Bill Smith (jewelry designer)

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Bill Smith (born 1936) is an American fashion and jewelry designer who was the first black recipient of a Coty Award for his designs.[1] He has designed for a number of companies, including costume jewelry for Coro and Richelieu, leather goods for Mark Cross, and furs for Ben Kahn, along with designing jewelry for Cartier.[1]


Born in 1936 in Madison, Indiana, in his early childhood Bill Smith was encouraged to develop and make the most of his talents.[2] He went to Indiana University to study art and whilst there, also explored dance.[2] In 1954 he headed to New York to study dance with Alwin Nikolais, but decided to focus on jewelry design and in 1958 set up a small business in Murray Hill, Manhattan.[2][3][4] Whilst studying dance, he worked part-time soldering and casting for a jewelry company, which gave him technical and artisan knowledge to support his designing.[2]

In June 1968, Bill Smith was made vice-president of Richelieu, at that time the second largest jewelry firm in America, after only two months with the company as their head designer.[5] Later that year in October, he was commissioned to exclusively create all the jewelry for the Broadway production of Coco, a stage musical about the life of Coco Chanel starring Katharine Hepburn.[1][6]

Bill Smith was one of six jewelry designers honoured with a special Coty Award in 1970 alongside Daniel Stoenescu and Steven Brody of Cadoro, Alexis Kirk, Marty Ruza and Cliff Nicholson.[7]

His designs draw inspiration from his African heritage and have been described as sparse and sculptural.[4] At the time of the Coty Award win his designs incorporated tassels, leather, and cord alongside metal and stone, and he had experience with precious and semi-precious stones and metals.[2] Alongside more traditional jewelry, he offered chignon covers and belts, including one in fringed suede fastened with an eight-inch gilded mermaid, and a range of architectural ethnic-style crosses, titled "Peacemakers", hanging from silk cords.[8]

In 1972, he posed with Naomi Sims for a fashion spread on black designers and their muses for the April 1972 issue of The Look magazine, which showcased one of his 18-carat gold cuffs for Cartier, modelled by Sims.[4] Sims had introduced him to Kenton Corp, who set up Bill Smith Design Studios, Inc., with Smith as the president, from where he was creating jewelry for Cartier and leather accessories for Mark Cross.[4] The company had disestablished by 1981, when Smith was working as a consultant on accessory design for Omega Inc. and the Hattie Carnegie company which made accessories to accompany Anne Klein's clothing collections.[1] He won an award for excellence in jewelry design in 1984 at the 6th Annual Black Designers Tribute.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Banik, Sheila (July 1981). "Cutting on the Bias". Black Enterprise, vol.11, no. 12. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Bill Smith recipient of Coty Fashion Critics' Award". Washington Afro-American. 29 September 1970. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  3. ^ "Genius was noted in college". Ebony. October 1968. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Fashion Now: Black Pow!". The Look. 20 April 1972. 
  5. ^ "Jewelry Genius Becomes a Veep". Ebony. October 1968. pp. 92–94. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  6. ^ "For the Record". Jet. 23 October 1969. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  7. ^ McDowell, Colin (1984). McDowell's Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion. Frederick Muller. pp. 299–301. ISBN 0-584-11070-7. 
  8. ^ Lambert, Eleanor (19 September 1970). "Ethnic Theme Monopolises Front Seat in Fashion". The News and Courier. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  9. ^ "Harveys Bristol Cream sponsors its 6th Annual Black Designers Tribute". Jet. 12 March 1984. Retrieved 28 November 2012.