A t a jewelry event in Las Vegas in 2019, the First Lady of Botswana, Neo Masisi, asked if any of the many jewelry designers in attendance had ever visited a diamond mine.
When only a few hands went up, De Beers, the world’s leading diamond company, and the host of the evening’s event, recognized an opportunity for education – a way to connect designers to the source of their craft. Soon after, De Beers invited five independent female jewelry designers to tour their operations, along with community and conservation projects in Botswana, and to collaborate on one-of-a-kind pendants for charity, inspired by their visits.
Those five designers – Jade Trau, Jennie Kwon, Julez Bryant, Sara Weinstock and Zoë Chicco – partnered with De Beers’ on ReSet Collective, a collaboration to raise awareness around the positive impacts of natural diamonds. Together, they share values of sustainability, ethical sourcing and local production, ideals that counter the commonly held misconceptions of the diamond industry De Beers hopes to “reset.”
“I wanted to be part of this campaign because I want to highlight to consumers – young and old – the good that the natural diamond industry does and the ethical ways in which diamonds are mined,” says Weinstock, whose own work celebrates spiritual motifs of self-healing and empowerment. “There are some outdated representations out there.”
The designers’ trips to Botswana in 2019 focused on the lifecycle, everyday impact and legacy of the precious stone that has transformed the African nation over the past 50 years. Home to some of the richest diamond mines in the world, Botswana is second only to that of Russia in terms of diamond recovery.
Diamonds are intrinsic to the country’s history, too: in 1967, one year after Botswana gained independence from Britain, De Beers discovered diamonds in the remote area of Orapa, and soon formed a 50-50 joint venture with the government, called Debswana. As a community partner, and one of the largest private employers, their success drives success in the local economy. “For every $1 of diamonds sold through Debswana, about 80 cents goes back to the people of Botswana, which is pretty amazing,” says Chicco.
The influx of jobs, infrastructure, healthcare and education has helped build the country. “Botswana used to be one of the poorest countries in the world, and now it’s one of the most thriving countries in Africa,” says Bryant. “To see that firsthand – food and farming and design and engineering and doctors – this is the legacy of diamonds. It’s not just wearing it.”
De Beers’ support extends beyond their diamond enterprise. In 2017, they partnered with UN Women and the local government to launch Accelerating Women Owned Micro-Enterprises (AWOME), a program that helps women entrepreneurs in any industry establish themselves. “Whatever their dreams are, they’re given the opportunity to go out and fulfill those dreams,” says Weinstock. Partnering with communities is one of four pillars in De Beers’ “Building Forever” commitment: a commitment to create a positive impact, which endures beyond the discovery of their last diamond. It is an investment in a fairer, safer, cleaner and healthier Botswana.
Part of this commitment to a healthier Botswana means a devoted effort to help preserve the nation’s abundant wildlife. It has long been a focus of the government, and the diamond industry upholds that responsibility. “De Beers Group sets aside six acres of land for conservation for every one acre that they use for mining,” says Kwon. De Beers commits to having a net-positive impact on biodiversity. So far, their ‘Diamond Route’ comprises eight biodiversity conservation sites and nature reserves totaling 500,000 acres, making it one of southern Africa’s most extensive and important conservation networks.
“When I was asked to commemorate my highlight from the trip into my piece, I knew straightaway that it was going to be my visit to the mine,” says Trau, a fifth-generation diamantaire who uses storytelling to empower self-expression. The pendant she created features a delicate layering of diamond-studded 18-karat yellow gold and platinum concentric rings. To her, the rough yellow diamond at its center symbolizes the production process itself. “I wanted to honor where diamonds come from because it is honoring the Earth.”
For Kwon, it was a trip to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, an untouched expanse of biodiversity and one of the seven natural wonders of Africa, that proved most inspiring. Each year, during the height of the dry season, floods of nutrient-rich rainwater transform the lands of the Kalahari Desert and revitalize the natural ecosystem, sustaining untold wildlife. Tourism here is limited and highly regulated to minimize ecological impact.
“We came upon a leopard that was stretched on a branch and it felt incredibly special because leopards are very shy creatures that easily camouflage into their background. It felt like we hit the jackpot,” remembers Kwon. Celebrated for her art deco-inspired works, she designed a pendant with a graceful gold leopard at rest, surrounded by diamond-studded leaves and foliage. It took several iterations until she honed in on something that felt balanced, appropriate and in line with the poetic aesthetic of her brand.
Bryant was equally inspired by her visit to the delta. “The sun was rising as we were driving along in the Jeep, and we stopped just as the elephants were walking past us,” she says. “I was so moved by these elephants, the utter stillness around us and the color palette of the backdrop. It was a moment of complete peace and one of my most vivid memories.” A meticulous draftsman, she sketched almost daily for two months, translating her memories from the trip into a visual diary. Bryant is best known for pieces that blend the bold and refined with precious stones set into hammered-metal details. From the sketches, she hand-forged her pendant directly with responsibly sourced gold. “We cut out the parts and built a little cage for the raw Botswana diamond,” she says. “I used hand-etched finishes in the end to incorporate all the different textures and terrains that I saw over there.”
Botswana’s national animal, the zebra, traverses great swaths of plains in its annual migrations, and made quite an impression on Weinstock. “The bold and unique stripes on their coats were so fascinating to me,” she says. “They are all unique in their own way, which reminded me of a diamond.” Her hexagonal pendant in diamonds and gold came together like a puzzle, each stone arranged into the dazzling stripe pattern. A 30-point polished diamond captivates as the zebra’s eye.
“My son is a Leo, and he loves lions, so I could not wait to share the experience with him,” Chicco recalls. Her timeless, delicate pieces have won her a devoted celebrity following, and for this work, she redesigned a small vintage lion charm that she wears daily. It took weeks to carve the intricate design into wax, before casting it in gold and setting one raw Botswana diamond in the lion’s mouth.
Model Indira Scott wore the pendants in the campaign launch, and sees the line as embodying the need for companies to adopt strict environmental standards: “There’s no denying that the world is on fire right now, and so we really have to pay attention going forward,” she says. “This collaboration was finding out about the ways in which De Beers Group recovers its diamonds in a responsible and ethical way.”
Now on offer by Sotheby’s, the proceeds from each pendant will be split between Stepping Stones International, a charity supporting vulnerable children and youth in Botswana, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the premier legal organization fighting for racial justice in America. Both organizations work tirelessly to promote better and more equitable futures. The donation to SSI will specifically support young mothers with parenting skills and employment training, and educate new fathers on their roles and responsibilities.
For the designers, the trip to Botswana was an eye-opening experience, a pilgrimage to connect with a billions-year-old source material that sustains both people and place. Bringing that connection back home and into their craft is a gift that imbues every design. As Trau remembers: “I got to go to Africa. I was educated. I felt like my soul was fed in many ways.”