Renowned Jewelry Designer Dorian Webb Partners With Troora Magazine Founder Trystanne Cunningham to Kick Off a Joint Annual Effort to Laud Accomplished Women With One of a Kind Necklaces.
Written by: Cristina Deptula
Photos by: Erica Cervantez
Pathway to Distinction
Founder and CEO of her eponymous jewelry brand, Dorian Webb, considers jewelry a form of biography, telling the story of the chapters of our lives.
Creative since childhood, Webb began her career as an architect. She discovered that she enjoyed the experience of jewelry making even more than architecture because it allowed her to be hands-on throughout the entire process.
During her junior year at Yale, she visited Italy and bought glass beads inspired by Italy's long tradition of glassblowing. She formed them into jewelry to give to friends, and a photographer she'd hired brought her pieces to galleries, where they sold.
Webb explains how one form of art feeds into the other: “Studying architecture at Yale really made me start to think in terms of composition and spatial relationships. There, the focus on creating spaces emphasized the experiential and the structure's connection to its community. How did the building make you feel? How does it relate to its environment? [Those were the types of questions we were asked to consider.] I think that carries over to my jewelry design. When I design, I take into consideration how the design—its composition, materials, and colors—will interact with the person wearing it. The process of each design is an exploratory one to highlight distinct qualities of the women I come in contact with. I gravitate towards unusual color combinations that draw the eye and bring light to the face. They also work with the wearer's skin tones. Although these color combinations seem very specific, they are often quite versatile.”
She considers her architectural background an asset despite having gone in a different direction. Her studies at Yale focused on the experience of walking through a space as well as the technical aspects of building stability. Now, she brings that focus on creating 3D art to jewelry, as well as chandeliers and other home decor.
She quotes Coco Chanel: “Fashion is architecture; it's a question of proportions.”
“My work also serves as a means of marking and preserving the current moment as well as memorializing our collective and individual presence…As an African American woman, I understand the difficulty in feeling seen and heard and the necessity of both.”
Trystanne Cunningham, editor and founder of TrooRa Magazine, shares that sentiment. Trystanne & Dorian met when Webb spoke on a panel at Conn3cted by TrooRa’s networking holiday issue launch event in San Francisco. They recognized they shared common values and decided to work together to celebrate women's accomplishments.
Legacy of Service and Recognition
Webb has won several awards, including the Artisan’s Award at the NY International Gift Fair and the Madam CJ Walker Entrepreneur Award (named for America’s first female self-made millionaire). She was also a finalist in the 2021 The Next Now international competition for emerging jewelry designers. She has been a guest on the radio program Beyond the Fog, a show that has previously interviewed San Francisco mayor London Breed and California governor Gavin Newsom.
In 1998, Dorian was commissioned by the Red Cross to design an award pin for its Woman of the Year recipient. Other jewelry commissions ensued, including one for Judith Jamison’s Kennedy Center honor and another for Celine Dion’s world tour.
In 2018, Dorian Webb had her first solo exhibition at Thelma Harris Art Gallery in Oakland, CA. The show included not only her jewelry but also her floral headpieces, gem-encrusted sculptures, and large-scale watercolors.
In 2021 Webb was selected as one of six jewelers nationwide for the Emerging Designer Diamond Initiative, which seeks to diversify the natural diamond industry.
Through her blog, she honors female community leaders who have impacted their communities, pioneering women not being recognized for their accomplishments. She also formally and informally coaches women of color on running sustainable businesses.
“I enjoy sharing my experiences with others and hope that by sharing my challenges with emerging entrepreneurs, they can avoid some of the issues I have faced. I hope this additional insight helps fuel their growth and saves them precious resources- time and money. It's not a selfless activity. I love learning more about what motivates people to do what they do, and l learn a lot about business owners' thought processes and means of evaluating opportunities. The people that I advise bring as much to the table, if not more, than I do. Their questions keep me on my toes and push me to think more critically about my approach and decisions. Often, those I mentor introduce me to other interesting entrepreneurs and new ways of thinking, as well as innovative, helpful technological platforms. They ALWAYS inspire me with their determination, enthusiasm, and optimism.”
Viewing Oakland as her home community and wishing to give back, Dorian often donates a portion of her sales revenue to nonprofit causes. She also launched a program, Uplift, that helps fill empty storefronts in Oakland with pop-up shops featuring Black artists and vendors.
She is also a frequent lecturer and panelist at universities, design schools, and business conferences, where she speaks about her entrepreneurial philosophy and art. Dorian is the co-founder and a board member of the Yale Alumni Arts League, which seeks to involve Yale alumni in supporting the arts, and has served on the board of directors for the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco.
In 2022, Dorian’s jewelry was selected to exhibit in the summer-long exhibition Imagine: Celebrating Black Female Creativity at the Featherstone Gallery in Oak Bluffs, MA, curated by Dr. Adrienne Childs.
Celebrities have discovered and worn Dorian Webb's jewelry, including Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry, Rihanna, and Jennifer Aniston. Maya Angelou and Michelle Obama followed in later years.
Beauty in Complexity
Dorian believes in crafting jewelry that will last generations and “keep people in the present moment, noticing all the beauty that surrounds them.”
She explains on her site, “The power of art is in its ability to encourage us to pause, if even for a moment. This leaves a space for rumination and appreciation to happen.”
She goes into further detail about her aesthetic.
“Contrast is defined through difference. It is an extraordinary gift. It enables us to appreciate the complexity of individual beauty. Perfection is overrated. Imperfection is what intrigues... It challenges our preconceived notions and engages our minds. It reminds us of who we are and those we love,” says Webb.
Intricate coral-inspired designs are a favorite of Webb's, as she loves color and the experience of working with semiprecious stones.
“I love all the pieces I design, but that being said, I think my favorite is my signature coral ring. There is something unapologetic about how it takes up space on the hand and the oversized proportion of the stone. It is not a shy piece; it is one to draw strength from. I appreciate the fact that it is almost impossible to overlook and that its power rests not just in its size but also in its organic and thoughtful design. I designed it maybe 20 years ago, and it is still one of our best sellers,” Webb explains.
She also created a set of colorful pieces incorporating butterflies after George Floyd’s murder to symbolize the resurgence of hope through the subsequent anti-racist activism and public reckoning. The proceeds from this “Hope” butterfly collection were donated to racial justice nonprofits.
She intends her work to celebrate the beauty of women and Black culture. Sometimes this is explicit, as with her pieces engraved with “Hope,” “Black Lives Matter,” or “I Vote,” but more often, it's an implicit focus, as with the elegance of her “Quality II Equality” collection.
Quality II Equality was her first collection for the Emerging Designer Diamond Initiative.
She appreciates the connection to Earth's natural history and the unique qualities of natural diamonds.
“I love diamonds for their history and their scarcity. I think there's something really meaningful in wearing something that was created billions of years ago and that cannot be replenished. The sparkle of diamonds is wonderful, but it is their connection to the past, their promise of stability, and their continued longevity that inspires me. The idea that they are natural, with all the beautiful imperfections that implies, also is meaningful to me.”
Dorian’s hope is that her pieces spark connection and open conversations.
Honoring Excellent Women
In the spirit of her lifetime of work, Webb is partnering with TrooRa Magazine for the revolutionary project Give Her Her Flowers.
“When we don’t see talented individuals for who they are or acknowledge their societal impact, we [all] lose. GIVE HER HER FLOWERS changes that narrative. I will create ceremonial metal wreaths to honor 12 incredible African American women to ensure that they will no longer be overlooked. Reminiscent of the laurels bestowed upon those who performed great feats in Ancient Greece, these colorful pieces, enameled and studded with semiprecious gems and a hidden diamond, are an unmistakable visual acknowledgment of the wearer’s contribution to the world,” says Webb.
Each ceremonial necklace will be custom designed to embody its recipient, inspired by who they are and their work and accomplishments. A true work of art, each handcrafted neck piece will consist of repoussé flowers and leaves (made of flat pieces of metal and hammered into shape and accented with semiprecious stones). These handcrafted brass pieces will be enameled in vibrant colors.
Through this project, every year, Webb and Cunningham will choose 12 inspirational women who are accomplished in their fields and present them with ceremonial necklaces influenced by the concept of ancient laurel wreaths.
To find and select the women they will honor, Webb and Cunningham will start with their networks and expand that circle with referrals. They will also research outstanding women nationwide by reading articles and publications, put out an open call for recommendations on social media, and partner with the sponsors of business incubators.
These necklaces will be awarded at a special event, “Celebrating Women's Excellence,” beginning in March 2024 in conjunction with the launch of TrooRa's annual women's issues. The colorful images from the ceremony recognizing these recipients, along with their powerful stories, will later be compiled into a coffee table book. The Thelma Harris Art Gallery in Oakland, California, will be the first to host a reception for this documentation of the acclamation of Black women.
This partnership will be announced at TrooRa's 2023 women's issue launch event.
“This project was inspired by Black women I have met. I was struck by not only their brilliance but also how they were using their talents to really advance the African American community. Not only were they doing this incredible work, but they were also coming up with new ways to approach systemic issues. And they were doing it with such style! I was so inspired by them and thought that not only should they be noted, but that they should be celebrated on a public and ongoing basis,” says Webb.
Cunningham, Troora Magazine founder serving as creative director as well as executive editor, will be one of the first women honored in March 2024 through the Give Her Her Flowers project.
Shared Values with TrooRa
After attending a Conn3cted by TrooRa event, Webb had this to say about Cunningham and TrooRa Magazine.
“Wow!!! Just WOW...
I Just had to take a moment to let you know how bowled over I am by Troora! You, my friend, are a force of nature. Your magazine is like none I have ever experienced before, and I am SO glad to have found it! The writing is as incredible as the images are, and each page invites me to sit and linger with the exquisite luxuriousness of it all.”
Webb considers TrooRa Magazine visionary and appreciates not only the publication itself but our efforts to support our communities and cultural leaders.
“I was struck not only by the boldness of launching a print magazine in a challenging environment but also by the beauty and richness of the publication itself. It is a periodical that you want to take the time to really savor. And the fact that it actively seeks to support the emerging designers it features is also rare and wonderful. Trystanne Cunningham's advocacy is exactly the type of multi-layered concept and far-reaching activity that I want to honor with ‘GIVE HER HER FLOWERS.”
To Webb, it made sense to approach TrooRa to partner with her on this project. It is founded on the same principles she's seeking to celebrate, and she is excited to see our publication share her call for nominations of women to honor.
“TrooRa magazine is a forward-thinking media platform that shines a light on people who inspire, engage, and are following their passions in new and exciting ways to the benefit of local and global communities. I would love for TrooRa to amplify the story of these women by featuring them within its pages and, in turn, inspire other women to explore how they can do the same with their particular gifts.”
Webb is also considering creating a line of jewelry inspired by the pieces created for Give Her Her Flowers and showcasing it through TrooRa.
Trystanne is not only humbled by Dorian's acknowledgment of the magazine and her personally, and says “The fact that someone of Dorian’s stature appreciates my vision, creativity and determination and recognizes my efforts to utilize TrooRa to bring a much-needed change in the narrative for the magazine industry. Our synergy reflects our mutual passion to celebrate emerging brands, undiscovered artists, talented individuals and creative black women entrepreneurs.”
Webb highlights her passion for and reasons behind creating this project.
“As I enter the second phase of my career and consider my ‘legacy,’ I want to be known not only for bespoke intentional jewelry that connects but also for championing women, broadening the perspective of African American excellence, and cultivating and sustaining communities.”