As much as Leles’s clients gravitate to the splendour of her work, her choice of materials is also enticing. Knowing, for instance, that her Out of Africa series is made exclusively with rubies sourced from artisanal miners in Mozambique, she says, makes each one-of-a-kind piece more meaningful. Leles is grateful for the education in fine jewellery and the exposure that being in Europe has given her to build her business, and is hopeful that future generations will be able to do the same in Africa itself. “The skills and riches need to be put back into the continent, and slowly there will be more African brands that are actually based there.”
For Thelma West, imbuing her aesthetic with a combination of her Nigerian upbringing and her adult life in London comes naturally. “I’ve married my Nigerian half and my British half in my work,” says the jeweller, who operates a by-appointment salon in Soho. West’s signature SugarCane motif was inspired by memories of childhood treats at family parties in Lagos, and her Sade’s Embrace collection features handmade pieces using flexible gold wire that reference the popular woven-gold pieces Nigerian women wear. “You need confidence to be that authentic, to dig deep and say, ‘This is who I am,’” says West. Having grown up in Lagos, she says that big, chunky jewellery was a key part of women’s wardrobes, the perfect match for their heavily patterned ankara fabrics. She, however, was drawn to the sparkle of diamonds and a scaled-down aesthetic, and, after studying engineering in London, went on to study diamonds at HRD Antwerp and work in the trade before establishing her brand.