By: Dayo Fasasi
Thelma West, a Nigerian woman that stands out among numerous others by venturing into a male-dominated sector with few Africans, barring its availability.
First in her family to work in diamonds and presently the only known female in the trade from Africa, West, was raised in a Jewish family in a country where Jews number fewer than 50,000 out of a population of around 180 million.
“I wanted to become an engineer because, at that time, in Nigeria you had to choose a solid career such as doctor, lawyer, or engineer.” But, as the saying goes, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and the sparkle of the stones, which had captivated West since childhood, was an irresistible allure.
West told media that her mother was part of her inspiration, as she had loads of jewelry, which she exposed to her daughter. “We were always playing with her jewelry box and she would always clean her jewels, and I would help.”
At the age of 17 West headed for Antwerp, the world’s diamond capital, despite not knowing anybody in the Belgian city. There, she enrolled at the internationally renowned Hoge Raad voor Diamant School to hone her skills.
“Even though you go to school, most of your knowledge comes from working with diamonds day-to-day,” said West.
For six months, she tried securing an internship for herself in a renowned Orthodox Jew diamond dealer’s company. She was later recruited by one of the biggest diamond suppliers in Europe based in Spain.
“It was being sent in at the deep end, I was 19 and I was responsible for every single diamond the company had,” referring to the Spanish company.
West then decided to set up her own business Thelma West Diamonds in London to trade in the diamond business.
Her multinational client base, introduced by word of mouth, includes Swiss, Russians, Ghanaians, Nigerians and a handful of French.
Helped by a ten woman team, West creates all of her company’s products, which come with a lifetime guarantee. Her most ambitious creation was a custom-made necklace worth around £2 million.
“I have plans to open a workshop in Nigeria where I’ll train girls in the art of making jewelry.”