Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

The art of giving


These designers are using their jewelry to do good, from empowering African businesses to protecting the planet.

By Rachael Taylor


Satta Matturi


Matturi Fine Jewellery’s new Whispers of Meröe line is a celebration — of a forgotten civilization, of strong women, of African culture and of the natural resources for which the continent is famous. Inspired by the lost Kingdom of Kush, it tells the tale of the Black Pharaohs who once ruled Egypt, and their fierce but glamorous warrior queens.

Designer Satta Matturi describes the bold fine jewels in the collection as “a twisted form of Art Deco, African-style.” Every element has meaning; while developing the collection, Matturi spent hours immersed in books at the British Museum and even consulted an Egyptologist. “The use of black onyx and ivory signifies the trade of ebony and ivory with sub-Saharan nations; pastel-hued morganites [depict] the desert landscapes; the emphasis on spiky, sharp elements represents the skilled Kushite archers in their armies; and triangular diamonds are the pyramids,” she explains, pointing out that there are more pyramids in Meröe (once the Kushite seat of power) than in Egypt.

The Sierra Leone-born jeweler has always sought to connect to her African roots by using powerful motifs. Her Nomoli Totem earrings take the form of African masks, and this signature design makes a return in Whispers of Meröe, embellished with a gold arc resembling a pharaonic headdress.

Using responsibly sourced raw materials from Africa has also been key for Matturi, who spent many years working for De Beers before launching her own brand. She has recently deepened this commitment by seeking out gems from African-owned companies. Matturi Fine Jewellery works closely with a polishing factory in Gaborone, Botswana, to source some of its diamonds, and has started buying colored gems from indigenous-owned mines in Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi.

“A country’s mineral wealth is something to be shared by all its citizens and not just a chosen few,” says Matturi, who has partnered with the female-owned and managed Sierra United Football Club to fund a Sierra Leone youth football club. “Countries such as Botswana have done this really well through public-private partnerships, and while there are gaps in the system, it should be a blueprint for other countries to follow.”

She hopes to see more positive developments in Africa’s mining industries, such as producer countries investing in new technology to fuel local enterprise rather than simply selling off natural assets. “At the moment, there are so many barriers to entry for new ventures and entrepreneurs in the African jewelry industry and sourcing sectors, and the more we can do to unlock some of those barriers, the better.” instagram.com/matturijewellery

Alex Monroe

Alex Monroe found global fame more than a decade ago with his iconic bumblebee pendant, which captured the fat, fuzzy insect with wings outstretched in gold and silver. Since then, the British jeweler has continued to explore his fascination with the natural world through delicate, whimsical designs that celebrate flora and fauna. He and his team handcraft all of the pieces in England.

In recent years, Monroe has become something of a philanthropist and environmental activist. A whole section of the brand’s website — titled “AM Helping Hand” — lists the charities in which it has been involved and exactly how much money has been raised. The list is diverse, from cancer and mental health charities to organizations supporting the homeless and seeking to end racial inequality.

Monroe’s real passion, though, is the environment. “I love the countryside so much, and I’m just really dismayed and upset by how we treat the environment,” he says, breaking off from writing an email to a gold supplier regarding sustainability claims.

Campaigning as a brand can be tricky. Often, it can look like greenwashing if it doesn’t go deep enough. But go too deep, and you can put consumers off by sounding preachy. Alex Monroe has managed to dance this tightrope beautifully by connecting with causes that fit its jewels — such as the sea-inspired creations of its Oceans collection, which raised funds for Friends of the Earth’s Drastic Plastic campaign, or the time the brand sent out free bee-saver kits with every sale of its Beehive collection.

Using his business to raise both awareness and cash for good causes was a natural progression for Monroe. He started off answering calls for donations to school raffles when his children were little, and escalated the process when the business started to turn a profit.

“I didn’t start making jewelry because I wanted make money; it’s a by-product,” says the designer, who humbly puts his commercial success down to luck as much as ambition. “It is a real privilege if you have a bit of money left over [after running costs], and I feel we’re really lucky to be able to do some pretty fun things with it.” He notes that a lack of shareholders — he and his wife are the brand’s only directors — has made his philanthropic ambitions easier.

His latest focus is on the next generation of creatives. The brand recently ran a jewelry design competition for school children called Designs for Hope, which he hopes will improve diversity in the arts by engaging young people. Also, a portion of the money from the sale of the winning design will go to the Make Bank, a charity tackling creative poverty in schools by providing art supplies to students who can’t afford them. Another initiative will see Alex Monroe donate GBP 10,000 (approximately $13,900) to fund PR services that will help Black jewelry designers raise their profile.

Philanthropic projects do create “a massively big response” among Alex Monroe fans, but for him, the joy is genuinely in doing good rather than ticking boxes: “It’s an integral part of what we do.”

alexmonroe.com

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2021. To subscribe click here.

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