Bright Future

Words by
Lee Cassanell

27th April 2022

To succeed as a female independent jewellery designer takes determination as well as creativity. Two renowned pioneers welcome the next generation of talent.

When Vania Leles opened a Bond Street jewellery salon nearly a decade ago — the first African woman to do so — she aimed to showcase the wonderful gems of her homeland. As a trained gemmologist who had worked for major firms including De Beers and Graff she knew the business well, even though she was neither a designer nor a craftswoman. “I knew how it worked and I had made the contacts,” she says. “I could find stones, designers and jewellers of the right calibre.” Few gave her much chance of success yet she is thriving, her collections growing in quality and confidence each year.

Solange Azagury-Partridge, a judge on BBC Two’s “All That Glitters” jewellery-making show, has had an even starrier trajectory, although her career started as a hobby. “I worked with costume jewellery and then a dealer in 20th-century jewellery, which developed my eye and knowledge,” she says. “Finding makers was a challenge 30 years ago, with no internet, and I started with seven pieces in silver-gilt and uncut gems, which I sold to family and friends to fund more.” Opening her first shop took seven years but she then became creative director at Boucheron, where she designed pieces featuring myriad stones of one gem colour, and set a future-facing tone for the house which is still evident. She is known, as she says, “for fine jewellery with a less serious aesthetic, which appeals to a new generation.”

Both women are pioneers in an area once reserved for historic houses, and praise the young women now entering the independent high jewellery world. Modern communications have made this easier to access, yet it is still no walk in the park. “Things happen much more quickly now because of marketing tools, Instagram and the explosion of interest in jewellery,” says Azagury-Partridge. “But one needs staying power and a vocational outlook.”


Leles counsels the need for experience before taking the plunge as an independent designer, and for establishing a client base early on. “You may not be able to rely on family and friends for funding, so you need wide marketing,” she says.

Illustrating Leles’ advice on experience is Geneva-based Margaret Jewels. Co-founders Oriana Sabrier and Candice Ophir were well known in the business, Sabrier as a respected designer for Cartier. Their pieces have a vintage yet modern mood.They use old-cut stones in blackened metal, or rich rose gold, and they create superficially simple designs such as a tiara composed solely of five graduated diamond and opal stars, or their new Rainbow ring with seven different coloured sapphires, each client’s favourite colours towards the centre.

“We’re like an old-fashioned, multi- generational family jeweller that grows by word of mouth and depends on personal relationships,” says Ophir. The pandemic forced them into ecommerce for repeatable, personalised pieces like signet rings, lockets and name tag bracelets with diamonds. “Everything must be comfortable for daily wear,” says Sabrier, “so it fits perfectly, even if bought online. We send bracelet clients an embroidered velvet tape measure with instructions.”


Akansha Sethi comes from Wolverhampton but her industrialist great-great-grandfather was known as the cotton king of India and she grew up fascinated by photographs of his family, bothsexesdrapedinjewellery.“Iwantedto give this beautiful craft a modern slant, inspired by family history, my parents’ art collecting and Indian architecture,” she says. Her bespoke pieces are handmade using traditional methods in the Indian jewellery centre of Jaipur, with hand-carved gems set in gold and enamel. She also makes smaller production pieces in a choice of lower-carat gold or vermeil.

Amokeye Adede was born in Lagos and educated at a British boarding school. Her family, she says, “knew and enjoyed luxury.” She loved jewellery but wanted a modern style and she studied chemistry to better understand gemstones. She sees jewellery as an alchemy between art and science, and her designs blend African inspiration with European craft — pieces are made by an Italian family jeweller. “I designed my first

pieces for myself and friends wanted them, but it wasn’t to make money. I didn’t start my brand Aurelia & Pierre – from Latin for golden and French for stone – until lockdown gave me the time.” Adede uses unusualstones,including fluorite,kunzite and prasiolite, and symbolism such as blue topaz and diamonds representing summer and winter on a toi et moi ring. She also has a simpler production range.

Beirut-born Nada Ghazal built a career in advertising in Dubai, but her home city drew her back through its tradition of jewel craft which had fascinated her since childhood. She started her business in 2003 and still makes everything in Beirut despite the difficulties of frequent power cuts and fuel shortages. “Brilliant craftsmen depend on me,” she says. “The city is my muse, especially the lanes of its old quarter with brightly coloured flowers and windows with geometric stonework.” Her latest collection reflects this with organic shapes in gold punctuated with flower-shaded gems or geometric enamelled motifs.


 Liv Luttrell

Ghanaian designer Emefa Cole takes her cue from geology, with abstract veins of molten gold or gem-set geodes that link art and science. Her Vulcan ring, a gold leaf-lined crater set in blackened silver, is in the V&A. “My approach is that of an artist,” she says. “I want to create something from a deeper place that impacts on people’s

emotions, as art would. That means my work doesn’t speak to everyone, but when clients connect with a piece it’s amazing.”

Where Cole’s clients fall in love with her uncompromising vision, Hattie Rickards’ approach is more cooperative. She is known for her original settings, top-quality stones and high craft, and each piece is specific to a client. After graduating from Central Saint Martins she worked for Azagury-Partridge, saving enough to start a “lean” business. “I adore people, and designs come out of long conversations,” she says. “I find clients love being informed about the making process.”

Belgian designer Tatiana Verstraeten began her career in Chanel’s design studio, working on costume jewellery and hats. She took a master’s degree in finance and set about leaping the “challenging financial barriers

in high jewellery”, working with top Paris ateliers and learning enamelling so as to control colours exactly. She produces exquisitely crafted, diamond-scattered pieces. Success, she says is “not just about talent but about being both clever in business and a unique artist.”

This is a challenge to which each of these women is certainly equal.