African female entrepreneurs & sparkling stones business

The universe of sparkles and precious stones is being led by female business leaders globally. Jennifer Obayuwana and Vania Leles add sparkles to this blog with their business of jewellery and watches.

Obayuwana is the Executive Director of Polo Luxury Group in Nigeria which is the official retailer of Bovet, Brequet, Chopard, Cartier, Rolex, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Balmain, Messika and Omega. She retails these brands in several of her boutiques in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria.  The business caters to a African clients from Nigeria, Cameroun, Ivory Coast, Angola, South Africa and the rest of the continent. Majority of their foreign clientele are expatriates in the country.

“I grew up in this industry of Haute Horlogerie and Haute Joallerie. I have been working  with my father. He is the pioneer luxury industry in 1987 in Nigeria. I grew up passionate about this industry of beautiful stones and I started working in the family business at an early age,” says Obayuwana. “Every summer holiday, I worked in sales on the shop floor. I also prepared for the business by studying several executive courses at Cranfield (UK), INSEAD (France), Lagos Business School (Nigeria) and Colombia (US).”

Based in London, UK is Vania Leles, born of African and Portuguese descent. Leles, is a former model who launched her fine jewellery brand VanLeles in 2011 as the founder and creative director. 

“I graduated from Gemmological Institute of America (GIA) and worked for renowned fine jewellery brands GRAFF, De Beers and Sotheby’s, and launched my atelier in London’s New Bond Street,  comments Leles. “I only work with precious metals and fine gemstones; gold, platinum, yellow gold, rose-gold, white-gold and titanium along with coloured gemstones, sapphires, diamonds and pearls. I love big earrings and I have created many beautiful large earrings but they are not heavy on the ears as I use titanium.”

Africa has  minimum of 6,900 multi-millionaires and millionaires (High Net Worth Individuals) are living in Africa. This data is from a 2019 report by New World Wealth company in South Africa. According to this report multi-millionaires are individuals with net assets of US$10 million or more and millionaires (HNWIs) Those individuals with net assets of US$1 million and above.

”The total wealth held on the continent amounts to US$2.2 trillion and a minimum of US$920 billion (42%) of this is held by HNWIs in the continent.,” explains Andrew Amoils, Wealth Analyst, New World Wealth. “There are approximately 310 centi-millionaires living inAfrica, each with net assets of US$100 million or more and there are 23 billionaires living in Africa, each with net assets of US$1 billion or more. The top spending categories are dining, travel, shopping and recreation”

Leles has a global clientele lead by the Middle East where she has jewellery shows and private events in Bahrain, Doha, Saudi and Dubai. There has been a significant increase from African American requests. 

“I have a lot of African clients who live in Africa. They are mostly from Lagos, Abuja, Luanda and Accra, also I have a few from South Africa,” she comments. “The African clients spend at least around £30,000 on my jewellery. My clients are both men and women. But women are buying more and more. Some ladies like to buy and pay in instalments. Which I am happy to facilitate, but the jewelry is only delivered once it has been fully paid. Most men come in, buy, pay and leave.”

The African luxury consumer is savvy and  brand conscious. In addition, there is a large increase female consumption as more women are strongly economically empowered, well traveled and knowledgeable This has given them significant purchasing power for luxury objects of art. Social media has played a key role in inspiring more women to consume luxury. 

According to Amoils, some of the most coveted brands in Africa are: Breguet, Rolex, Breitling, Cartier and Vacheron Constantin.

“We retail many renowned, high-quality brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Bulgari & Channel but we ensure that we offer them more renowned brands such as Longines, Chopard, Piaget, Roger Dubuis and  Fredrique Constant,” says Obayuwana. “For other jewellery and accessories, women love Piaget, Messika & Chopard pieces. Women often rely on social media for inspiration on the kind of jewellery and timepieces they wish to own. In addition, they also influence the men on the choice of pieces the women want as well as themselves.”

The two female business owners use their Instagram heavily to communicate to their audiences and acquire new clients, which showcasing the products that they are retailing in the boutiques.

“My Instagram is important to some of my clients such as those in the Middle East and Africa. They use to know my new creations and sometimes make their orders via that platform. There is also another type of clientele who is not active on social media and prefers private one on one service with me,” Leles expounds.

“I use my Instagram page which is known as @feeljeni as  a focal point to creating awareness around some of my favourite novelties which are available at Polo Luxury,” explains Obayuwana.

For both Obayuwana and Leles as well as other luxury businesses that cater to Africans, there are several challenges such as government bureaucracies, change in policies, laws, regulations and political challenges which often led to market insecurities and negative effects on the business. It can be a challenge to implement business plans when investor confidence is challenged. 

The clientele is increasing and becoming more sophisticated while the continent creates the appropriate infrastructure for the fine jewellery and watches industry.

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