The motherland continent of Africa has always been rich in incredible resources. However, for one reason or the other, these resources often seem to shine and sparkle when brought to foreign countries. Those refining the resources are often not natives to the motherland and thus the Africanness of their refinement is usually lost as they take on European, American, or Asian outlook.
Let take the jewelry industry for instance. The world’s leading jewelry houses are based in Europe and America. Yet a huge portion of their precious stones and raw materials supplies come from Africa.
The only part we hear mention of the African continent is on the grime side of the supply chain; war and conflicts that erupt in the tribal lands where the precious stones are mined. However, when it comes to the top-dollar luxury end of the supply chain, the beneficiaries are on the other side of the ocean.
There is a growing community of African jewelers and jewelry houses who are pushing African design mainstream. Think of them as the ‘FUBU’ (For Us By Us) of the jewelry industry.
We know Africa is a leading source of precious stones and raw materials. However, the industry players who have been refining these precious materials into luxurious goods are mostly not Africa. So they can’t very well capture African fashion and design with deserved authenticity.
There is where jewelers like Vania Leles comes in with her jewelry brand, Vanleles. The Guinea-Bissau native founded her brand in 2011, and previous to this venture. She worked for various companies including Graff and Sotheby’s, from which her desire to design her own luxury brand of authentic African design started sprouting.
So essentially, she is one of the few African founders of jewelry houses that predominantly produce African-centric design. You can very well say, she is flying the African flag in the international scene of the luxury jewelry market. A timely, move as the market keep seeing more and more affluent Africans taking up consumption of luxury jewels.
During an interview with CNN Styles, Leles said:
“I wanted more freedom and power to make decisions on how and where to buy and source and to dictate the narrative. 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.
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. We have all these natural resources, so why aren’t we dealing and producing – especially when Africans are consuming?”
It is clear to see that Leles, through her jewelry house Vanleles, is taking the competition right to the doorsteps of European brands.
Another African luxury jewelry dealer also set on flying the African flag in the international jewelry market is Satta Matturi. She leads a jewelry house named after herself, Satta Matturi. The jewelry house vision is to break the stereotypes held by many Westerners thinking African design to be incomparable to the European design. During an interview with CNN Styles, Matturi said:
“Each [African] region has its own style. Ghana, with its gold heritage; Kenya’s striking Maasai neckpieces; South Africa’s Ndebele beading; Malian Tuareg adornment, Nigerian coral beads, and ancient Egyptian influences.”
Satta Matturi designs works have even picked high profile clients including singer Rihanna.
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No doubt, the jewelry house has some of the exquisite jewelry designs embodying modern luxury on the scene. Matturi’s previous experience working with another luxury brand – De Beers – was key in shaping her ambition to present her own designs.
“My vision from the very beginning has always been to create designs that are wearable art forms and that celebrate a message of Africa. 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.
Images Credit: Vanleles.com