Tuesday, January 25, 2022

‘Mool-life’ : A Botswana-born design adorning love and life

A diamond by itself is a gemstone, perhaps not even the most enchanting in its raw and rough form. Yet, today it adorns many of life’s milestone celebrations. When cut and polished it exudes a hard-to-miss sparkle and flash of color. Interestingly, what makes a diamond such a hit isn’t necessarily its qualities but the convincing story that, centuries ago, was entwined and contrived to present it as a symbolism of celebration. This is the primary reason a diamond sells. Having worked with diamonds for a year now it would seem Laone Rahele has internalised the mastery of creating appeal behind a gemstone.  Laone knows that he is crack shot in drawing but is equally aware that it isn’t enough to fire his ambition. This is why he reckons that “diamonds aren’t just materials to make jewellery, they have a meaning far beyond that.” In that, he believes there is an opportunity for him to create designs that reflect and evoke feelings, experiences and memories in people’s lives. His design process is to follow the impact a diamond should have: “it makes a piece not just valuable by its nature, but by the story behind the piece.” In short, it is the story interlaced with the design of a piece of jewellery that makes it gain affection, not the material used. He says, “the diamond market is not about making sales, it’s about making people feel better about themselves.”

Laone, a graduate of Oodi College of Applied Arts and Technology, is a bright spark. It was his outstanding top grades on completion of his studies in jewellery design and manufacturing that landed him a job at Private Collection, a local jewellery store. One thing is that he had always imagined that his knack for drawing should have a far greater purpose than simply channeling it into making portraits. This is what he had observed to be the route that those  equipped as he is would often take. He acknowledged his talent but on the one hand thought that he had a future waiting for him in the field of business. His mother, with whom he shares a close relationship with, acted on prescience and made sure to nudge him into unwrapping the strands of his artistry. He allowed her intuitive encouragement to fuel his skill and unbeknownst to him it was in that unraveling that he would later finally accept that it is his calling. His job at Private Collection affirmed what his mother had always seen. He didn’t immediately start with showcasing his flair but it didn’t take long before he was re-directed into the design space. It was there that his imagination was stretched, his creativity explored and brought about the conviction that there is more that can come out of him.

More than just propelling him into a finding stage of his life, his job as an assistant jewellery designer exposed him to a side of a  diamond not known by many in Botswana. He began to notice that the buying knowledge and patterns of Batswana consumers contrasted other nationalities. Whereas other nationalities would demonstrate basic knowledge on the determinants of a diamond’s quality, which then guides their purchase; Batswana aren’t such enthusiasts. Batswana consumers would misguidedly equate the beauty of a piece of jewellery to its quality, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The internationally recognised association called the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) created the diamond 4C’s (color, cut, clarity and carat) as a standard by which diamonds are to be judged internationally.

This was to help consumers learn how to buy diamonds against information that assists understanding on their true quality. Can Batswana be blamed for such faulty judgement? In reality, the view of a diamond in Botswana has predominantly been ascribed to the process of them being hauled from the pit of the ground in their rough nature. A diamond to ordinary local folks is what has put them through school, what allows them free public health services, the roads on which their cars travel on etc. It is these amenities that spring to mind when a diamond is held in conversation among Batswana. It is the miserly touch of a diamond in all its brilliance and scintillation that Batswana are utterly divorced from that denies them a keen interest in jewellery. This sad truth is what Laone picked to be a stark difference on the view of a diamond between Batswana consumers and other nationalities.

There are sought after jewellery designers in the world. The likes of Viren Bhagat, Victoire de Castellane, Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR) to mention but a few. Laone, a Motswana lad, is carving his path to likewise become a luminary in the alluring design world. This is an industry far too often dominated by historically-rich reputation spanning years, flawless workmanship, access to diamond certification and extensive knowledge. More people have broken into the industry but few have demonstrated a staying power and went on to succeed.

As a budding designer, the 2020/21 De Beers Designer initiative pulled at his interest. The competition nominates and exhibits exceptional jewellery designer talent across De Beers’ producer countries. The entrants were to resemble the theme ‘the evolution of love and life’ in light of the covid-19 pandemic in the form of jewellery pieces. Though Laone understood the  brief no idea initially came to mind. He mulled over it but in vain. Still in the thick of this fog a phone conversation between him and his mother happened and in it he shared about his futility of  the task at hand. “I’ll pray for you,” was his mother’s response. At the end of the conversation an avalanche of emotion tugged deeply at his heart. A memory of his late grandmother, with whom they shared a deep love, flashed his mind. This was the eureka moment that would finally spur his mind into motion. “I reflected on what my mom has done for me since I was born, I also thought of my grandmother; I got to a point where I realised that, that is love”

Laone’s design borrows from the unique and rich journey a woman traverses during pregnancy until the eventual birth of a baby and the growth that follows. The name of his collection is ‘Mool-life’ and it is at the best the epitome of a one-of-a-kind celestial love: a mother’s love. It is a simple yet transcendental representation of life’s beginnings and its process of growth as well as the pains that tag along. At pregnancy, a baby typically assumes a fetal position in which the spine is curved, the body is pulled in and the head is bowed. Laone interpreted this position as the magnificent formation of life. Looking closely at his design, an almost C-looking like shape, which embodies the fetal position by way of its curvature, can be picked out.

The body of small diamonds draped along this almost C-looking like shape represents the umbilical cord, which denotes the flow of love to life. The bigger single diamond, tugged neatly inside the almost C-looking like shape, signifies the baby, who is life by itself. Laone also observed that babies aren’t the only ones who default to this position. Grown-ups too unconsciously and subconsciously retract to this position when subjected to pain or distress. It characterises the sense of safety and protection, which the womb provides. Though the transformation of pregnancy to the baby’s delivery to the child’s care and upbringing is a symbolism of beauty, it is on the other hand not without pains. Laone denoted these growing pains with the covid-19 pandemic pangs, signifying that in the midst of love and life, there are also afflictions.

The narration of the design largely focuses on the enduring bond and unconditional love between a mother and child. It is a story unfolded through the lens of a young man, who never will have a first-hand experience of pregnancy, but who from soaking up his mother and grandmother’s love, articulates its majesty. The piece of jewellery he designed isn’t solely tailored for those with first-hand experience. It is a design from which every person alive can relate to a love they feel and experience that is akin to that of a mother and child. Laone says “it is a piece of honour to everyone who wears it.”

On the day he was announced the 2021 De Beers Shining Light Awards winner, his face didn’t reflect an obvious elation. He carried a calm and cool as a cucumber stance, contradicting the august honour that had just been bestowed on him. “My win wasn’t just that I was the best designer, but that I had done the best out of me.” He recounted that it was on receiving the email that informed him of his nomination that his expression was with utter glee. The first place has earned Laone a 12-month graduate scholarship at Poli. Design-Polytechnic di Milano in Milan, Italy. Laone fervently awaits his immersion into the teachings and tangible experiences from the professional training, which he hopes will further hone his craftsmanship. To cut a diamond you need to use one on the other, only then will it begin to glimmer. Laone figures himself to be a diamond, needing to be cut and polished until the glow is unmissable. He desires that along his own glow-up he gives a hand to others like him. “I wish I could develop a program to make Batswana aware of what we have and how it can impart our communities.” He hopes that Botswana’s talent will no longer be by-standers to the craft of jewellery of a gemstone that comes from their soil.

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