Africa: A Continent of Fine Jewelry Talent on the Rise

Africa: A Continent of Fine Jewelry Talent on the Rise

An article I came across a few weeks ago on CNN about the luxurious jewelry coming from Africa stuck with me, inspiring me to learn more. Recently, Africa has shown that it’s going far beyond sourcing raw materials, delving into high jewelry and paving the way for the up-and-coming design houses to spread their wings across the world. What you’ll begin to find (and lust after) are pieces of meticulous craftsmanship with a new level of grace—quite frankly— that we haven’t really seen before. Each and every designer who is responsible for shaping this fresh, exciting category holds onto their native heritage, speaks to it, but transcends the expected and goes against the sometimes-stereotypical African art aesthetic. The courage and perseverance it takes to reimagine some of the tradition and embrace a movement like this is admirable. 

As many step up and take their place in this world, I hope that Gemological Science International (GSI) can be a part of its growth and message. With that said, I began to research some of the big names leading the charge. Here, you’ll become acquainted with their backgrounds and what their pieces stand for. All I can say is the change of pace is sublime, and just what the jewelry world needs. So let’s get started!

Vania Leles

Featured in the same CNN article from above, gemologist-turned-designer Vania Leles set off on her own about 10 years ago after honing her jewelry skills at establishments like Sotheby’s and GRAFF. Since then, she has worked to create pieces that showcase the gemstones of Africa, which are often wrongly degraded in regard to their value and beauty.

“People talk about Colombian emeralds, but never Zambian, which are just as beautiful. People talk about Burmese rubies, but not Mozambican rubies, which have existed for more than 400 million years whilst Burmese for only 100 million years,” she says. Her line, VANLELES, now has a flagship home in London where atelier displays come life with emeralds, rubies, sapphires and more, evoking this elegant vivacity that lets us really see into her world. 

Yokabid Worku 

Emerging as a young designer back in 2008, Ethiopian-born Yokabid Worku realized her direction early in the game, thanks to the sweeping African Savannah’s she grew up exploring.

In fact, her bio online states: “The source of the Blue Nile to lush mountains and the Great Rift Valley, which altogether permanently inspired her.” Therefore, by blending her fondest memories of nature with elements of architecture, she makes statement pieces that can’t really be interpreted literally but still have this irresistible, familiar opulence to them.

One of my favorite Yoki collections is based on Medieval gardens; it brings demure floral colors and iron-inspired materials together for this unlikely, vintage-inspired flair. 

Chelsy Davy

If her name looks familiar to you, you haven’t imagined it. She’s the ex-girlfriend of Prince Harry, but now is on a mission as a born-and-bred Zimbabwean/jewelry designer to make her mark in the category with her line, AYA.

By using ethically sourced gemstones from across Africa, Davy elevates subdued silhouettes with lots of native color to define her collection.

With everything from Zambian emeralds to Mozambiquan rubies, she is deeply focused on responsible mining and conveying the “essence” of her home continent.


About The Author


Debbie Azar is the Co-Founder and President of Gemological Science International (GSI), one of the largest gemological organizations in the world, and a distinguished leader in the global diamond and jewelry industry. As an executive with extensive knowledge of the jewelry and gem lab industries, her entrepreneurial skills and vision have helped GSI achieve rapid and continuous growth worldwide, establishing 13 leading-edge gemological facilities on four continents. She currently serves on the boards of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Responsible Jewellery Council, and Jewelers for Children, and is a member of the 24 Karat Club of New York. She has been featured in Forbes, Daily Mail, Good Morning America, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fox Business, Fox5, CBS2, BOLDTV, Varney&Co, The Street, and NASDAQ, among others.

Debbie Azar

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