In her Montclair Village studio above Crogan’s restaurant, designer Dorian Webb creates not just award-winning, high-end jewelry but opportunities too.

With an affinity for visual art discovered during childhood that was burnished and bolstered by supportive parents and in particular a mother who was an entrepreneur and business owner, Webb attended Yale University. Intending to become an architect, a semester studying in Italy introduced her to Venetian glass bead-making and laid the groundwork for the jewelry design company she launched while still in college.

During the years since graduation, the Montclair resident had her entire first collection bought by Neiman Marcus and won the Artisan’s Award at the New York International Gift Fair. Her jewelry appeared on the cover of Essence magazine and was featured in JCK, W, Diablo and other publications.

Her line has been sold at major department stores throughout the United States, and Webb expanded into housewares and lighting that included chandeliers, some of which traveled for seven years as part of a museum and gallery exhibition.

Among other awards, she received the Madam CJ Walker Entrepreneur Award (named for America’s first female self-made millionaire) honoring her entrepreneurial skills and community contributions that focus, as does her jewelry, on celebrating women, highlighting her African American heritage, fostering conversations and creating retail opportunities for on-the-rise or new women designers and artists through business education and networking events.

“My dad was an elementary school principal but also a gifted artist,” she says. “My mother, when we moved to where I grew up in South Jersey, was hired by a homecare agency. She was excited, but when she first showed up,the person there said, ‘We didn’t think you were Black when we hired you.’ To take that absolute rejection and start her own business and be successful was amazing to me.”

Webb noticed her mother’s acumen in prioritizing business practices that made the company thrive — and the dedication that required along with the underlying message that financial independence, personal passion, creativity and commitment to community could travel hand-in-hand.

“Education, curiosity, bringing something from nothing to life for other people to enjoy — those were always rewarded. It wasn’t about parental expectations. It was the reward of process.”

In 2010, Webb was based in New York and maintaining a long-distance marriage with her husband, Keith Spears, who works in private equity and lived in Oakland.

“He usually came to visit me, but following the recession I came to Oakland. I found the community so open, thriving and welcoming. I met African Americans with a sense of history and pride. It was just such an amazing place to be, it made sense to move here.

“My husband also has a daughter here, and I was cognizant of the fact that in the African American community Black fathers are not always present. I didn’t want to be part of that continuum.”

Webb closed her business back east, moved to Oakland and began teaching low-income women how to start their own businesses.

“I had the sense that designing jewelry, making pretty things was not enough,” she said. “The social-minded, educational piece that was missing was something I could dedicate myself to that would fill that void.

“After five years, I realized I could use my jewelry to support forums so women starting out could meet successful, wealthy businesswomen and have conversations about getting to the next stage.”

Resuming her craft, the jewelry at her Dorian Webb Lifestyle shop continues to present dynamic designs with signature elements: sophisticated texture, color and composition, an architect’s eye for the spatial interplay of light and shadow and materials that include semiprecious and precious stones, 18 karat gold and sterling silver.

Her Shimmer Curve Earrings in Prasiolite, for example, aim at elegant beauty and long-lasting value: Curvaceous sterling silver tendrils descend from subtle green prasiolite stones made from heat-treated amethyst and are said to carry transformative power that converts negative energy to positive.

The Black Panther Diamond Ring (currently sold-out) features a bold, geometric profile and blackened silver-edged framing armor-like single-cut diamond pavé.

“Jewelry capitulates and crystallizes memories and since the beginning of time, people have been finding ways to adorn themselves,” Webb says. “Intentional jewelry’s not superfluous. Its a tangible way of expressing who you are. It’s a conversation starter and a way to access deep, meaningful discussions on a range of topics.”

Webb’s handcrafted jewelry is inarguably positioned at high price points, which she says provides opportunities to educate clients about materials and the labor involved.

“The pieces I make are about putting on something great and knowing you’ll feel great in it 20 years from now. It’s an investment in future joy.”

Meanwhile, she is developing two fusion lines that provide a doorway of affordability for clients with limited resources: A sterling silver collection will launch around Mother’s Day, and a diamond line is expected by the second quarter of 2024. Other activities involve the company’s charitable branch that she says comes with self-directed commitment to community.

“It’s about something other than another piece of jewelry or hitting revenue targets. It’s making a lasting, positive mark on this planet through my life and work.”

Asked about progress made in the outlook for Black women entrepreneurs since 2020, Webb says, “Change takes time. Frankly, for real parity addressing the wrongs that have been systemically part of our history, some people will be made uncomfortable. There’s fear of missing out on opportunities or of being treated in the discriminatory ways African Americans have been treated in this country.”

With her natural preset positivity, Webb emphasizes progress is displayed by increased awareness of the Black experience following George Floyd’s death in 2020 and more appreciation for the contributions of people of color.

“Black women in particular hold the fastest-growing businesses in today’s economy,” she says. “That causes me to swell with pride. And larger organizations are thinking about how they hire, support minorities and deal with racial issues we struggle with in this country.”

When Webb is not creating jewelry, she’s easy to spot in Montclair Village.

“Cupcakes are my Number One, and I’ll never turn down cookies, pies, brownies or cake, so I’m a regular at Full Belly and Yellow Door.”

That means her other hobby is hiking in the Oakland hills, which she calls “necessary” after a sweet indulgence and stimulation for future work and continued community involvement.

By Lou Fancher, Montclarion / East Bay Times

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