Dazzling Diamonds

All photos courtesy Vanleles Diamonds.

Vanleles Diamonds — focused on producing jewelry sourced from ethical mining — is the first-ever female-owned African fine jewelry brand.

Living and working all around the world has allowed Vania Leles to develop an edge in her work, drawing from her experiences to shape Vanleles Diamonds into a global luxury brand. “Growing up, I studied in between Guinea-Bissau and Portugal, returning to Africa during breaks to travel around the continent with my family,” Leles says. “Upon graduating from NOVA University Lisbon, I moved to London to learn English and became a social worker. I changed careers after being discovered by a modeling scout, and lived and worked as a model in Paris and New York for a few years.”

Leles’ ties to her African heritage are evident in her designs. “Then came that fateful day when I decided to join the jewelry world,” Leles says. “All these events and influences are reflected in details of the Vanleles collection. Some people expect my jewelry to be tribal or ethnic, but it is a combination of my memories of Africa and my experiences traveling throughout the world and living in Europe.”

Leles is no stranger to the world of luxury. While working as a model, she was inspired by the fine jewelry on set, and connected this to her home in Africa. “Around 2003, I was modeling on a shoot with fine jewelry when someone on the set told me that all precious and many semiprecious stones can be found in Africa,” Leles explains. “Intrigued, as I am from the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, I did some research. I discovered that at that time, there were no African haute-jewelry designers working with these materials native to their continents.”

With this in mind, Leles set out to begin her own company. “This was enough for me to decide that I would establish the world’s first female-founded African high jewelry house,” Leles says. 

Leles’ breakout into the world of jewelry was not immediate. “When I told my mother about my plans, she suggested I get 10 years of experience before launching my own company,” Leles reflects. “This seemed like a long time, but I agreed, quitting modeling and enrolling in classes on gems, design and business at the Gemological Institute of America.”

Leles then traveled to New York City, learning and graduating from the Gemological Institute of America. Heeding her mother’s advice, Leles spent over a decade working and learning from world-renowned fine jewelry brands GRAFF, De Beers and Sotheby’s. To launch the jewelry business she had dreamed about since her modeling days, London’s New Bond Street, the heart of the international fine jewelry world, was a clear-cut choice for the location of Vanleles Diamonds flagship atelier. “I came here over 20 years ago to learn English and never went back.”

Vanleles Diamonds offers a variety of jewelry styles, including rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, each crafted by skilled jewelry makers. Leles explained that her goal is to allow the wearers of her jewelry pieces to feel “empowered, happy, and with a knowledge that we created their jewelry in the most transparent and ethical way possible.”

Pieces from The Nile Collection, inspired by Ancient Egypt.
The Nile Yellow Gold and Diamonds Fringe Earrings.
Enchanted Garden Titanium Paraiba Flower Earrings.
Legends of Africa Grand Bangle.

According to Vanleles Diamonds’ website, its “unparalleled belief in responsible mining” and commitment to the ethical sourcing of gemstones and precious metals has brought a new direction to the world of fine jewelry, one that is based in purposeful luxury and beauty.

“For my collections, and depending on which gems I need, I will mainly source them in Africa; Zambian for emeralds, Mozambique for rubies, tourmalines of all colors, Namibia for diamonds and Madagascar for pink and other multi-color sapphires,” Leles explained. “Most recently, Nigeria for blue sapphires. When I can, I travel to these locations personally to buy my gems, other times we work with suppliers that adhere to human rights policies and have strong corporate social responsibility.”

Vanleles Diamonds’ strong commitment to responsible mining and the African community is evident in its philanthropies, mainly the Malaika Foundation, a charity that seeks to empower Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.

“The funds we give go straight into these communities that so desperately need them, and in a very fast manner,” Leles says. “For Malaika, for instance, they only have one employee outside Congo, and no real estate rent, so the money is really going into the community and not to pay high salaries and rents in the West. We sponsor girls, and I can see tangible results directly. We chose charities that are small and the employees are on the ground.”

For an especially unique piece, Vanleles Diamonds offers bespoke consultations for custom made, handcrafted jewels. “The design process always starts with the client’s wishes.” Leles says. “During our meeting, I am able to capture their true desire, understand their lifestyle and then we embark on a unique journey to create something exceptional that will last generations to come.”

Finding friendship in diamonds allows Leles to focus on the most important things in her life — her family and business. “[I have] freedom of creations, where to source, how to send my message and freedom for being a mother of young children, I can work when I put them to bed and not miss many matches and activities,” Leles says. “But I certainly work longer and harder!”

Above: Out of Africa Fan Earrings crafted in 18k Rose Gold with Mozambican responsibly sourced rubies and rubelites.
Below: Statement Cocktail Ring
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The Art of Writing

Exclusive writing instruments elevate the tradition of putting pen to paper — a ritual technology cannot erase — into fine art.

Writing a check or signing a document is generally a routine task, one far too often facilitated by an 89-cent piece of plastic and aluminum. But a bejeweled, limited edition writing instrument can transform a simple signature into a truly artistic expression.

Nancy Olson, a leading authority on fine writing instruments, reports, “Unlike many other luxury collectibles, a pen is portable, user-friendly and has a cultural element because of its link to writing and the arts.” Olson, who is also a prominent commentator on timepieces, notes the parallels between the two instruments, stating, “Pens and watches are both small, mechanical objects that provide a healthy hit of extravagance and enjoyment when worn or used.”

Among Olson’s favorite designers are German manufacturers Pelikan and Montblanc, the latter the high-end brand with the greatest mainstream name recognition. Montblanc pens have long been considered luxury items, but many are surprised to learn that some of the company’s limited edition writing instruments cost not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands, of dollars.

Montblanc collaborated with elite jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels on a $730,000 pen bejeweled with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires to commemorate both companies’ 100th anniversaries in 2006. The manufacturer’s Meisterstück Solitaire Royal LeGrand fountain pen is copiously embellished with more than 4,600 diamonds and valued in excess of $200,000.

Olson reports the qualities collectors admire most in pens are craftsmanship, scarcity and the ability to convey a story. 

Les Quatre Couleurs from David Oscarson commemorates the evolution of playing cards. Courtesy of David Oscarson.

The 1010 Timekeeper by Caran d’Ache celebrates the watchmakers that share the company’s hometown of Geneva.           Courtesy of Caran d’Ache.

Few brands have mastered storytelling better than St. Louis-based David Oscarson, whose eye-popping writing instruments encompass a remarkable diversity of themes. In addition to celebrating the natural world, art or architecture, Oscarson pens commemorate historic figures such as the Romanovs of Russia, Lewis & Clark and Sir Alexander Fleming, the bacteriologist who discovered penicillin. Most Oscarson issues are priced at about $5,900, but special editions command more than $250,000.

One David Oscarson pen — a blue and silver piece featuring the Star of David and the Three Crowns of Sweden — honors Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who harbored thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The limited production of each theme often involves a bit of trivia, such as the 63 pens honoring Alfred Nobel (the philanthropist’s age when he died). For most David Oscarson pens, enamel is applied over metal manipulated through the painstaking technique of guilloché, an ornamentation process pioneered by Fabergé.

“There aren’t a lot of choices for gentlemen who like accessories,” states Oscarson. “Beyond wristwatches, there are very few pieces of men’s jewelry that are sustainable in style,” adds the industry veteran.

A one-of-a-kind special edition fountain pen from the company, crafted from solid 18-karat gold and encrusted with nearly 35 carats of white, yellow and caramel diamonds, has been offered on the resale market for $755,000.

“I judge a manufacturer by the quality of its pens and its creativity in putting a fresh face on what, in essence, is a very small canvas,” says pen commentator Olson. She cites Caran d’Ache’s 1010 Timekeeper, a limited edition that cleverly pays homage to the art of watchmaking, the industry that dominates the company’s hometown of Geneva. 

That fountain pen ($11,500) features a reinterpretation of the elements of a watch dial. Its silver- and rhodium-plated cap was inspired by watch strap design and a piston pump with a ruby accent is reminiscent of a watch’s winding crown. This model follows a 2008 limited edition of ten 18-karat gold 1010 pens, currently priced on the resale market at about $150,000.

Caran d’Ache also produced an 18-karat gold fountain pen — another piece valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — sheathed in more than 4,100 brilliant diamonds and accented by a band of 108 emeralds. This unique writing instrument, whose precious stones were set by Geneva jeweler Pierre-Yves Bonzon, took about six months to complete.

Gregory Hengesbaugh, national sales manager for Creative Art Materials, Ltd., the exclusive distributor of Caran d’Ache in the U.S. and Canada, reports the venerable firm enjoys a worldwide cult following. 

“The brand benefits from Swiss manufacturing traditions, whose exacting precision in watchmaking carries over to fine writing instruments,” says Hengesbaugh.

Top: Italian manufacturer Aurora is renowned for its meticulous craftsmanship. Courtesy of Aurora.

Above: David Oscarson’s elegant Russian Imperial series reflects techniques pioneered by Fabergé. Courtesy of David Oscarson.

The limited edition samurai fountain pen reflects Montegrappa’s elaborate themes. Courtesy of Montegrappa.

No company on the planet celebrates the pen as an objet d’art as well as Montegrappa, Italy’s oldest manufacturer of fine pens. Last year it released a limited edition Samurai fountain pen ($15,000) that is a wealthy grown-up’s version of a toy soldier. Each of the 177 sterling silver sets (packaged in a black lacquered box) includes an armored warrior, along with a katana sword case that contains a letter opener.

Aurora

www.aurorapen.it

Caran d’Ache

www.carandache.com

David Oscarson

www.davidoscarson.com

Montblanc

www.montblanc.com

Montegrappa

www.montegrappa.com

Pelikan

www.pelikan.com

Tibaldi

www.tibaldi.it

Prices of limited edition luxury pens can be stratospheric, but the $8 million reportedly paid at a Shanghai charity auction has remained a safe record since 2010. Commanding that astonishing figure was the Fulgor Nocturnus from Italian manufacturer Tibaldi (a subsidiary of Montegrappa), copiously embellished with 945 black diamonds and 123 rubies.

Aurora, another venerable Italian pen maker, claims its Diamante fountain pen — whose graceful platinum form is sheathed in 1,919 De Beers diamonds totaling 30 carats — is the most exclusive writing instrument in the world. Almost too exquisite to use, just a single Diamante, priced at more than $1.4 million, is available each year.

Nancy Olson reports many collectors place a premium on the provenance of pens, collecting almost everything produced by a specific brand. Acknowledging pen aficionados’ diverse motivations, she states, “Some use all the pens in their collections and really appreciate the art of writing while others keep their pens in their original boxes, never to see a drop of ink!”

Either way, luxury writing instruments are in no danger of going out of style. “There’s something about a fountain pen that’s majestic,” suggests pen maker David Oscarson.

Sweet Sustainability

Some of the world’s finest hotels have accepted hundreds of thousands of new guests: honeybees that reflect a commitment to sustainability.

Dining Responsibly

Seafood challenges chefs and delights diners, but a world of rapidly depleting resources requires conscientious choices.

A Guide to the Michelin Guide

Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts is proud to announce that both the hotel’s signature restaurants, the Italian Il Ristorante — Niko Romito and the Chinese Bao Li Xuan, have been awarded Michelin stars during the Michelin Guide Shanghai 2020 presentation ceremony.

Q&A with Chris Goddard of HGTV’s Design Star

Chris Goddard credits his appearance on HGTV’s Design Star for reigniting his passion.

Completing the Collection

From smartphones to staying at home, the way we experience art has metamorphosed. Now, we’re getting an inside look at entire collections, and it’s easy and accessible.

Glass Ceilings: Designed to be Broken

In the male-dominated field of architecture, the prominence of iconic women architects has inspired a new generation of pioneer females, but that path is still laden with roadblocks.

ASPIRE House: Princeton Designer Show House

The Aspire Princeton Designer Show House showcased elegant and creative designs by interior designers, all with their own design aesthetic.

The Magic of ‘Layering Light’

An artist’s unconventional way of painting creates spectacular pieces that allow the viewer to experience their own emotion or recall their own memory.

Wallpaper’s Wizardry

Subtle or bold, classic or contemporary, shiny or opaque, wallpaper has evolved to be design’s magic wand to fashion an interior that captures creativity.

Streetwise

Graffiti and street art have earned a place in prestigious collections, private galleries and museums. Click the link to see examples from all over!

Maximalism

From patterned wallpapers and dark paint to a velvet sofa with a mix of textures pillows, Maximalism calls to be courageous in design and embrace “more."

Diagram This

John A. Peralta, a self-taught artist based in Austin, Texas, has a unique taste for both science and how things work as well as art.

The Spirit of Giving

Rolls-Royce auction raises over $2 million for children's hospital.

Sustainability Without Sacrifice

Hoping to be more sustainable in 2022? Introducing luxury handbags that leave their mark on the fashion industry without damaging the environment.

The Transition

Of all the changes brought on by the pandemic, what is here to stay?

Mindful Drinking

A movement started across the pond is reshaping the relationship people have with alcohol, and starting new conversations about the topic.

The Legends of Ultimate Homes

As we take a look at this year's Ultimate Homes magazine, we also look back at the exceptional properties and agents who have been a part of the annual celebration of the most expensive real estate in the U.S.

Dazzling Diamonds

Vanleles Diamonds offers a variety of jewelry styles, including rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, each crafted by skilled jewelry makers.

Car-Free Communities

Long commutes, congested traffic routes, parking fees, and pollution have all encouraged a whole new way of thinking when it comes to cars — car-free communities. These communities are designed for those looking to reconnect with the outdoors and spend less time stuck in traffic.

FIABCI: A Network that Works

One thing to know about the FIABCI network, the U.S. chapter of the International Real Estate Federation; it works

H&E Undercover with Craig Hogan and Gilles Rais

Craig Hogan, vice president of luxury for Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, goes undercover — literally — with South Florida real estate star Gilles Rais for our first-ever reveal of the Homes & Estates cover property.

Custom Gulf-front Home in Casey Key, Florida up for Auction

With 123 feet of private beachfront away from the crowds in Casey Key, Florida, this home offers a place to get away from it all.

Under Pressure

On Unique Homes' first exclusive virtual panel, real estate agents discussed how the real estate markets of America endured (and continue to endure) through the turbulence that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused.
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Bedding for a Cause

Are you looking for a way to help out this new year? Rest easy with these new sheets. 

The Good Sheet, a luxury bedding brand based in Tasmania, Australia partnered with non-profit organization, One Tree Planted, is planting five trees in its home state of Tasmania with every bedding set sold.

The ability to allow customers to make a positive environmental impact with their purchase is in harmony with a recent change in business direction towards sustainably produced bedding, which draws inspiration from the beauty of Tasmania’s nature.

Founder of The Good Sheet, Kamila Scholz said, “We are absolutely thrilled to have found a partner in One Tree Planted who shares our values and helps make our business a force for good. We’re very happy that beyond creating beautiful bedding, we can also do something positive for our local environment, right here in Tasmania. We want our customers to sleep even better knowing they helped plant a forest while they sleep.”

Over 80-percent of native species in Australia are not found anywhere else, and Tasmania is where many of the country’s threatened species can find refuge. Some, like the Tasmanian Devil, Eastern Quoll, Eastern Bettong and Eastern Barred Bandicoot are virtually extinct on the mainland so protecting their last remaining habitat in Tasmania is critical. The Good Sheet will work together with One Tree Planted to help restore vital wildlife corridors in the midlands region of Tasmania which has experienced significant habitat depletion.

This project will not only help protect and restore Tasmania’s biodiversity and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but also revitalize local farming and create jobs. “When you think about tree restoration, it’s not only about fighting climate change it’s also about maintaining ecosystems,” says researcher Jean-Francois Bastin from the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich.

Trees planted through this project are chosen for their suitability and benefit to the local environment. They include several types of Eucalyptus and Acacia trees and sometimes others, depending on the specific needs of the local habitat.

Photos courtesy of The Good Sheet

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Nature-Inspired Gift Guide

The perfect luxury gift guide for those who appreciate the great outdoors.

Sara Miller Flamingo Double Oven Glove and Tea Towel

Enter the enchanting world of Sara Miller London: a luxury brand that celebrates a love of print, pattern and exquisite use of color. With its bold design and confident color, ‘Flamingo’ is a quirky and playful design brimming with personality.

The Sara Miller London Flamingo Double Oven Glove — bringing the wild into your kitchen with beautiful and bright colors. Fully compliant with EU regulations and tested to 250-degrees. Printed on high-quality cotton and presented in a foiled box, this vibrant range will add a splash of color to your home.

Autumn Jewelry 

Choose from maple leaf pendants, oak leaf pendants, amber jewelry, and dichroic glass jewelry.

These pieces are beautiful, unusual, sleek, stylish and perfect as a gift! Your friends and family will love the authentic charm.

Stylish Notebooks Inspired by the Natural History Museum

These cheerful notebooks are perfect for daily notes with colorful images on the front and gorgeous gold edging. 160 lined pages and you can choose from various designs to find just the right one.

The cover artwork has been adapted from images and objects held within the collections of the Museum.

Bodil Jane Leopard or Lemur Bamboo Bowls and Cups

A tropical bowl made from sustainable bamboo fiber, designed by popular illustrator Bodil Jane. The functional pieces are great for everyday use and the art is cheerful with bright colors that will be an enjoyable addition to any kitchen.

Leopard Lifestyle

Choose from various leopard gifts inspired by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55. Although you may want them, choose from leopard-inspired salt and pepper shakers that will give your dining table an added edge and printed socks and scarves to stay warm this spring.

Photos courtesy of the Natural History Museum

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