Profile: Donna Chambers (1950-)

Donna Chambers is an American jewelry designer based in White Plains, New York and known for designs featuring pearls and antique mother of pearl gambling chips. Chambers’ fine jewelry has been carried by major department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Na Hoku and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Life

For several summers and after school, textile designer Vera Neumann hired a teenage Chambers to separate colors for silk screen scarves. In 1968, Chambers received the first Vera Industries George Neumann Scholarship award and attended Pratt Industries to study fashion design. Chambers also worked as an assistant to fashion designer Oleg Cassini.

Career

Chambers married jeweler Irving Williams in 1976 and took over his Brooklyn jewelry repair business upon his death in 1978. Donna Chambers Designs was established in 1981 to create and manufacture 14-karat gold and cultured pearl fine jewelry. Later a line of porcelain cameos featuring African American women were added as well as a line of antique mother-of-pearl Chinese gambling chips further enhanced with pearls. The poker chips, which form the centerpieces of bracelets, earrings and pendants, date from the Ching Dynasty and typically bear family crests or initials on one side and a drawing engraved with some aspect of Chinese life on the other. Chambers came across the poker chips by accident. “I’m known as the pearl lady….My work has always been of pearl, whether freshwater or cultured. I use a lot of mother of pearl, abalone, and mabes. I was in Tucson [about 1988]… and I did a double take,” Chambers said, “I saw these mother-of-pearl, beautiful carved pieces…I picked up a few and made two or three pins with them.” The positive reaction to the gambling chip jewelry was so strong that they have become her signature jewelry line.

In 1990, Chambers opened That Old Black Magic Book and Gift Gallery, a Westchester, New York gift shop featuring African American gift items, art, greeting cards and books. The works of over 50 artists and designers were featured in the store

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