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A Healthy Obsession with the Jewelry of Bill Smith




Bullet Magazine. Kid in vintage Bill Smith body jewelry from Sara's archive.



Image from, Black Enterprise Jul 1981. Bill Smith. From a copy of the original magazine.


I have spend many hours researching fashion accessories of the past. Sometimes they lead me on a journey. A few Richelieu pieces that have challenged me, led me to think more about why Richelieu jewelry attracted me in the first place? That research landed me right at the work of one of my all time favorites, Bill Smith. One of the other aspects of my jewelry business involves loaning and renting such pieces. I have had the pleasure to see his work in music videos and magazines as a direct result of my archive.



Isabeli Fontana in Fergie’s Milf$ video in my vintage Bill Smith Cape. M.I.L.F.


Bill Smith and Richelieu:

Bill Smith was born in Indiana in 1936. In the 1950s he was originally in NYC to study dance, but eventually decided on jewelry instead in 1958, setting up his own shop. He began working for Richelieu in 1968, as the vp and then head designer. During this time he became the first African American to win the Coty award for costume jewelry design. Many of his pieces were only signed on a tag that was attached. Some pieces are signed on the metal- Bill Smith of Richelieu…His designs are often African inspired. You can see this in the archive photos for Look Magazine, April 1971, which included a spread entitled “Fashion Now: Black Pow!” Afterwards Bill Smith worked under his own name designing for Cartier, Omega, Hattie Carnegie and Anne Klein.



Bill Smith Jewelry Ad 1960s. From a copy of the original ad.




Richelieu by Bill Smith examples.


Richelieu was a jewelry company founded in New York by Joseph H. Meyer & Bros, which began in 1911 and ended in 2003. The jewelry is just beginning to gain popularity among collectors and wearers of fashion jewelry. An interesting link about the Richelieu patents and signatures is:jewelrypatentproject.com. You can see some sample signatures and dates for Richelieu at Illusion Jewels under Joseph Meyer.



Bill Smith-Look Magazine., circa 1971 which included a spread entitled “Fashion Now: Black Pow!” The model was Naomi Sims wearing an 18k hat made for her. From a copy of the original magazine.



I have collected and hold several pieces of his rare body jewelry. At Richelieu he does something sort of ground breaking- constructing dresses, skirts, vests, halters and beyond from costume materials and metals. It stays in the realm of jewelry and Richelieu body jewelry is born. While we see the metal mod connections of the time in those by the likes of Paco Rabanne the bead part and jewelry link is quite fascinating. Here are some of these pieces which provide a visual archive of his work. These date from the late 1960s into the 70s.




Ebony Oct. 1968 image. Bill Smith article/jewelry. From a copy of the original magazine.


By Sara | #BillSmith #JewelryHistory | #African AmericanJeweler, #BillSmithRichelieu, #CodyAward, #costumejewelry, #Richelieujewelry, #vintagebodyjewelry, #isabelifontana





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