Jewelry Designer Thelma West on Rihanna, Sustainability, and Finding Balance
Thelma West is more than just a jewelry designer. Since her career in fine gems began, the entrepreneur has pioneered both her diamond wholesale company, Yeraua Diamonds, and gemological lab IGR London—with plans to open a Nigerian mining and jewelry-making workshop for young women in the works. Since launching in 2012, her pieces have become synonymous with sustainability, featuring fair-mined gold, ethically-sourced African diamonds, and repurposed metals and gemstones. Today, West is looking towards the future of fine jewelry and her various businesses—as well as her growing editorial presence (her creations have been worn by stars like Rihanna and Zendaya, NBD!). The Daily spoke to West about her favorite jewelry memories, balance, upcoming design projects, and more!
What’s your backstory?
I grew up in the vibrant and bustling city that is Lagos. I studied there until I moved to Antwerp to hone my diamond knowledge, and then on to London to build a life and work in the field I am incredibly passionate about!
What’s your earliest memory involving jewelry?
My mother’s jewelry box: seeing colors and sparkles pop out of her collection made me want to try things on. Watching as she’d carefully put each piece on herself always made me smile, I understood that they were special to her. Sometimes I’d choose the piece for the occasion, which was super cool.
When and why did you start your brand?
The TW brand was founded in 2012. I felt the need to tell wonderful stories with jewels after creating my first piece for a friend. The goal hasn’t changed much since then! It’s about enjoying the process of making treasures that mark moments and memories in people’s lives. Ensuring that every creation is as unique as the wearer and the gems.
What’s unique about your offering?
I use recycled and ethically-sourced materials to create fine jewelry. I work closely with clients to translate their personalities and ideas into wearable pieces they can enjoy every day. And, as a brand, we are not afraid to experiment with techniques and textures.
Where do you seek inspiration? And how do you ensure work/life balance?
Nature is my biggest inspiration. However, I love to pay homage with historical references or unique stories. My work is a big part of my life, so I try not to separate it too much. I find it’s simply impossible for me to do that and be at ease. Instead, I go with the flow of engaging with creativity when it comes, putting ideas down and sketching if I need to.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Rihanna wearing my earrings for her entire Essence magazine shoot for the February cover, shot by the awesome Lorna Simpson, would have to be one. And recently, Zendaya wearing my rings on the cover of InStyle magazine and Uzo Aduba choosing my rings for the Emmys, where she won. But, being told by this young couple who were on a tight budget that I had to be the one to create their engagement ring (they wouldn’t take no for an answer!) was equally priceless. The ring was beautiful, their wedding was perfect, and we remain good friends.
You’re not only a designer, but also a gemologist and diamond wholesaler. How do you balance these three sides of the business?
I’m now some kind of master juggler! I enjoy pouring my energy into creating in different businesses. Seeing ideas come to reality gives me a high like no other. There are days when I struggle, but as they are few and far between, I’m learning to delegate and utilize my team more.
You’ve designed a lot of fabulous jewelry! Do you have any favorite pieces from over the years?
I’m always most excited by my latest creations. That’ll be Embrace and my Asscher 8 earrings. These pieces, like most of my pieces, have meaning to them.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my Embrace line. A bracelet made out of recycled gold and ethically-sourced, specially-cut diamonds that hugs the wrist. It’s a gem of a project, and I’m enjoying bringing various concepts to life around it. I’m also working on my new website and online store after years of neglect. A place that showcases my work and tells my story.
This Black History Month, what’s your advice to young Black designers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Find a mentor in the industry. Do your homework; learn, learn, learn every aspect. Work your ass off. Don’t moan, get it done!