All fashion is personal, but our attachment to jewels is sentimental-just ask Kerry Washington. The actor, producer, and entrepreneur is an avid collector whose creative process is inextricably linked to baubles. “Part of how I create a character is by thinking about their jewelry,” shared Washington on the phone from Los Angeles. “Our relationship to jewelry is so intimate; we sleep in it, it’s how we commemorate big moments. When people ask me what my favorite piece of jewelry is I have to say my engagement ring and wedding band, because those changed my life. In many ways jewelry serves as this extension of who we are.”

Washington’s interest in the category goes beyond the personal. Since 2020 she’s channeled her expertise into collections for the sustainable luxury brand Aurate. The latest, called ‘Be the Lead,’ draws inspiration from Jazz Age cinema and the leading ladies whose zest for life gave the 1920s its roaring reputation. “Maybe it’s the history nerd in me, but I’d been thinking a lot about the last time the world found itself faced with dark and challenging times due to a virus and its aftermath,” says Washington. “In the ’20s, people began to celebrate again; they wanted to bring back some of the glamour they’d lost.”

In her designs, Washington captures the era’s exuberance via diamond rings with geometric details and flapper-worthy chains adorned with golden fans. “We wanted that Art Deco vibe,” explains Washington. “As we were going through the shapes that we could pull from, we kept coming back to that. There’s something architectural about the style that gives its elegance an edge.” That concept comes through in pieces like the dramatic white Topaz accented ‘Lead’ ear cuff and the matching oversized hoops, which have an appealing mix of past and present.

Still, the collection isn’t a mere throwback. Created using 100% recycled gold vermeil and ethically sourced diamonds, it addresses fashion’s current concerns. “We adhere very strictly to the Kimberley Process, which is so important when sourcing diamonds and gemstones,” says Washington, referring to the global commitment to remove conflict diamonds from the supply chain, which began in 2000. “When most people think of recycling, its aluminum cans, not jewelry, but recycled gold is an incredible resource. You can reuse gold repeatedly without diminishing the quality or creating environmental decay. Even the pearls are cultivated carefully and come from family farms with respect for the Marine environment.”

Aurate’s principals were part of the draw for Washington, who first met founders Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui while searching for companies to invest in or advise. An active startup investor, Washington found Aurate's goal of democratizing fine jewelry a worthy cause. “Often, the businesses I take on focus on equity,” she says. “As a kid from the Bronx who now works in Hollywood, I believe everyone deserves to have beautiful things at a price that’s within reach. I believed in the ethos of the company, which is women-driven, sustainable, and working to empower women in leadership roles.”

Dynamic women also played a role in the collection’s artistic perspective. A lifelong fan of entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker, Washington kept her in mind during the design process. “She embodies the spirit of this collection,” says Washington. “She was unstoppable, one of the first multi-hyphenates. She had her own makeup line, a haircare company. She sang, danced, produced, and was a phenom professionally, but she was also a spy for the resistance in Europe during World War II and a complete badass!”

Baker’s journey from St. Louis vaudevillian to headliner at the Folies Bergère and one of the most celebrated performers of all time is inspiring, but in Washington’s view, such tenacity lies within us all. With her creations hitting Aurate’s e-commerce today, she hopes women from all walks of life are inspired to put themselves first. “A lot of our customers are women who are buying jewelry for themselves, and I love that they’re finding pieces that allow them to walk through the world boldly,” she says. “I play the lead in [fictional] stories all the time but becoming the lead within your life is different. You have to be willing to become the center of your story. No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone deserves that opportunity, and that’s what this collection is about.”