The road to success as an aspiring jewellery designer and manufacturer is littered with the broken dreams of many who have travelled that route. Although a number of institutions strive to offer courses in various aspects of design, goldsmithing and diamond setting, the falloff rate remains alarming – and those who do graduate, invariably find it difficult to secure positions with manufacturing jewellers.
Recognising the plight of students navigating this challenging route, Carola Ross, the former owner of an event management business, was driven to find a solution.
For many years, Sasol had been renowned for their support of visual arts and Carola was involved in organising the jewellery segment of the Sasol Wax Art Award. Having visited a number of schools and institutions, she discovered that students from rural areas were poorly equipped and lacked the facilities that would allow the jewellery students to compete at the high levels of craftsmanship required. These students received basic training that resigned them to become bench workers, ignoring the potential talent that could develop their design capability.
After considerable negotiation, she obtained agreement from the Chairman of the Management Board of Sasol Wax, for support to launch a pilot project to assist these students. She adopted the name Thuthuka and started with the sponsorship of two students. During the 2007 Sasol Wax Art Award, the former Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Nthomba Zana, was impressed with the small jewellery display and invited Carola to present to the Department in Pretoria. They loved the project and committed funds to a one-year project to supplement that which was already being provided by Sasol.
Students received mentorship from three university graduates with a combined 35 years’ experience in the jewellery industry. These mentors taught their protégés design skills, creativity and how to think analytically. Ten years later, the success of the Thuthuka Jewellery Development Program (TJPD), the only one of its kind in South Africa, has become legendary. Students from community schools and universities across the country are given the opportunity to explore and express their creativity. This involves considerable extra work for the students who must continue with the curriculum at their respective jewellery schools. But the results have been undeniably impressive as the quality and creativity of participating students’ creations has soared.
The annual Thuthuka Design Awards have evolved into a prestigious event spanning various categories of entry. Students from seven provinces, Gauteng, Free State, Cape Province, North West and Limpopo annually participate in the Thuthuka Jewellery Awards and benefit directly from the unique one-on- one design and manufacturing upskilling and mentoring process, conducted by qualified young jewellers with industry experience.
For the last three years Metal Concentrators have been the largest sponsor of metal for this competition. MetCon provides all the silver that the students use for the manufacturing of their competition pieces.
“The Thuthuka Jewellery Development Program brings out the best in our young designers so that ultimately, they can make a living doing what they love with confidence.” Says Carola. “The support of Metal Concentrators enables us to approach things in different and fresh ways.”
The theme in 2015 was ‘Music’, in which students were briefed to design a piece for their favourite South African musician, dancer or DJ, that would best suit their hero’s personal style, their philosophy or genre of music or performance. The calibre of the entries was truly awe-inspiring, reaching higher standards of inherent creativity and enthusiasm than ever before!
In 2016, the brief was ‘Geometry Redesigned’. Students are challenged to reinterpret and redefine basic geometric shapes – the cube, prism, cylinder, sphere, etc. In addition, the have an added challenge in which they must incorporate a found object and some colour into their design.
2017 was the year for taking the students back to their roots. They had to make something that inspired them and together with this, had to make a piece of tableware that complimented their main work.
The Thuthuka Jewellery Development Program and the Thuthuka Jewellery Awards through the dedication of Carola Ross and sponsors like MetCon, plays a crucial role in providing a platform for promoting and showcasing the enormous talent that resides within South Africa’s emerging jewellers.