African gemstones and the female-owned ethical jewellery brand bringing them to the West

THE African mining industry has grown in reputation over recent decades, receiving its share of negative press as media attention and the film industry has shone a light on the darker side of gem mining and trade.

With civil unrest and human rights exploitation often at the forefront of media coverage, the natural resource of stunning gemstones offered by Africa has arguably fell behind in the mining conversation.

Boasting a rich and plentiful source of gemstones, African mining locations such as Zambia and Mozambique attract gem dealers and jewellery designers from across the globe, vying for the natural beauty excavated from the continent’s rich earth. Africa is revered for its wealth of exquisite gemstones, including rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires. So often, global dealers and designers deliver the gemstones sourced from Africa to Western customers, where prices can soar and any connection to the gems’ source as well as the communities whose livelihoods are dependent on them, are lost.

This disassociation between African gemstones and the workers and mines producing them is one of the major factors driving Guinea-Bissau-born Vania Leles and her brand, VANLELES. Leles is the world’s first female owner of an African fine jewellery brand, establishing her business in 2011 after an esteemed career working with industry heavyweights such as Graff and Sotheby’s. Inspired by her birthplace of Guinea-Bissau, Vania seeks to share the stories and rich culture of Africa through her collections, striving to establish a stronger association between luxury gemstones and the oft-overlooked content.

Based on London’s prestigious Brook Street, the VANLELES atelier sits in esteemed company, just a stone throw from iconic jewellers Cartier and Harry Winston. The brand’s presence in London’s fine jewellery district is a statement, Leles insists, that African jewels and the stories they tell belong in the premier jewellery sphere. The Afropolitan implores young Africans to follow her lead in building the reputation of Africa’s creativity and gemstone authority.

VANLELES celebrates the beauty and landscapes of Africa, using Zambian-sourced emeralds, Mozambique-sourced rubies, rubellites and diamonds, Paraiba tourmaline and sapphires in collections such as Legends of Africa, Out of Africa and Enchanted Garden. Leles’ heritage is explored further in designs inspired by African prints and traditional desert dwellings.

Crucial to the VANLELES brand and ethos is the responsible sourcing methods employed. Leles’ unwavering commitment to the ethical sourcing of gemstones and precious metals, and an unparalleled belief in responsible mining, is leading the way for a new era of mindful and engaged luxury. Dedicated to providing a fair wage and working environment, VANLELES source gems from Africa and mines that adhere to environmental and human rights, as well as pay local taxes and treat miners decently with fair wages.

This dedication to ending exploitation in her homeland also inspires Vania Leles’ philanthropic endeavours. This has seen her assist countless charitable campaigns to support communities and young women through education and health programmes, creating collections to fund essential aid and empowerment efforts in Africa.

Ultimately, Vania Leles is seeking to showcase the talents and resources from a culture and landscape that has been long-overlooked. Her work highlights the beauty and creativity of a strong and multi-faceted heritage.

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