The continent of Africa has long been a powerful resource for precious stones and raw materials that are worth millions in numerous industries. While images in pop culture may reduce it to images of war and conflict, the reality is a little different. Africa isn’t only the source of these precious gemstones but the birthplace of a new wave of jewelers and jewelry houses to emerge to redefine the meaning of African luxury.
Take designers like Vania Leles who opened her own jewelry brand, Vanleles, back in 2011. The Guinea-Bissau native previously worked for companies like Graff and Sotheby’s where she was driven by her desire to represent the origins of these precious stones.
“I wanted more freedom and power to make decisions on how and where to buy and source, and to dictate the narrative,” said Leles to CNN Style. “Basically, I wanted to honor the countries and communities where these gemstones come from with pride. Only then would we see the much-needed changes in the practices on (the) ground.”
Leles went on to tell CNN that the new venture inspired her to build an entity that would be able to rival the high profiled European brands. “Even though world-renowned houses have always sourced the majority of their gemstones from Africa, there isn’t a single African person or dealer leading in a jewelry house,” she explained. We have all these natural resources, so why aren’t we dealing and producing—especially when Africans are consuming?”
You also have people like Sierra Leone-born British designer, Satta Matturi, who leads her own namesake fine jewelry company challenging the idea of what African design is and how many Western stereotypes have reduced them to primitive and unevolved.
“Each region has its own style. Ghana, with its gold heritage; Kenya’s striking Masai neckpieces; South Africa’s Ndebele beading; Malian Tuareg adornment, Nigerian coral beads and ancient Egyptian influences,” said Matturi to CNN Style. The designer has been able to court high profile clients like Rihanna while reimagining traditional craft designs and transform them into exquisite designs that embody modern luxury. Her previous experience with luxury brand De Beers, was central to shaping her approach to her own company.
“My vision from the very beginning has always been to create designs that are wearable art forms and that celebrate a message of Africa,” she said. “For example, our collection “Artful Indulgence” focuses on creating bejeweled African masks and masquerades using 18-karat gold, diamonds and other precious stones, including rubellite and black onyx.”