Expertise from Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is helping to benefit fledgling businesses in South Africa’s impoverished townships.
A project called Cornerstone saw jeweller Nqobile Nkosi spend a two-week internship at Birmingham jewellery casting company Weston Beamor, learning the skills he will share with his workers in Africa.
Cornerstone, devised by Mr Nkosi and Cambridge jewellery designer Paul Spurgeon, was responsible for setting up the first jewellery shop in Soweto.
The project, which started in 2009, aims to empower disadvantaged and marginalised people in Africa, and employs four people.
The jewellery range – described as a fusion of African design and the clean edges of Scandinavian style – was launched at The Jewellery Show at Spring Fair International at the NEC.
Prior to coming to the UK, Mr Nkosi had only made jewellery by hand, but thanks to the Vyse Street company he has access to the latest jewellery production technologies, including computer-aided design, rapid prototyping and sophisticated lost-wax casting.
Mr Spurgeon said: “Jewellery is still very much a white industry in Africa.
“The story behind the name Cornerstone was from the Bible – ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ – and that would resonate with the people of Soweto.
“We hope to be able to empower people. We did not want to go down the usual routes, the big government departments and big business handouts.
“Back in 2009 I was invited to go over and share my skills. I worked with centres and SMEs for black empowerment, training guys and girls up to give them some skills to start a business or work for someone and that’s where I met Nqobile.”
Weston Beamor is part of WB the Creative Jewellery Group, one of the UK’s largest jewellery businesses employing 120 people, with its main premises in Birmingham and a trade counter in London’s Hatton Garden.
The company, established in Birmingham in 1947, is growing despite the economic situation and is a UK-manufacturing success story.
The proceeds from Cornerstone, which will be sold in the UK and South Africa, will go towards empowering Mr Nkosi and his expanding team in Soweto and Makapanstad to support themselves and others by making and selling jewellery.
Mr Nkosi said: “I sell from my shop and do repairs and have had a few enquiries from the suburbs and the high street.
“The local people I know won a few rewards. People have the perception that nothing good can come out of a township.
“But myself, Paul and other people have continued to assert that it is not all violence and poverty.
“Before I met Paul I had a small workshop at home. I raised money to buy my first tools by selling cakes, and I saved that money and I divided my room in half – it was a bedroom and a workshop.
“I get people looking for me, like the client last year who came to the township for a ring who said ‘I could have gone into any shop and bought it but I was touched by what you do’. My being here has helped me a great deal.”
Mr Spurgeon added: “I was in Germany for a trade fair and I was talking with Andrew Morton, the managing director of Weston Beamor.
“I told him of the project and he said ‘We’ll do the casting for free’.”
Yvonne Brookes, a director at Weston Beamor, said: “The objective of the Cornerstone project – to bring work and dignity to those living in one of the world’s poorest places – is something we fully endorse and we are delighted to be able to offer it our support.”
Cornerstone is planning a launch with a major high street store and hopes to sell its range in John Lewis.
WB Creative Jewellery Group is split into two divisions – West Beamor, the casting side, and Domino, which creates designs for customers.
It manufactures jewellery mainly for the UK market, but also exports around the world.
Ms Brookes said: “We are very passionate about keeping jewellery manufacturing business in Birmingham.”