Terry Castro, a Proud Outsider in the Jewelry World, Dies at 50

  • 4 min read
  • Aug 04, 2022

Terry Castro, a Proud Outsider in the Jewelry World, Dies at 50

Terry Castro, a New York-based jewelry designer whose talent for combining the fantastic and the beautiful took him from selling on New York sidewalks to adorning celebrities such as Rihanna and Steven Tyler, died on July 18 at his home in Istanbul. He was 50 years old.

His son, Sir King Castro, said the cause was a heart attack.

Mr. Castro, who worked under the name Castro Unit, considered himself a “creator of dreams.” She scours antique shops and thrift stores for inspiration for her cheeky yet opulent pieces, which intertwine animal and human forms and invoke African influences with medieval and galactic imagery. He only handcrafts about 35 pieces a year, but has seen his work on the covers of Vogue Latin America, Forbes and Hamptons, and in the 2013 feature film Out of the Furnace.

For Mr. Castro, jewelry was not just a fashion accessory. “He lived and worked as an artist more than an independent designer,” said Nghi Nguyen, a Brooklyn-based jewelry designer and close friend. “His pieces can be classified as high art jewelry,” she says. This is a wearable and museum-quality sculpture.”

Sometimes prices were matched. According to Sir King Castro, an antique bisque doll necklace — part of his signature Dollies series, made from tiny porcelain dolls — featuring quivering wings and a removable mask, as well as diamonds and other precious gems, recently fetched more than Sold from $100,000. interview.

As a largely self-taught black designer, Mr. Castro prides himself on being an outsider in the world of fine jewelry, friends said. “The jewelry industry prides itself on generational wealth and access to materials and resources,” said friend and jeweler Jules Kim. “People not born into it have to rely on whatever factor they have. Castro lived by creating his own traditions.

Passionate and sometimes belligerent, Mr. Castro considered himself an industry rebel.

“I do what I want. You don’t like it, don’t buy it.” Recounting his sporadic attempts to “go commercial,” he concluded that the payoff wasn’t worth the creative price.

“My real bills were dumped on me,” he said. “I’ve been branded a traitor, and now I’ve returned to the dark side. Stay away from me if you don’t have the strength.”

But this uncompromising attitude instead seemed to attract people.

In 2020, De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond producers, partnered with Hollywood activist group RAD (Red Carpet Advocacy) to feature Mr. Castro and five other black designers in a campaign called #BlackisBrilliant. The campaign equipped celebrities with jewelery containing ethical Botswana diamonds to wear at parties and awards ceremonies.

“We approached Castro about participating because just by looking at some of his locks and doll pieces, we knew he had a unique talent,” Sally Morrison, De Beers Group natural diamond public relations director, wrote in an email.

Last September, Sotheby’s featured Mr. Castro’s work in an exhibition called “Shiny and Black: A Jewelry Renaissance,” featuring 21 black designers. At its opening in New York, “people literally danced and cried in the exhibit,” said Melanie Grant, a noted jewelry writer who curated the exhibit. And Mr. Castro, with his gregarious nature and charismatic presence, was a natural star of the show.

“It’s still hard for black designers to reach high-end collectors,” Ms Grant said. But I like to think we made a difference and Castro was a big part of that.

Terry Clifford Castro was born in Toledo, Ohio on January 26, 1972 to Mary Castro, who sold antiques and collectibles, and a father she never knew. In 1989, her mother married Paul Geller, a lawyer.

As a young man, Mr. Castro lived on the streets and served brief stints in prison, Sir King Castro said. In 1999, he married Belinda Castro (whose last name, coincidentally, is the same as his). In the same year, the couple had a son, who they gave the famous name of Sir King Raymondo Castro.

Mr. Castro became interested in repairing jewelry after taking a weekend course, his ex-wife, now Belinda Stroud, said in an interview. Eventually, he and his wife opened a small jewelry store, C & C Jewelers, in Toledo, where he did repairs and sold other designers’ work. Over the years, he began designing his own jewelry using scrap metal from a junkyard, his ex-wife said.

Both the marriage and the shop were short-lived. In the early 2000s, after he and his wife divorced, Mr. Castro moved to Chicago, where he decided to turn his lifelong passion for fashion into a career, his half-brother, Aaron Geller, said in an interview.

He briefly launched his own clothing line in his adopted city, where he was a prominent figure in techno clubs and fashion boutiques. “He wore these spikes on the back of his boots,” recalls Ayana Haroon, a close friend of those years. “He thought he was very flighty. We called him Lenny Kravitz.”

In 2005, Mr. Castro moved to New York, where he launched his jewelry line, Castro NYC, which he sold on the sidewalks of Soho. Her work caught the attention of stylists and fashion editors passing through the neighborhood, and it wasn’t long before she expanded her business and traveled to fashion weeks in Europe and Japan to showcase her work.

As Mr. Castro grew in the industry, he continued to challenge assumptions about race. I personally don’t think you can be black, African, and your work doesn’t reflect a part of Africa or Africanism, because we live in this world where we have to think about other things that other people don’t think. He said last year in an interview with the fashion website Magnus Oculus.

He also continued to challenge himself by moving to Istanbul in 2016, following his insatiable curiosity and nomadic nature.

In addition to his son and half-brother, Mr. Castro is also survived by his mother and stepfather.

Although his works celebrated life in all its colors and complexities, death was always a fascinating subject for Mr. Castro. Skulls, both animal and human, shared a role.

But his interest in this matter was not morbid. “With the skull itself, it’s in you, it’s part of you, it’s part of life, but it’s part of death,” he said in an interview with Magnus Oculus. With some black people, they see a skull and they say, “God, that’s voodoo and the devil,” and I say, “Well, that means you’re evil too, because you’ve got a skull inside. yourself. You walk with that thing.”