#CNILux: The Jeweller Placing Africa First

When Vania Leles walks throughout her second-floor New Bond Avenue studio in London, previous her “Enchanted Backyard” assortment of jewels with vibrant stones, she will be able to look out of the window on the enterprise that was the beginning of her profession: Graff Diamonds, the place she spent three years working with its founder, uber-jeweller Laurence Graff.

“It was my first job ever – I despatched Mr Graff my CV 15 occasions earlier than I obtained an interview; then I had a second interview, a 3rd, after which I obtained the job,” the designer says. “I used to be very fortunate to be in a household firm like Graff Diamonds. You study loads and also you see the dynamic and the motion. The data is de facto handed on to you. My official title was ‘Home Gemologist’. I might kind by the diamonds and the gems.”

Vania Leles inspecting Zambian emeralds for her “Legends of African” excessive jewelry assortment, in collaboration with Gemfields


Now Vania Leles has moved even farther from her childhood in West Africa’s Guinea-Bissau. After her education in Lisbon, Portugal and dealing as a mannequin, she studied on the Gemological Institute of America (the GIA) in New York, the place she realized learn how to decide the color and high quality of stones.

The fruits of those years are actually in entrance of me as I have a look at daring and vivid earrings, some in three-dimensional flower shapes, made wearable by setting the ethically-sourced Mozambique ruby flowers with 70 per cent titanium and 30 per cent gold. There are additionally items designed as a refined homage to Africa, in summary map shapes divided by a slash representing the River Nile.

“Once I first ventured into the world of jewelry, I used to be a mannequin dwelling in New York, however I wasn’t very pleased simply doing that and needed to alter careers,” Vania explains. “I might come throughout stunning jewels, like Boucheron’s and Tiffany’s, and was overwhelmed by them, so I began enquiring in regards to the jewelry trade, studying extra about it and researching it.”

Vania describes the method of studying slowly about magnificence and high quality. “If you’re born in a small nation like Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and develop up in Lisbon, you’re not uncovered to this luxurious,” she says. “I bear in mind transferring to London once I was 23 and that was the primary time I had a Gucci bag and noticed some buddies carrying Prada. In Lisbon, we wore Benetton and Zara – at that age that’s what luxurious is to you.”

A multi-colour, multi-gem pair of earrings with matching ring from Vania Leles’ “Out of Africa” assortment


Now Lisbon’s retail trade has change into extra refined – and so has Vania. In London she holds small, non-public occasions for present and potential shoppers, particularly round couture exhibits, when rich worldwide ladies are on the transfer. And, regardless of having a son in 2014, she travels always from the Center East to the USA.

Earlier than she began her personal enterprise in 2011, she adopted her time at Graff with De Beers, then co-owned by LVMH, after which Sotheby’s in Geneva the place she labored as a consumer relationship supervisor.

As Vania started to ponder beginning her personal enterprise, she realised there have been two points she needed to deal with: the dearth of African jewelry homes and the necessity for moral sourcing of stones. The primary realisation was that each one the well-known, world-renowned homes had at all times sourced the vast majority of their gems from Africa. “But there wasn’t a single African individual or seller in entrance of a jewelry home,” Vania remembers. “I assumed, ‘Wow! We have now all these pure sources, 54 nations, a whole bunch of distinctive cultures – why aren’t we dealing and producing?”

The opposite difficulty is the darkish facet of the African gem trade – the therapy of employees in areas managed by insurgent forces, who use the stones to buy arms in a lethal cycle described as “blood diamonds”.

Vania counteracted by working solely with moral suppliers, particularly the Gemfields mining firm. “We have now an ethical accountability as human beings, particularly in Europe, to advocate for and alter the behaviour of people that mine: protected work, truthful pay,” Vania says. “I imagine that stunning jewelry shouldn’t begin on the store ground however the place it begins, within the mines. That’s what I’m enthusiastic about.”

“I personally supply moral gems,” Vania explains. “I ask questions that make me comfy and pleased to purchase. The essence is that the stone could be very vibrant, daring and completely different. Nevertheless it doesn’t should look African or ethnic – it has to enchantment to the worldwide trendy lady, from Bahrain to New York to California to London to Paris. But the affect is at all times the form or one thing I’ve seen from an African print or panorama. Once I did a one-of-a- form assortment with Gemfields, I had an attractive temper board: the jungle, the forest, and the river that runs by it. Nevertheless it nonetheless seems very up to date.”

Fan earrings and an identical ring constituted of responsibly sourced Mozambique rubies, from Vania Leles “Out of Africa” excessive jewelry assortment


Once I inform Vania that after subsequent week’s Condé Nast Worldwide Luxurious Convention in Lisbon we are going to host a seminar in South Africa in 2019, I ask her whether or not she intentionally chooses between an African stone and one sourced from elsewhere.

“These stunning, deep inexperienced emeralds that you simply see listed below are all Zambian stones – and they’re simply as stunning as Colombian emeralds,” Vania says, proving that, for all her rising worldwide standing, she desires to place Africa first.

Vania Leles shall be in dialog with Suzy Menkes on the annual Condé Nast Worldwide Luxurious Convention in Lisbon, Portufal from 18-19 April 2018. To e-book your home, go to www.cniluxury.com/2018

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