Durban - Growing up in a remote area of the Drakensberg, S'bhekile Ndlangisa learned the art of wire-making and clay moulding from older boys while herding cattle - and these skills laid the foundation for his beautiful pieces of jewellery.
Now 35 years old with his own jewellery design studio in the Station Precinct, Ndlangisa says: “I grew up in a village right under Tugela Falls. I used to look after my grandfather’s cows and goats with all the other boys from the village.
"We would take the animals to graze. We would sit and make wire cars and mould animals such as cows and the Big Five from clay.
“All the boys in the village practised that kind of art and I was making things by the time I was five. I didn’t know anything about jewellery back then, but it was those skills of imagining and then creating from that picture in my mind which developed.
"I didn’t know it, but I was already working on my future career then,” he laughs.
His favourite wire car was a BMW, while he was also a pro at designing a VW Golf.
“We would watch the cars on the road going to the hotels, or we would see them on television or in magazines. The BMW was the most popular car in the 1990s and all the boys wanted one when they grew up. I enjoyed making the fancy kind of cars.”
S’bhekile headed to Durban after finishing his matric with no idea about what he wanted to do with his future. But he also knew what he did not want to do.
“In the village, when you finished matric, you were expected to go and make some money, but the only careers we knew about were being a teacher, doctor, police or nurse - all if which I didn’t want to do.
“I went to DUT (Durban University of Technology) and when I got to the faculty of arts I noticed people making things with their hands. And then I saw the jewellery section and there was a catalogue with a diamond ring.
“I had only heard about precious metals, such as gold, from the men in the village who used to go and work in the mines. The lecturer said he could teach me to make a ring like that. I was fascinated, I was convinced right there that was what I wanted to do.”
After a four-year BTech in jewellery design and manufacture, S’bhekile spent the next few years gaining experience with jewellery firms and saving up for his own business.
“The banks said they don’t fund ideas, they fund business. I knew I had to save so I could buy my tools, as well as get as much experience as possible.”
Five years ago he opened his own design studio and hasn’t looked back since. He says rings are in the highest demand, particularly in white gold with diamonds, but he also works with lots of different materials.
“I enjoy experimenting with different materials and the tricky part of jewellery design is getting used to working with parts of 1mm or 2mm.
"I think if you don’t have a passion for what you do, you can do it 100 times and it still won’t work.
“I visualise a piece in my head like a 3D drawing that rotates, then I sketch, then I do a prototype.
“Many people come in to me with their own design, especially when it comes to engagement and wedding rings. There’s definitely been a growing trend in having personalised jewellery made as opposed to going to a jewellery retailer.
"As a designer, I have to build up on a client’s idea and make it even better,” he says.
He also enjoys re-designing rings and takes out a ring set with amethysts and diamonds. Looking at all the tiny stones, it’s clear that a fine touch and an eye for minute details is needed.
But the first step is imagination and as S’bhekile says “every piece must be a piece of art”.
To see Ndlangisa at work go to Ekwel TV on Facebook.Independent On Saturday