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Want Vintage Coreen Simpson Jewelry? Learn about history, marks, materials, collectible pieces, and where to buy in this buying guide.
Coreen Simpson: “The Black Angel affirms you are infinitely guided and protected. Wear it and know that life's obstacles only lead to the fulfillment of your divine destiny.”
Brief History of Coreen Simpson Jewelry
Coreen Simpson was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York. She and her brother were raised by a foster family. She took courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Parsons School of Design, both in Manhattan, and later studied with Frank Stewart, photographer, at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Coreen became editor for Unique New York magazine in 1980 and did the photography that illustrated the articles. She then became a freelance photographer for the Village Voice and covered many African-American cultural and political events in the mid-1980s, particularly her studies of Harlem nightlife. She was one of the first prominent female photojournalists, covering events in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Coreen designed jewelry, “on the side,” beginning in 1982. She couldn’t find jewelry she liked, so she made her own. Her pieces caught the attention of the public and colleagues while covering photography assignments, including fashion shows. Fashion magazine editors and designers wanted to buy her pieces, until her part-time hobby became her full-time career. The turning point in her career came when a friend requested a cameo with African-American features. There was no such thing in the American jewelry market.
Coreen researched cameos from Ancient Egypt through the Holy Roman Empire. She found that cameos were once a must-have accessory in Europe. Her Black Cameo collection revived the ancient tradition, but now with portraits of African-American women. The portraits depict women with a variety of features so that every African-American woman could identify with the pieces.
In 1992, the Smithsonian Institute honored Coreen for outstanding contribution to design. She also won the Entrepreneur Award from the National Association of Market Developers; the Madame C.J. Walker Award from Columbia University; and the National Council of Negro Women “Legend Award,” among others.
In 1994, Coreen partnered with the Avon Corporation to create exclusive designs for their African-American market, the Coreen Simpson Regal Beauty Collection. Her private clients include Nancy Wilson, Mrs. Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, and Camille Cosby.
Coreen still lives in New York City.
- COREEN SIMPSON ©
- Coreen Simpson A (for Avon)
Materials Used in Coreen Simpson Jewelry
- Gold plate
- Black enamel
Favorite Collectibles: Vintage Coreen Simpson Jewelry
20th century. From the Coreen Simpson Avon Regal Beauty collection, this gold-tone, black enamel necklace/pendant cameo is accentuated with Austrian faceted clear crystals. The chain is a cobra snake style, 24 inches long. The pendant is 2 inches x 1 3/8 inches.
1993. Cowrie shells are a form of currency in various regions of the world. According to African legend, the shells represent the goddess of protection who gathers strength and power from the ocean.
These gold-plated earrings are part of the Avon Cowrie Sea Shell Collection. Each earring measures 1 1/4 inches x 3/4 inch.
1990. Diamond-shaped Black Cameo on satin gold-tone metal. Rare because the portrait is facing left.
1990s. Black cherub angel pin in gold-plated pewter created with molded relief resins.
Length: 1 5/8 Inches; Width: 1 1/8 Inches
Tips for Buying Vintage Coreen Simpson Jewelry
- If you are unsure as to authenticity, have the piece evaluated by a reputable jeweler and one knowledgeable about cameos in general. Even better if you can find an expert in Coreen Simpson cameos.
- Do a Google search.
- In general, cameos have a matte appearance, not glossy.
- Be able to distinguish between Coreen Simpson’s Black Cameo collection and “Blackamoor” cameos. While the Blackamoor pieces are hundreds of years older and could be more valuable because of that, they are now considered racist references to slavery.
- Pay attention to the dealer’s policies on returns.
- Check customer reviews in the Comments section or on Yelp.
- Leave honest reviews for the next person.
You may find valuable information and photographs of the jewelry in The Black Cameo Book—if you can find it for sale. There is not a lot of Coreen Simpson jewelry around and what is available tends to be repetitive, but check out the selections on Etsy and eBay. You may just get lucky!