by Chamidae Ford
Kulla Jatani, a local Seattle jewelry maker, was notified April 19 that she had received the Beyoncé Knowles-Carter x Lorraine Schwartz GIA Scholarship. Lorraine Schwartz, a celebrity jewelry designer, partnered with Knowles-Carter to create a scholarship that will allow Jatani and two other designers to attend the prestigious Gemological Institute of America (GIA) and complete GIA’s graduate gemologist program.
For Jatani, making jewelry hasn’t always been a professional focus but rather a relaxing hobby.
“I started making jewelry more than 10 years ago as something I did after work,” Jatani said. “It was a great stress reliever for me. It was really meditative and a great way for me to focus.”
After a few years of developing her craft, Jatani decided to turn her hobby into a career path. She attended Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts and graduated in 2017 as a certified jewelry technician. She then went on to an apprenticeship with Kelly Raston at Fisher’s Custom Design. This summer Jatani will teach her first jewelry making classes for beginners at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle.
With a focus on earrings and rings, her pieces feature intricate beadwork and understated stones that all speak to her signature style of making classic, eye-catching designs.
“My biggest thing is that I make jewelry that I would wear,” Jatani said. “When it comes to beading, I take a lot of inspiration from East African and South African beading traditions and aesthetics and also Native American beading aesthetics. And when it comes to my metalwork and stone setting, I really liked simplicity — but finding uniqueness within simplicity.”
A press release from GIA noted that the scholarship “is rooted in the understanding that education builds opportunity that can lead to generational wealth.” Jatani said that throughout her time in the industry, she has been well aware that it’s a predominantly white space with massive financial barriers.
“I always noticed, even in the classes that I was in, I was usually the only Black person or Person of Color. So even within just the learning process and taking classes, I did notice that it wasn’t as diverse as it could be,” Jatani said. She thinks that financial resources are likely a barrier for many. “I can never just take them on my own. [Classes were] always gifted to me by family members who knew I was passionate about it. So if I were on my own, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford those anyways.”
While the scholarships were initially just for two students, Knowles-Carter announced she would fund a third scholarship specifically because of Jatani’s work. “I was impressed with their passion and the knowledge of gems that so many applicants displayed,” Beyoncé told GIA. “I am praying that this is just the beginning of opening more doors to diversity and raw inspiration in the jewelry industry.”
This scholarship holds extra weight for Jatani, a long-time fan of the singer.
“I admire Beyoncé and I have for years,” Jatani said. She especially appreciates Knowles-Carter’s work ethic as a mother of three children, as she also has three children.
“I’ve always been able to say, I am a mother, this is who I am, but I’m also this individual who is an artist. And I have this part of me that is my own,” Jatani said.
This scholarship will allow Jatani to become a certified gemologist. The program will provide Jatani with comprehensive knowledge and technical skills for evaluating diamonds and colored stones. The GIA program will feature eight classes, five of which will be held online. For the three in-person lab sessions, Jatani will be flown out to New York or Southern California to attend the classes at GIA’s school.
Jatani is hopeful that this education will fast-track some of her long-term career plans. Eventually, she hopes to open a storefront in Seattle where she can repair jewelry as a goldsmith. The idea of repairing jewelry and working on cherished family heirlooms is appealing. “I want to be the type of store where you can bring [in a sentimental piece] and I would … repair that work or take it apart and make it into a brand new piece.”
Jatani also hopes that having her own storefront would give her an opportunity to sell jewelry made by other women and BIPOC jewelers, too.
“Because when it comes to very high-end jewelry, even though … the majority of people who wear jewelry are women, it is a male-dominated and white male-dominated industry when it comes to ownership and even creating,” she said.
And she looks forward to being a part of changing that pattern as her career grows, for herself and for others. “I appreciate it so much that I was able to get this scholarship through Beyoncé and Lorraine and that I’m being able to be given this opportunity,” Jatani said. In the future, Jatani says she, too, will be on the lookout to support other jewelers who “didn’t have the same opportunities as others.”
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured image: Kulla Jatani (photo courtesy of Kulla Jatani)
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