Emerging African Jewelry Designers Shine at Handmade Contemporary Fair, Johannesburg

HMC Launch poster

The 17th edition of Handmade Contemporary, Africa’s premier design fair, held from September 1st to 3rd, 2023, was a magnificent display of artistic ingenuity. Enthusiastic African design aficionados flocked to Johannesburg for this renowned event, which has evolved from a passion project into a resounding mandate for its founder, Lesley Hudson. She emphasized the need to recognize the extraordinary talent and rich, diverse heritage of the African continent. The fair’s success highlights the growing demand for handcrafted African luxury products, as artisans find their unique voices.

This year’s Handmade Contemporary fair, a staple in the African design calendar, showcased a plethora of exceptional jewelry creations that defied convention. Instead of relying solely on Africa’s vast reserves of gold, diamonds, and colored gemstones, jewelry artists at the event embraced imaginative material choices, often contemporizing traditional craftsmanship and conveying the diverse stories woven into the continent’s fabric. Here, we highlight four African jewelry brands that stood out at the Handmade Contemporary 2023.

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Shell and unfastened stones, Jade Melrose. (Image credit: Elijah Palm)

1. Jade Melrose Arch – Chimene Wynne’s Unique Pieces

Chimene Wynne, the owner of Jade Melrose Arch, a part of Jade South Africa founded by Karin Delport, has cultivated a dedicated following with her original creations. Her one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces combine pearls with found objects from beachcombing and natural gemstones, often left in their raw, unprocessed state for unexpected juxtapositions. Chimene’s favorite element is the raw gem, which, when paired with a pearl, creates a striking fusion of classic and contemporary components.

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Bracelets in recycled brass, Mille Collines. (Image credit: Elijah Palm)

2. Mille Collines – A Journey from Apparel to Jewelry

Rwandan luxury house Mille Collines transitioned seamlessly from sustainable apparel to jewelry. CEO Maye Srouji strategically incorporated sisal and bone as central elements in their designs, showcasing the beauty and versatility of sisal, a natural fiber with a rich history in traditional Rwandan crafts. Mille Collines’ commitment to sustainability is evident in their use of recycled brass instead of gold, reinforcing the brand’s circularity credentials.

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Enamel bracelets, Leigh Avenue . (Image credit: Elijah Palm)

3. Leigh Avenue – Capturing Place and Memory in Enamel

Leigh Shakenovsky of Leigh Avenue creates jewelry that resonates with those who appreciate uncomplicated pieces inspired by the fusion of place and memory with color. Her enamel collection, particularly “Livi’s Road,” draws inspiration from her African heritage, celebrating the culture of fireside chats, safaris, sunsets, and the richness of flora and fauna. Each piece in this collection is thoughtfully named, such as “Calabash Couture,” “Bohemian Baobab,” and “Serengeti Sunday.”

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Antique brass, Negritude. (Image credit: Elijah Palm)

4. Negritude – Faith Baloyi’s Audacious Vision

Faith Baloyi, the founder and creative director of Negritude, boldly challenges notions of identity and systemic injustices through her jewelry pieces. Inspired by the historic Negritude movement, Baloyi skillfully transforms antique brass objects, beads, amulets, and other elements into contemporary works of art that offer a glimpse of a future-present African utopia. Her audacious approach has resonated with those seeking to break free from entrenched norms and biases.

The jewelry artists featured at Handmade Contemporary 2023 represent a diverse tapestry of creativity within the African jewelry design sphere. Their work embodies cross-cultural influences, sustainable practices, and vivid storytelling, all while remaining true to an Africa-centric perspective. As the fair continues to thrive, it serves as a platform for African artisans to share their unique voices and creations with the world.

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