It takes time, and it’s important to sit and talk. I have been careful to choose the right people with the right attitude.

Black has always made an effort to go her own way, despite the pressure to be successful. 
“In the early days, I couldn’t stop thinking ‘will customers like this new collection?’ But I always go with my gut feeling and believe customers will like it.”

The collections and styles have developed, but Maria Black Jewellery has its own DNA.
“I try not to figure out what direction fashion trends are moving in,” Black says. “I follow my heart and do things I like.”

When Black is creating, she switches off her phone. If things are not going to plan, she lets her hands take over and goes by feeling.
“Sometimes the pieces turn out exactly like my sketches. But sometimes they turn out completely different.”

 

Text: Petra Dokken 

 

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