The marine shell beads were only discovered in 2004, but it’s estimated they were produced 75 000 years ago in what looked like a workshop in the Blombos Caves on the southern Cape coast, about 300 kilometres from Cape Town, making them possibly the oldest evidence of jewellery. Jewellery design, as with humankind itself, has its roots on the African continent.
Ever since then, we’ve continued to explore the length and breadth of what we can create with precious natural resources from diamonds, gold and platinum to jade, wood and shells, and everything else in between.
Fast forward to 2017 and, according to report findings from McKinsey & Company as well as TechNavio, the outlook for the global jewellery industry is looking extremely positive, particularly for the online jewellery market. In a 2014 McKinsey article titled A multifaceted future: The jewelry industry by 2020, by Linda Dauriz, Nathalie Remy and Thomas Tochtermann, it’s stated that “annual global sales of €148 billion are expected to grow at a healthy clip of 5 to 6 percent each year, totaling €250 billion by 2020.”
Africans have been designing and handcrafting jewellery for centuries. The PlatAfrica Jewellery Design and Manufacturing Competition will ensure we continue the tradition.
For Africa, and South Africa, to get a significant slice of this growth we need to leverage our natural resources and skills while taking ownership of manufacturing. In South Africa there are institutions that provide various levels of jewellery making training, but, as importantly, it’s necessary for designers to have the opportunity to design beyond pen on paper. This is where Anglo American’s PlatAfrica Jewellery Design and Manufacturing Competition sees itself playing an important role.
Celebrating its 19th year in 2018, the competition is divided into a Professionals category and a Students/Apprentices category. Every year has an overarching theme, with platinum being the main material. The launch theme was African Renaissance and, over the years, other themes have included His & Hers (2003), The Circle of Life (2006), Southern African Courtship and Marriage Rituals (2009) and Red Carpet Platinum (2012).
In 2015, there was a focus on Indian Bridal Jewellery, while the theme for 2017 was Bold Minimalism for the Indian Millennial. Since 2016 the competition has been co-sponsored by and is in collaboration with Metal Concentrators and Platinum Guild International (PGI) India. India is the fastest-growing platinum jewellery market globally with the metal being seen as a symbol of love.
The primary objectives of the PlatAfrica competition are listed as:
- “Provide an opportunity for students/apprentices to work in platinum – to build their skills in this niche jewellery sector.
- Create a forum for students to receive independent feedback and critique on both their creativity and workmanship with insights to help them develop their skills further.
- Allow students to compete against and get exposure to the works of their contemporaries and to challenge the training institutions to raise their standards.
- Provide exposure and recognition for the design talents of both student and professional designers.
- Meet the company’s beneficiation objectives (skill building, raising the profile of training institutions and jewellers as well as local design and platinum as a metal).
- Leverage as much media and PR exposure in order to raise consumer and designer awareness around platinum and its positioning in the jewellery market in order to stimulate demand and job creation within the jewellery industry.”
South Africa has such rich diversity within its borders that the influences and potential for unique designs that comfortably merge the different cultural aesthetics into one are endless. This can be an asset or a missed opportunity and, for 2017, the four judges tasked with deciding on the winners and top 10 were:
- Master goldsmith Thomas Kapo who spent over two decades working in the UK before setting up his manufacturing business in South Africa in 2003.
- Charlotte Crosse from Metal Concentrators who has been involved in the industry for some years. Her family bought Metal Concentrators in 2015 and they are co-sponsors of the competition.
- Kirtikumar Devjee started both repairing, designing and creating jewellery as a hobby, turning it into a business and vocation. He runs Kirti Jewellers and has won awards in the PlatAfrica competition himself.
- Head of Strategic Design and Development at PGI India, Pallavi Sharma works with manufacturers and designers to “establish a differentiated platinum design language and create design collections for platinum brands in the Indian market.”
The primary limitation the designers were working with was that students only had 20 grams of platinum while professionals had 100 grams to work with. For judging, similar types of jewellery were grouped together and then judged on the basis of criteria, theme, design, originality, wearability and workmanship. The judges were not allowed to discuss the pieces, and the jewellery was not marked according to the designer to ensure impartiality.
The winner in the Student category for the 2017 competition, which took place in November, was Anke van der Linden (theme: Undulation) while the Professional winner was Ulandie Jonas (theme: The family bond).
Winning this competition has the potential to propel a designer’s career. Last year’s Professional winner, Sylvester Louw, and joint Student/Apprentice winners, Jefta Mtole and Thomy Vencatasawmy, all travelled to Mumbai, India, and visited PGI India, met designers and manufacturers, and had the opportunity to participate in the Evara brand design sourcing process.
Thousands of years later, Africans are indeed carving their space in the world of jewellery design and manufacturing, industriously mining our rich culture to create pieces that are uniquely African.