Fine Jewelry Designer Vania Leles: A True Ambassador of African Culture

It’s true that there are no limitations to what one can achieve in life. Plus it’s not easy to measure how much creativity one’s mind can engender. This is very much true of a daughter from Africa who is making waves in the jewelry sector today and everybody seems to be buoyed up by her designs which have only won applause whenever put on display. This famous London-based model-turned fine jewelry designer is none other than Vania Leles.  

Vania’s deep attachment with jewelry cropped up while she was working as a model in the US. She was living right above a jeweler in New York when she fell in love with jewelry – and she wanted to harness this passion keenly. “I used to come back from exhausting shoots and just spend hours looking at jewelry so it was then that the seed of inspiration was sown. I knew almost immediately that being a jewelry designer had to be my path from there on,” she said. 

Fine Jewelry Designer Vania Leles - Hand Sketching Designs
Fine Jewelry Designer Vania Leles - Diamond and Green Emerald Necklace

Although she went to GIA in New York to study the craft of jewelry design saying that it’s a fabulous course, she mostly learnt on the job at some of the best jewelry houses in the world, from Graff Diamonds to De Beers to Sotheby’s Jewelry Department. It was extremely helpful as each place Vania Leles worked at, she was able to focus on a different side of the business. At Graff, she worked as an in-house gemologist where she was able to get an unparalleled training in the area of diamond grading & sourcing and gave her a real instinct for good stones. After that she worked in the client side of the business at De Beers and Sotheby’s, advising people on their jewelry collections and what to invest in. “This was quite fascinating as it gave me a real insight into what women from different cultures around the world feel inspired by and also how important the intrinsic value of a jewel is at this level,” Vania said. 

Finally with the help of this comprehensive knowledge she has had, Vania Leles leapt forward and launched her label “VanLeles Diamonds” in 2011. There is no denying that her mission is to put Africa on the map when it comes to looking for magnificent pieces of jewelry. And she has succeeded to a degree, but she knows that there are lots of things to cover in order to stay on top in the long run. “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far as it’s not an easy industry to break into in the first place if you don’t come from a family of jewelers. Besides, it is early days for us as we’ve a lot of goals to achieve yet,” she said. 

The craze for her jewelry among women is quite impressive thanks to its bold and feminine style. “We stand out because our jewelry is made by a woman designing for women. I’m not afraid of using colors and know the women I design for today are looking for something unlike anything else. They want to be surprised,” Vania Leles said. 

Fine Jewelry Designer Vania Leles - Diamond and Green Emerald Earring Cuffs

So far her enchanted garden cuff earrings have been the most popular style. “I’m sure it largely comes down to the bold scale and vibrant colors of the piece,” she said.  Working with high quality material is also vital to her. Therefore, she mainly sets her jewelry in gold with precious stones that she sources from Africa as much as possible. At the same time, she always keeps herself aware of the provenance of a stone to ensure that it’s ethically sourced. 

Inspiration rooted in African heritage

There is so much she gets enthused by in life but a lot of it emanates from her roots in Africa where she spent much of her childhood. “Apart from that, I love to explore the exhilarating world of colors and patterns or for that matter even the people. Like any designer I can’t help but feel inspired by the elegance of vintage jewelry, art and the women I meet along the way,” Vania said. 

As for her stance on what women tend to pay attention to while purchasing jewelry, she had this to say, “I love the phrase ‘wearable art’. I think that’s what most women are looking for. Something that’s really impactful and unusual but wearable and most importantly comfortable.” 

Women who like to wear my pieces, she believes, are known to be sophisticated, opinionated and, above all an aesthete.    

According to Vania’s perspective, jewelry has a universal appeal but obviously plays more of a central role in some countries. “A lot of Europeans and Americans don’t wear bigger pieces in the daytime as there is such a trend for being casual and sporty but in the Middle East and Asia I find people are less afraid to wear statement jewelry,” she said. 

Fine Jewelry Designer Vania Leles - Diamond and Blue Gemstone Ring

It’s no surprise that Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned is one of Vania’s influential muses as she pointed out, “She is so elegant and such a tastemaker. I also admire Tory Burch- she is fantastic, a mother and business woman. What a wonderful role model to look up to! 

Even celebrities are not far from being smitten by Vania’s gorgeous creations. The ones she would like to dress are Livia Firth because of her dedication to ethical fashion, Kristin Scott Thomas because of her poise, elegance and craft, Emilia Clarke and Amal Clooney. However, her brand paradigm is also aimed at not loaning a lot to celebrities as most of Vania’s customers don’t want to wear something that has already been seen on someone before. “We really can’t afford to put this on the line. But if it was the right celebrity and they genuinely loved my work, we’re always open to working with them,” she said. 

Exposure is very crucial in the jewelry industry. While Vania only shows from an atelier in Bond Street London, it’s very important for her to show at international exhibitions. “I find the consumers there very knowledgeable and they are looking for something unique which suits us well,” she said. 

She wants her work to talk. “All in all, I want my brand to be known for its exceptional quality, beautiful and unique designs.” One day I would love to have my own showroom in the Middle East as it’s one of my favorite places to come to and I love the depth of knowledge and appreciation of fine jewelry from my customers in the region.”