Now in the sixth year of its existence, AngloGold Ashanti's Riches of Africa Gold Jewellery Design Competition has become an annual highlight of the company's marketing initiatives. The company established the Riches of Africa competition with the objectives of stimulating demand for gold jewellery, promoting excellence and originality in design and developing the skills base of the South African jewellery industry.
While the fundamental goals of the competition have not changed, it is interesting to reflect on their development and growth. Alyson Horsley of AngloGold Ashanti Marketing comments, "We have learnt from experience each year. Looking back at the 1999 prizewinning pieces, for example, while they certainly showed talent and originality, they were primarily aimed at a consumer market and were smaller and more understated than the striking ramp pieces of later years." This is borne out by the increasingly imaginative and original designs and the ingenuity applied to create greater visual impact. The growing prestige enjoyed by the competition is demonstrated by the steady growth in the number of entries received, from just over 200 in 1999 to 1,899 in 2004.
"Over the lifetime of the competition, we have experimented with different gold caratages," says Horsley. "To promote high caratage jewellery, entrants were required to work in 22 and 24 carat gold for the 2000 and 2001 competitions. This proved to have a number of disadvantages, among others its softness, making it unsuitable for the rigours of fashion shows and exhibitions. As a result, from 2002, pieces submitted have again been required in 18 carat gold."
A noticeable development in recent competitions has been the shift from an exclusive focus on jewellery to designers creating gold product in a broad spectrum of objects from fashion to art. This development is in tune with international trends but has represented too much of a shift away from real jewellery. The organisers thus intend to refine the brief for 2005 in order to draw designs which produce statement jewellery as opposed to ramp pieces or fashion accessories.
Significant changes which have improved or enhanced the competition over the years include the introduction of white and rose gold allowing for greater expressiveness. The competition is also open to entrants from a wide range of creative disciplines, such as graphic design or fine arts. Importantly, the competition has gained additional credibility and greater international attention by including international judges on its panel in the last four years.
While unmistakably South African, the competition entries can hold their own internationally. Since its inception, Riches of Africa's winning collections have featured in more than 40 exhibitions in 12 countries. To celebrate South Africa's 10 years of democracy in 2004, pieces from various Riches of Africa collections were exhibited at shows in China and Brazil, and also in Belgium at the Antwerp Diamond Conference, the latter at the specific request of President Thabo Mbeki. Besides these displays, Riches of Africa has been showcased at the International Jewellery London exhibition for the past two consecutive years.
Fundamental to all of the Riches of Africa competitions has been a focus on providing career opportunities and development for talented young South Africans, particularly from the ranks of the previously disadvantaged.
As part of this approach, annual seminars are held for all entrants providing training in business and marketing as well as in design and goldsmithing techniques. In 2004, these seminars drew some 450 people and due to venue constraints some had to be turned away.
For the last two years, grants have been awarded to candidates adjudged the most meritorious. Grants are awarded following receipt of nominations by the various jewellery institutions. Whilst the value of the grants varies each year, the true worth of the contribution is often as simple as guaranteeing a student's future studies. Eight such grants (four to historically disadvantaged South Africans HDSAs) were awarded in 2003, and nine (six to HDSAs) in 2004. In 2003, a merit award was given to Technikon Pretoria (now the Tshwane University of Technology) as the institution that produced the most winners in the competition.
In another significant development, AngloGold Ashanti has been approached by QVC United Kingdom (a major television and internet-based shopping channel) to permit QVC to develop and sell ranges of commercial jewellery inspired by the 2004 collection. This will provide a major opportunity for Riches of Africa designers to benefit from part of these sales but, more notably, it will provide them with international exposure. Royalties will be payable to AngloGold Ashanti on all pieces sold, with a portion being credited to the designers.
Further noteworthy and exciting changes are in the pipeline. The formation of, AngloGold Ashanti has provided an opportunity for the reassessment and reinvigoration of a number of projects including Riches of Africa. The future competition will retain the name Riches of Africa but will now fall under the new banner of AuDITIONS, which will be used to brand all the jewellery design competitions in which AngloGold Ashanti is involved.
An important change is that Riches of Africa will be held every two years. Given the scale of the competition, it has become more and more difficult to gain maximum benefit on an annual basis. The longer period will give the organisers more time for planning and it will make for a more streamlined process. Entrants too will benefit from the biannual format as their pieces will gain a longer period of exposure.