Our crown jewels

Jennifer Fair writes about coming together to create awareness of South African jewellery design at the Jewellery Indaba.

First Published in

Facilitating the Inaugural Jewellery Indaba was a great privilege. I met very inspiring people both amongst speakers and delegates and got to chair pertinent discussions about this very important industry in South Africa.

The Jewellery Indaba provided a platform to explore the question why our country is the largest exporter of raw materials - gold, diamonds and platinum, but not of great jewellery design or designer brands.

The morning kicked off with an impressive panel representing Government and the Mining Industry: Minister of Minerals and Energy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (a co-sponsor of the Jewellery Indaba); Kelvin Williams, Executive Director of Marketing for AngloGold and Mzi Khumalo, Chairman of Metallon (also a co-sponsor of the Jewellery Indaba).

They provided some interesting insights into programmes that have been initiated to promote jewellery design in South Africa, including the Gold Loan Scheme, the rebranding and development of a diamond exchange in South Africa, reducing the legal requirements for handling gold and developing secure premises and precincts within the cities for jewellery designers. It was also interesting to hear which of these programmes had come up against obstacles such as pricing pressure on mass-produced machine-made jewellery and how to commercialise designs that come out of competitions or design initiatives with international designers.

An overriding message was that there needs to be a careful balance between innovative African-inspired design and that which is modern, chic and fashionable.

We also heard from two of South Africa's top contemporary Jewellers, Geraldine Fenn and Beverley Price. These designers are expanding the concept of jewellery and challenging us to look at it in non-traditional ways. Jewellery doesn't always have to be precious and made of jewels. Its preciousness can be that it speaks to the wearer, or in the creativity and craftsmanship of the designer. It becomes as much an item of adornment as a piece of art - or Art Jewellery. A challenge in South Africa is to find a way to exhibit and promote this work, an important part of inspiring new and innovative design in the more fashion/commercial side of the market.

It would have been interesting to hear the perspective of one of South Africa's many Fine Jewellers as well, who unfortunately did not attend the conference. Perhaps next year this sector of the market will see the value of joining this important debate.

Finally our inspiring International Jewellers showed us how they have managed to design innovative work for global markets and make a living from doing it! From Milan came GianCarlo Montebello who has used his background in furniture design to inspire jewellery made in innovative materials, taking into consideration their compatibility with the human form. He feels that one of the strengths of the Italian design industry is in the social fabric and culture that allows different artisans and crafters to work together. A lesson that South Africans should take note of.

Finally the French jewellery designer Lorenz Baumer wowed the audience with his exquisite individualised jewels made for discerning clients from his ultra-chic salon on Pace Vendome in Paris. He provided great insight into the business of jewellery design encouraging jewellers to look at ways to work for different designer brands as well as developing their own brand. He also believes that South African designers should promote the fact that their work is inspired by a country that is becoming very trendy internationally.

The Inaugural Jewellery Indaba was a creative, affirming and thought provoking day that provided much insight into the jewellery industry in South Africa. People began to articulate and consider the challenges they face in creating a globally recognised South African jewellery brand. There was an overriding positivism about the creativity of our designers and a willingness to make this work. I look forward to next year's Jewellery Indaba to see what steps have been taken and to consider what next, along with the best in the industry.

Watch the Talk with Geraldine Fenn