Blakely Thornton founded C1v1l Jewelry — a sustainable, direct-to-consumer brand that reinvests 20% in underrepresented founders and uses eco-friendly diamonds — to act as a “Trojan horse,” creating trickle-down diversity in the jewellery space. “It feels like charity but it’s really just impact capitalism.” This might sound like a tall order for jewellery, but Thornton’s goal is to empower diverse CEOs and communities with access to financial capital.
Thornton said he has worked in brand marketing and strategy since 2011, and over the years noticed how black, gay, and femme culture was ignored. He said, “Now you see a lot of the surface-level [inclusivity] in front of the camera, but the person actually making the money is the white business dude from Cornell.” And so Thornton told his business partner that he wanted to do something for the culture. “The word “civil” (spelled C1v1l) was not taken somehow,” he said.
“I used to run a marketing focus group for Tiffany & Co. men’s so I already had all the designs in my head,” he said. He met the face of C1v1l, Rihanna’s muse and model Slick Woods, through his clients Coco and Breezy, twin eyewear designers. “I worked with them on a campaign because I’m always like, I want Black influencers, I want women influencers.” He befriended Coco’s boyfriend in the process, who introduced Thornton to Woods.
“We were looking for a face and we were like, who embodies authenticity?” Thornton said. “Slick is the celebrity’s celebrity.” So, Woods came in with her son Saphir and Thornton says they “got along like a house on fire.”
“Now we’re one big jewellery hawking family, hoping to be Black, queer Tiffany,” Thornton said.
“Seeing someone that looks like you is important, seeing that representation makes you believe things are possible,” Woods said via email. But for her and Thornton, “Seeing that financial representation is even more important.”
C1v1l launched with a “mini drop” of less than 500 pieces in September, which quickly sold out. Now Thornton is working to find manufacturing partners who can scale up with the company. There are full drops every quarter, with elements like customisation or new materials added every month.
The first collection includes a signature piece named after Woods’ son, the Saphir. There is the Saphir 375, a thick mesh link necklace; Saphir 125, a thin mesh link necklace (each can be worn as chokers or long), and a mesh bracelet. “We’re like, how can we make her child the luxury item of the future?” Thornton said. “It’s like oh, do you have your Birkin bag? Do you have your Saphir 735 in rose gold?”
Drop Two includes a pair of shoe laces. Thornton said Woods inspired the laces during a dinner after the company dropped its first collection. “She was like, you know what would be fire? Laces,” Thornton remembered. “We were like, what the hell? Our chain is actually pretty thin, so it will lace up. People spend $350 (£266) on Yeezys, the silver is $180 (£137), the rose gold and gold are $200(£152). It’s a nice attainable luxurious thing.”
C1v1l also makes bespoke pieces, including the only carbon-negative lab-grown diamonds on the market. “20% of the stuff on the market is lab-grown anyway,” Thornton said. “That’s what they don’t want you to know because chemically, a diamond is a diamond.” Those pieces retail for $2,500 (£1906) to $3000 (£2287), while standard issue pieces retail for $195 (£148) to $985 (£751).
“We want people who resonate with the message to be able to participate,” Thornton said. And we agree, considering that he’s paying it forward in a real way — after all it’s your civic, better yet, civil duty to shop.