In the summer of 2020, while most of the world was slowly emerging from some form of Covid-19 lockdown, De Beers reached out to ten emerging designers and asked them each to create a modern engagement ring for the millennial market. De Beers’ reason for doing so was two-fold – to create demand in its mine in Gaborone Botswana and by so doing avoid jobs being threatened, and to provide opportunity for independent designers during a time when their businesses were feeling the economic impact of lockdown. Lola was fortunate enough to be one of the ten designers chosen. The limited edition rings are available exclusively on-line at Blue Nile from January 18, 2021.

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How did you feel when DeBeers asked you to be a part of the Ten-Ten Project?

Beyond delighted! I am of Nigerian descent and it’s incredibly important to me to work on projects that tie directly back to Africa and shine a light on the beauty of our natural resources.

What do diamonds in particular mean to you?

When you look at a diamond, you’re looking at an organic creation of nature. I adore their magical ability to attract and redirect light, their strength and durability. I don’t think people fully appreciated just how ancient diamonds are. It takes millenia for the earth to create them. That provenance is a big part of why they’re so fascinating. I tend to use diamonds in a modern way in my designs. It’s an inverted way of looking at what diamonds can bring to a piece of jewellery, when they’re not necessarily the focal point. Sometimes I include diamonds for their magical light-attracting quality, by doing a diamond in-lay that is barely perceptible. The wearer knows she or he is wearing a piece of jewellery that has forty or fifty diamonds impeccably set in some inner crevice, but perhaps nobody else does. That’s a quiet, modern, powerful way to wear jewellery.

Can you share the inspiration or story behind your DeBeers design? What is it called?

It’s called The Union. The design is pared-down, and quietly elegant. The beads of warm rose gold that make up the band graduate, peak with the diamond, then descend again, symbolizing two people on erstwhile separate journeys that culminate into a union when they become engaged. Love has no beginning and no end, which is why my ring is a continuous, unbroken series of beads, which represent the milestones in the life of the couple.

What do you think is the most precious or unique feature of your design?

Wearability and versatility. The Union is a modern easy-to-wear take on the traditional engagement ring. Ironically so, because the choice of a bezel-setting for the diamond is quite retro as is the use of rose gold, rather than yellow gold. Ultimately, I wanted the ring to be easily wearable, with a stone that would not snag or catch on clothing, so I decided against a prong-setting. It’s versatile because it can be worn alone or stacked with other bands.

Why is responsible diamond sourcing important to you?

Creating a pipeline governed by the principles of sustainable and responsible sourcing has been a core value and key driver of my company from its inception. Since the majority of the world’s diamond supply comes from Africa, which is where I come from, it’s important to me that the huge revenues that come from diamonds are funneled towards building communities and creating economic empowerment, rather than fueling conflict and environmental devastation. An ethically-astute diamond industry has the capacity to change Africa’s economic trajectory dramatically and that begins with a demonstrated commitment to responsible sourcing.

Your jewellery is manufactured in Paris from recycled metals. Do you feel the rest of the world, outside of Europe, particularly, is paying more attention to jewelry that uses ethically sourced, responsible materials?

Most definitely. Sustainability and a demonstrated commitment to responsible sourcing have become an intrinsic part of the jewellery buying experience in the U.S., particularly within the younger, millennial consumer base. Millenials are more interested in having an experience than buying a product. Once you look at it in that way, an engagement ring is no longer simply the sum of its physical parts, precious metal and a solitare diamond. Instead, the buyers are thinking - who worked in the mines where this diamond was sourced? Were they treated fairly? Do they live in an uncontaminated, conflict-free environment? Since the majority of the world’s diamond supply comes from Africa, which is where I come from, it’s incredibly encouraging to see this shift in values.

As a West African native, how does it feel to you to be able to launch this collection using diamonds mined in Botswana, knowing that those diamond sales play a critical role in aiding the country's infrastructure and education?

The connection with Botswana means everything to me! It’s the reason that I embraced this project so eagerly. I’m inspired by the economic empowerment and self-determination that Botswana has benefited from as a result of its 50 years of partnership with De Beers. In Botswana, De Beers operates under a 50-50 joint venture with the Botswana government known as Debswana. Diamonds account for approximately one-third of Botswana’s GDP, and have transformed the country from one of the poorest nations in the world into one of the world’s fastest growing economies. I’m of Nigerian descent, and I’m passionate about the Continent. I would love to see the Debswana model of corporate engagement and partnership replicated elsewhere on the continent.

© 2020 Lola Fenhirst