Designer Spotlight: LEO BLACK

We’ve been lucky enough to know Leo for many, many moons! Leo worked with us in our tiny, shiny Bedford Avenue shop while she studied jewelry design at Pratt. We started carrying her signature Makao Snake Hair Pin and Heirloom Signet Rings when she first launched her own line, and we are so proud and excited to carry more and more LEO BLACK treasures as time floats on. Now based in LA, we were very happy to catch up with Leo to talk about her new collection of otherworldly rings - the colors! The stone settings! We love them, and we know you will too. Read on to learn more about Leo!

We’ve known each other and worked together in different ways for years and years ❤️ Tell us about how we came to work together, your time with us here, and how you landed in LA.

In retrospect one of the most serendipitous moments in my life was an introduction that connected me to Catbird, Rony, and Leigh. I had just moved to New York in 2010 and was studying jewelry at Pratt. I loved Catbird and my then boyfriend (now husband) had a friend who made the introduction (Thanks Leah!). Rony and Leigh have been friends, mentors, and angels in my life ever since. I think of Catbird as a part of my family. The friendships I’ve made in the Catbird world are lifelong and of the truest kind. In 2017, I said a tearful goodbye and we packed up our Williamsburg apartment and moved to LA. The same way I knew that Catbird was meant to be in my life, I knew that it was time for us to venture west to palm trees and sunshine. I just listened to the words of The Pet Shop Boys “Go west!”

What is your first jewelry memory?

My first piece of jewelry was a necklace I made with my Mother. I was 5 or 6 at the time, and we were bleaching animal bones we’d found in the woods. I grew up in the Catskills, so taking walks in the forest and collecting deer bones was a fun activity for my brother and I who loved to collect them. My Mom and I bleached a vertebrae (I think it was a fox), and when it was a crisp white, we stung it on a shoelace and I wore it as a necklace!

How do you wear your jewelry and what is your jewelry uniform?

My everyday pieces are 3 signet rings, one monogrammed Classic Heirloom Signet with my Nana’s initials, one juicy round signet I made while I was pregnant with my daughter’s name, Venus. The inside is engraved “Our Water Girl”. She’s a cancer zodiac and true water babe in every way. The 3rd is a Small Heirloom Signet with a single triangle white diamond on the face; a friendship ring I made for two of my best friends. My wedding band, a bubbly 5mm 18k round ring. I made both my Husband’s and mine to match and we each carved messages into the wax before casting.

My Engagement Ring, a custom Polly Wales with a family diamond. The diamond traveled from Russia to New York in the late 1800s stitched in the seam of my husband's great great great grandfather’s coat pocket. Around my neck I wear my Companion Snake Head Necklace, with a blue sapphire I acquired while having my palm read in India on our honeymoon. A teeny tiny pure 24k nugget of gold on a charm. A chubby pearl pendant. A single orange glass prayer bead, also from India, that I made into matching charms for my husband and myself the day we heard Venus’ heartbeat. Also, a Bittersweets’ Serpent D’eau Ring, a Sweet Nothing forever bracelet, and last but certainly not least: a yellow gold Tomboy on my thumb that I haven’t taken off in 6 years, and will be there forever. Supernova Hoops, and a single J.Lingnua Eternity Emerald Snake earring.

Does baby Venus impact you as a maker, and thinker?

YES. When she was in the womb, I could feel her happiness radiate every time I was in the studio. I felt it said something about how working makes me happy and she could sense that. Now that she’s arrived, I’m super aware of how important it is for me to make the most of each moment. Since time working now equals time away from her, it’s created a big shift in how efficient I am with my making.

What is the most meaningful piece of jewelry you own - where did it come from, and what does it mean to you?

One that needs mentioning other than the previously noted engagement ring diamond that traveled through an incredible amount of time and space to land its way on my hand, are my childhood charm bracelets! They are basically unwearable because they must weigh a pound each. Once one filled up, my Dad would start the next one! With three in total, there is a charm to mark occasions, mundane moments, big feelings, and everything in-between. Some favorites- my Nana’s tooth complete with gold filling, the fishhook I stepped on after my brother’s 11th birthday party (the hooks were sanded and smoothed by the jeweler after it was removed from my foot in the ER), the tiny real dollar bill folded up in a 7mm box (purchased from the gift-shop at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing), a birthday cake that opens with a nearly microscopic enameled candle inside, a the nude fairy goddess charm I found on the sidewalk of Provincetown in 1997.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Everywhere! When I lived in NYC the Egyptian section of The Met was my favorite place, our summer vacations in Europe, walking around Paris and feeling the texture of the lutetian limestone buildings, Brancusi, Noguchi, everything 90s (especially the Spice Girls). 

One of my professors at Pratt, Mary Beth, taught us to look for inspiration in  everyday objects you encounter. When I’m walking on tiled floors or sidewalks with unique markings or grooves, I often imagine those shapes as gemstones and it opens up an inner world of inspiration for me.

Has your style evolved over time?

Maybe this happens with everyone after they’ve been doing a practice for an amount of time, but my style has gotten much more refined over the past decade. My approach earlier in my career was more maximal and while I still wouldn’t describe myself at all as a minimalist, I find that when I’m more concise with my designs they speak more clearly. That goes for my personal aesthetic and my work. Fifteen years ago I had a bedroom with multicolored walls, now I fill my space with large plants, jewelry and sculpture books, and candlelight.

What is your favorite design to make?

Oooo! Treasure Chest and Mineral Hoops! Buuuuuut, with the recent addition of Cosmic Dance and The Sun, I’m excited to work with those shapes and prongs!

Our newest arrivals from you  are so special, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration and process behind these designs?

The passion and yearning to create Light Years actually began before our last collection, Golden Hour even finished. I wanted to create more rainbows in the form of solitaires. I’d been longing to create silhouettes of this nature and Golden Hour did such a beautiful job of defining our color pallet. Light Years is where we got to expand that pallet in unexpected and asymmetrical ways! Mixed with my love for astrology and light, I found that I was called to outer space. After wayyyy too many NASA documentaries and hours of sketching alongside of them, LIGHT YEARS was ready to take form in the physical dimension.

Describe your work in three words.

Sacred, magical, playful!

Favorite IG profiles to follow

@uglydesign, @object_la_ny, @80smodern, @tortus, @heidiroserobbins

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