Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry’s ex, talks about her jewellery line Aya Africa and growing up in Zimbabwe
Davy was inspired to create jewellery after visiting her brother and a trip to an emerald mine and her first collection has a heavy elephant theme
“Growing up in Zimbabwe was a magical experience. I was quite blasé about how cool it was as it all seemed so normal. I grew up next to Victoria Falls, saw elephants walk through the town centre. My pre-school was often overrun with monkeys.
It was an amazing upbringing, but at the time I didn’t realise that. I understood the enormity of it all when I left to go to school in London aged 14. It was different from running around barefoot at home – a real eye-opener.
I always knew I wanted to do something that would take me back to Africa. I wasn’t quite sure what that was or what form it would take. But after spending a few years at a law firm, I decided to go travelling around Africa and visit my brother who was living in Lusaka, Zambia.
While there, a friend of his gave a necklace which had emerald gemstones to his girlfriend. That’s when my interest in jewellery started – I was fascinated with the stones.
After that I fell in love with other gems including sapphires from Madagascar, tanzanite in Tanzania and rubies from Mozambique.
I enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America to learn more about the technical aspects of gemstones. While there I discovered that the array of coloured gemstones throughout Africa was incredible. So that’s where the core of Aya came from and part of the reason why I launched the brand.
I wanted it to be authentically African. I wanted my pieces made in Africa, featuring African craftsmanship and gemstones from the continent. It was during my research that I came across Gemfields, a company in Africa who have the mines that I work with now.
As part of the sourcing process with Gemfields, I stayed at the Kagem emerald mine to see some of the stones first-hand. It’s in northern Zambia in the middle of nowhere and one of the coolest places I’ve visited.
To get to the emerald mine, you have to fly. If you drive, you have to go from Lusaka, which is the capital of Zambia, for… I don’t even know how long ... But those roads are not good and it would be a very bumpy ride! So we flew to Kitwe, which is a nearby town, and then from there we drove about half an hour to get to the mine.
We went into the pit, where they were digging for the emeralds. I remember pulling out the most amazing emerald. It was just the most fascinating experience because it’s the first time that emerald had ever been seen. It made its way through the earth, coming out of the ground for the very first time.
Spending time at the Kagem emerald mine taught me about the process that gems go through. You first see stones in the pit before they are taken to the sorting house. Once there, they are cut, cleaned and graded. It was a bit surreal to see it all in real life, because I had only read and learned about it through my GIA course. But only when you actually go and see it, are you able to conceptualise the whole chain of events.
Aya in ancient West African Adinkra symbology means ‘fern’. It is the brand’s logo. The plant symbolises endurance and durability, because of its ability to grow in really difficult circumstances. Gemstones form in very specific geological conditions, over millions and millions of years, and they also demonstrate resilience and endurance. This is how we came up with “Aya”.
The elephant tusk motif is found throughout the collection. I think that’s because I designed most of the collection while I was at our river house on the Zambezi River, where elephants often roam.
Coincidentally, I was charged by an elephant not too long ago. I’ve been charged a few times. They’re always charging where I’m from, though I’m not sure why! Fortunately, it was a mock charge so they just flanked me. I’m taught that when elephants might be a danger to you, you must stand still. You’re not supposed to move forward or back, which is very easy to say but much harder to do in real life!
Working with Gemfields is great because they are so good to their workers. They really work hard to engage with the local community. One thing that Gemfields is known for is that they are able to guarantee that the stone is traceable from mine to market, which is important for a brand like ours. They are also focused on providing education and health care to the communities that they work with. As Aya also believes that education is key for a nation to be great, we are dedicated to improving the accessibility and quality of education in communities that we work with.
As part of promoting education we are working with a local school called Kapila Community School, which has 600 pupils, four teachers and three classrooms. However, the government cannot recognise the institution unless it has six classroom blocks, so Aya has been helping to build one over the last six months.
The building is almost finished – they’ve put the roof on, and it’s going to be furnished next. That’s the type of initiative we want to contribute to. Perhaps we can do the same with a ruby mine in Mozambique. We want to keep making a difference in education, because this is the way you can empower children, and help Africa reach its full potential.”