Vania Leles grew up in the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau but it wasn’t until she arrived in New York City to model that she learned that the diamonds in the elaboratejewelry creations she wore during photo shoots usually came from Africa. At the time there were no African jewelers creating exceptional high jewelry creations with materials from their home continent, so she decided to become one. After getting a gemology degree and working for some of the most elite names in the diamond business she opened her own atelier in London’s tony Mayfair district. She’s on a mission to create jewelry that celebrates the endless inspiration that comes from Africa and to that ensure that the natural resources found there benefit local communities.
What led you to create a collection based on the heart motif?
The collection has a Portuguese name: “Amor, O Coração Africano,” which means “Love, My African Heart.” It’s a passionate love letter to Africa, the place where I was born and grew up. We also traveled extensively around the continent. I couldn’t think of a better way to capture and pay homage to such a beautiful, rich and warm continent. I’m not a writer, so everything I feel will be transformed into jewelry. That’s how I express myself.
The collection has a Portuguese name: “Amor, O Coração Africano,” which means “Love, My African Heart.” It’s a passionate love letter to Africa, the place where I was born and grew up.
They’re not the typical heart shape we’re used to. Where did the design come from?
The earrings have a more abstract shape. I wanted them to be more artistic than a conventional heart. Africa is a complex continent full of history and cultures and languages. To show that, I didn’t want to do anything straightforward. That’s why they’re a little asymmetrical. It was a representation of how I was feeling.
How do you see them worn most often?
I’ve seen clients wear them with a white tee and jeans or an oversized shirt with leggings and I’ve seen them worn to an opera at Carnegie Hall. There are small, medium and large versions to give options. Brides have worn them as wedding jewelry.
What are your go-to diamond jewels?
When I’m running around between meetings I want to keep things simple. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry during the day but I’m always in the eternity band that my wonderful husband gave me on the day he proposed. And my mom gave me a heart-shaped diamond pendant and a diamond cross that I wear every day. Also, I have studs that I wear for their simplicity.
Why do you work with natural diamonds?
I think diamonds create a dream. When you finally buy your piece of diamond jewelry it’s such an accomplishment. It’s so satisfying. They hold a special place in people’s minds and hearts. I see that when I’m working with my clients. It’s true even for me. When I bought my first piece of diamond jewelry I was fascinated that its stones came from underground. It felt so magical.