Almost half the world’s gemstones are found in South Africa which means that Cape Town is a treasure trove of gems, from top-notch diamonds, rare blue tanzanite and other colorful gems found in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro to precious metals such as platinum, gold and sterling silver. With this wealth of materials comes a creative community of local designers and artisans who hand craft unique jewelry pieces. If you’re in the market for some new jewels or accessories, here’s our guide to jewelry shopping in Cape Town.
Shopping for diamonds — know your four Cs
When shopping for precious gems such as diamonds, only buy in legitimate jewelry stores and make sure that the stone has been certified by an independent organization such as the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or the European Gemological Laboratory (EGL). It should come with an official certificate that breaks down the value of the gem according to the ‘four Cs,’ a universal grading system that’s divided into four classifications: cut, color, clarity and carat-weight.
The cut is the most important and is judged on how much light is reflected within the stone i.e. how sparkly it is. The more symmetrical and proportional the shape of the diamond, the more sparkly and valuable it is. If the stone is cut too deep or shallow, more light will escape making it less sparkly (and thus less valuable). When it comes to color, a yellow or brown tint is undesirable and the more colorless the diamond, the more rare and valuable it is. Clarity refers to the traces (or lack) of other minerals, which appear as natural imperfections (a.k.a. inclusions). Obviously the less inclusions, the better the diamond. The carat-weight reflects the weight of the diamond with one carat being 200mg so the larger the diamond, the higher the carat-weight and the greater the value. The value depends on all of the factors combined so a smaller diamond with high clarity and color may be more valuable than a bigger diamond with lower color and clarity.
Check out these local favorites…
Yair Shimansky is one of South Africa’s most prestigious jewelry brands first established by a young Yair, who studied the art of diamond cutting and polishing in Japan. He started from modest beginnings selling his jewelry collection at a flea market on the beach in Durban before he opened his first boutique in 1990 selling the finest diamonds, tanzanite and platinum jewelry pieces that money can buy. Nowadays, the high-end collections feature very elegant, classic pieces that will stand the test of time.
For something more contemporary and a wider range of precious and semi-precious stones and styles, check out local designer Kirsten Goss. Her eclectic collection of handmade pieces twinkle with diamonds, birthstones and other unique gems and are crafted from sterling silver or 18-carat gold jewelry so there’s something to cover all budgets. There’s also the option to personalize your piece by engraving your name or initials on it.
Karin Rae Matthee is another promising local contemporary jewelry designer on the scene who launched Dear Rae in 2010 after studying jewelry design in both South Africa and Germany. Her combined studio and workshop showcases her collection of delicate, on-trend pieces, working with a range of metals and price ranges.
Alon Shina African Designs injects a distinctly more native African aesthetic into their line of jewelry, combining unique ethnic designs with colorful gemstones. The collection, designed by local Alon Shina, features a wide range of chunkier and more delicate pieces to suit all styles. You can visit the designer in his workshop and boutique on the VA Waterfront and watch his works in progress and even take part in the design process for your own custom piece. What’s more, Alon donates a percentage of his sales to the Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA) project that works with underprivileged communities.
Jewelry shopping on a budget
The inner city Pan African Market on Long Street is a three-story bazaar jam-packed with curios, including lots of handcrafted jewelry by local artisans from all over Africa. Don’t buy the first thing you see or settle on the first price as there are numerous stores to browse and some bargaining to be done. Amongst the range of options, you’ll see a lot of colorful beadwork that is a traditional art form firmly rooted in the tribal culture of South Africa and has become a major ecotourism activity, creating sustainable employment for many local artisans with beading skills.
Got any other great tips for jewelry shopping in Cape Town? Let us know about them in the comments section below.