Talk about persistence.
Vania Leles earned her GG from GIA in London in 2004 and promptly sent her curriculum vitae to Graff Diamonds on Bond Street for her dream job.
She sent it again … and again … and again.
The 15th time was the charm and she got a call for an interview.
“It was the only place I wanted to work,” she said. “Knowing what you want -- and why -- is important. Being persistent was key and led me to a wonderful career.”
Leles, a former fashion model who used to jet-set around the world for photo shoots and fashion shows, switched careers because she couldn’t resist the draw of diamonds and fine jewelry. Her interest in gems dates back to her memories of playing with her mother’s collection as a little girl.
“The seven years I spent as a model working in London, New York and Paris with couturiers, stylists and fashionistas exposed me to the world of exquisitely designed fine jewellery,” she said. “I was compelled [to change careers] by the fact that these beautiful pieces were made with vibrant and exciting stones.”
She was an in-house gemologist and brand ambassador for Graff, where she gained invaluable experience sourcing fine high-end jewelry for the design house’s exclusive clientele.
“Working with such valuable pieces gave me a keen eye for identifying and appreciating the rarest and most beautiful diamonds and gemstones in the world,” she said.
She credits her GIA education with giving her the essential skills she needed to embark on her gem and jewelry career, including being able to talk about the 4Cs in depth with clients.
“GIA empowered me and gave me the confidence to negotiate and engage with clients,” she said. “You need to transmit knowledge when negotiating. They need to feel secure that you know you understand your product.”
After two years at Graff, which is essentially a family-owned business, she decided she wanted to experience corporate structure and went to De Beers to create bespoke jewelry and source fine investment-purpose diamonds for clients, including royalty.
Three years later, she set her sights on the auction houses to gain expertise with all periods of jewelry. She was invited to join the Jewellery Department at Sotheby's, where she oversaw and participated in auctioning some of the world's most prestigious diamond and gemstone pieces, including the sale of the magnificent jewels of the Duchess of Windsor.
Leles appreciated the insight earned at these iconic jewelry businesses, but knew she wanted to launch her own company, so Vanleles Diamonds opened for business in 2011.
“I felt privileged to have been trusted enough to work in such fine companies, but I knew that ultimately my destiny was to source my own diamonds and gems -- and design my own jewelry for my trusted circle of clients,” she said. “Vanleles Diamonds is a labor of love.”
Her clients range from bankers and entrepreneurs in the tech industry, to fashion stylists and at least one member of a royal family.
“My clients look for quality, a jeweler they can trust and good value for his/her hard-earned money,” she said. “They are typically heavily involved in the fine details of the specifications and design of the piece and expect excellence service.”
Leles took some of GIA’s design courses, so she sketches ideas as she meets with clients to capture their concepts on paper.
“I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the most talented designers and craftsmen in the world and this has really helped me find my own voice as a jeweler,” she said. “We take the time to really get to know our client’s lifestyle and needs to create truly unique pieces of jewelry. Our passion is to create something personal and exceptional that tells a story within the client’s budget and requirements.”
Leles’ day starts at 7:30 a.m. with a quick jog, some strong coffee and getting up to speed on her trusted MacBook Air. She updates Vanleles Diamonds’ social media channels and checks the prices of precious metals and diamonds. Done with the computer, she makes her way to her workshop to check in with the master craftsmen working on their latest designs.
“I normally have my first client appointments by 11a.m. in our Belgravia studio and spend the rest of the day with clients, showing them a selection of the diamonds we’ve sourced that week and sketching jewelry that reflects their wishes.”
Leles, who was born in Guinea-Bissau, on the West African Coast, is proud of the fact that her company only buys conflict-free diamonds and is supporting the economic growth of Botswana and Namibia.
Ultimately, it is clear Leles’ persistence paid off.
“I love every aspect of my job – from sourcing rare, precious and ethical diamonds, to spending time with our clients to get the design absolutely perfect, to the pride of being able to deliver a true masterpiece of jewelry,” Leles said. “I love to be able to exceed our clients’ expectations of the amazing beauty of our products and the great value we offer.”