DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND

Recognised by her distinctive designs, the name of world-renowned jewellery designer, Jenna Clifford, is synonymous with creativity. Her unique, customised designs are sought after by some of the most acclaimed business icons and celebrities around the world, and since the launch of her business, she has acquired a loyal following.

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Her passion for design was shaped at an early age, the inspiration blossoming in her grandparents’ garden. “When I was a kid, I always found nature and, in particular, various flowers and organics absolutely fascinating,” she says. “I didn’t have a garden growing up in Bez Valley, however, my grandparents who lived in Kensington had a beautiful orchard and rose-garden, which I absolutely fell in love with. And that is where my passion for design developed,” she tells Gregory Simpson in an exclusive interview.

Her work ethic was born from her humble and challenging beginnings, which she believes contributed significantly to her determination and self-discipline to succeed. “I’ve been in the same career for forty years. I’ve got clients who are plumbers, electricians, captains, CEOs, kings and queens, film stars and mothers, so I’ve got a good cross-section, and the one common ingredient that I have found to ring true is that if a kid has grown up overcoming hardships and has made it to success, they usually have the best work ethic and are the most dedicated.”

Established in 1992, Jenna Clifford’s personal illustrious jewellery brand is, today, a South African success story that is as much about people who wear her creations as it is about Jenna herself. As a designer of bespoke jewellery, Jenna’s own story is uniquely interwoven with that of her customers. In 2002, the first Jenna Clifford retail boutique opened its doors in South Africa. In the fifteen years after, every Jenna Clifford boutique has followed the same personalised concept and signature style that gave birth to the brand.

Jenna’s personal approach to bespoke jewellery design has set her apart from the rest in the marketplace. A trendsetter by design, Jenna Clifford has always said that quality craftsmanship and excellent taste is the formula for success in the jewellery design business. She combines gold, diamonds and precious gems to create extraordinary masterpieces, tailored to each client.

“I’m not really a straight diamond girl. I love the colour of the universe and sapphires are particularly my penchant. What I enjoy about design is the uniqueness that I can bring to the individual, because jewellery over the years has become too cloned and too driven by its commercial form.” It is part of Jenna’s ethos that true objects of unique joy can never be mass-produced and for this reason, she limits the production of her designs.

Energy exchange

For Jenna, designing jewellery is more than just the design and the act of producing a physical asset. It is also about the intrinsic energy that each gem used possesses. Since ancient times, gemstones and even certain metals have been believed to hold metaphysical properties. As with the shamans and mystics of old, modern humanity continues to be drawn to the beauty, power and intrigue of crystals for all manners of use. The common belief is that each particular crystal contains within it unique properties and energies that can benefit the human body and energy system.

“I’m not just a jeweller, so I’ve always believed in the esoterics. For example, if we take the popular phrase ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’—yes diamonds will always be a girl’s best friend because it is normally the one thing that a woman is gifted that she doesn’t give back, however, we can look at it from another perspective. A diamond doesn’t evaporate and its akin to a human in that its evolution from black carbon to a living grain of life is comparable to mankind’s evolution to one of free will. But in this world that we live in now, within out fourth revolution—i.e. industrial revolution—a girl’s best friend should be a sapphire predominantly first, then a trim of diamonds, that gives them an ultramistic protector with an avatar, which is very powerful.

“Currently, we are in a lunar time. As from December 2010, the earth’s lunar trajectory moved three centimetres—so after three to three-and-a-half thousand years of patriarchy, we are now in the beginning of a matriarchal order and that’s why sapphires should be a girl’s best friend, with diamonds running behind it,” she explains.

A gem close to her heart is Rose Quartz. Most commonly known as ‘the love rock’, she explains that it possesses a high protective quality. “I have Rose Quartz in my home, in my building and anywhere I go. Rose Quartz is the free protector of the universe, and most people also don’t know that it is only really fossilised water caused by a silicate inner. It’s quite fascinating and it makes the design process that much more intriguing,” she says.

She explains that, over the years since she started designing, there has been quite a radical change in the desires of women, one of the main reasons being due to the high occurrence of crime. “Years ago, we didn’t have the intense level of crime that we have today, not only in South Africa but all over in the world. It’s a universal thing due to the division between the haves and the have-nots, and as jewellery is a dollar-based commodity, it is linked to various worlds—the enlightened world of fiscal accruement as well as the world of thievery and extrication.

“I’m designing a lot of stimulant jewellery where the piece looks as if it costs millions but in actual fact, it only costs thousands because clients feel safer with them. Often, they’re buying the real deal and only wearing it on certain occasions and having the mimic made that they wear all the time. I’m making a lot more Morganite gemstone engagement rings than I am making diamond engagement rings, purely because people are feeling safer with it and they’re not being attacked for it,” says Jenna.

Conflict-free

Ethics have always formed a large part of Jenna’s business practices, so she uses only conflict-free diamonds and gems sourced through reputable channels.

She is also fiercely supportive of local workers, outsourcing some of the manufacturing and promoting her marketing opportunities. She is one of the few jewellery designers in South Africa who trusts only expert local hands to fashion her creations.

When it comes to young designers, she explains that while there is a lot of talent in the industry in South Africa, there is limited talent in the manufacturing sector due to the marginalisation of standards over the last forty years.

“In the trade, and in particular within the last twenty years, it has become very difficult to retain your gold licenses with the current status quo, so standards are falling. Up until about twenty years ago, out of a hundred individuals studying in the jewellery industry, only four percent were employed within our industry, today it’s less.

”It’s a very, very tough industry, one almost has to be a bit like me, mind will have to go over matter and it’s a trade that you suffer in until you get it, because you can’t just learn your trade, you’ve got to learn all the aligned skills. The gem world and the metal world is not the same world, manufacturing and retail is not the same world and, as you know, there’s visuality through the fields, so it’s not an easy industry,” she says.

Her advice to young designers is that their passion for their craft should be the number one focus. She believes that passion for what you do and determination are the key differentiators between people who are great and those who are average. “If you want to stand out from the crowd and become known for your talent, you need to breathe, eat and sleep your chosen career path. When I started my business in the early nineties, I was a nobody. I had to grab every opportunity that came my way with both hands and often had to create opportunities for myself,” Jenna says.

Life in balance

A mother of three, she says that balancing work and family life has been no easy feat and achieved with great difficulty, due, in part, to all the hard work needed, amplified by gender issues.

“Managing a business alongside raising a family is challenging. I have been able to grow my business, alongside raising three children by mastering the art of delegation and sharing parental tasks with my husband. Being a woman in business is even more challenging. It hasn’t always been easy and everyone’s journey is different. For most of my life, I’ve been in a male-dominated industry. People think jewellery is a female trade and the truth is, it’s not. It’s very, very controlled by the ‘Boys Club’ and I’m one of the very few operators in the business who is female, so I have always had to don both a male and a female persona within my trade,” she explains.

In addition to jewellery design, she possesses a strong passion for women’s rights and equality and is highly active in promoting women in business. In recognition of her contribution, in 2008, she was nominated as a Torchbearer for Women Empowerment and Gender Equality by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals 3 project, highlighting the importance of gender equality and women empowerment, alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Soweto Gospel Choir. The appointment was a great honour and one that she cherishes dearly. Other highlights of her career include meeting President Bill Clinton and designing jewellery for international celebrities including Celine Dion, which is one of her proudest moments, being a fan of her music for years.

“I’m an activator for women’s empowerment because I believe the world is only safe when there’s parity. Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing other women soar to new heights in their careers. Women bring an impact into the world and an impact into business, but women don’t seem to really last in these positions.

“We’ve seen a fall in the growth of the last fifteen years; that saw women coming through into businesses as excos, upper management and then middle management. It has dropped off again in the last four to five years, which is not very nice to see, as you know we need parity for safety. You will normally find that in very difficult economic times, globally, women lose their positions at the top because, as women, they usually want a family; and if a woman is highly successful in a business, irrespective of if she’s married, she normally gets abused by her male counterpart, it’s just the way it is. This is well-documented as part of—not my spare-time but particularly women’s month, I do have to lecture for banners like AWCA, SIKA, all the clever Trevors. It is common knowledge that women have achieved the same status as men of CA, PSA et cetera and that the bullying at the top and the marginalisation still in today’s workforce is a common problem,” Jenna explains.

Girl power

She views helping women in South Africa realise their potential and overcome the gender barriers as one her missions in life. She is involved in various mentoring programmes for women of all ages, including the Breaking The Mould series launched by Octagon in 2012, which saw Jenna designing two bespoke diamond butterflies for the tennis champions, the Williams sisters.

Mentoring is only one of her many methods of giving back to society and it is one which has granted her great personal fulfilment over many years. “I chose to mentor a number of women from various backgrounds, industries and religions because they bothered to ask the question, “Will you be my mentor?”. You need to put yourself out there if you want to be mentored by someone. We can positively influence lives or have our lives changed through mentoring as there is always an opportunity to learn from others. And knowledge is power. The more you educate yourself, the more prepared you are for challenges that may arise and the more confident you will be in making informed decisions and turning your vision into a reality,” she says

”We live in an incredibly beautiful country with incredible resources and Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki had one thing in common—a rainbow nation with everybody engaged in their talent. So, that still can be but it’s going to require a revolution of our education system, that we currently use of our fiscal about 8.4% and we have the least outcome in the world except for Syria. The average Nordic country uses between 4% and 5% within the education system and they did a total world-class output, so clearly, our State capture and our dumbing down is causing South Africa and all of its people huge concerns,” she adds.

She remains hopeful, however, that in South Africa all this collusion and State capture will be dissipated, out of the collective. “We do have leaders like Sisulo, Lindewe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mmusi Maimane; who are competent, fundamentally sound, and incredible family people. I’m hoping that these type of leaders follow through on their words and make a positive change through action. I love South Africa, more than life itself, so irrespective of these tragic events that are happening in the country, I have faith that one day, sanity will prevail and we will rebuild this country to new heights,” she concludes.

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