- Ursula Kagiso Legalane Pule is a creative director at her family-owned diamond cutting, polishing and trading company, Nungu Diamonds, where she designs jewellery.
- Working with her husband, Kealeboga Pule, has been a learning curve, but they've made such a success of it that their company has recently secured a notable partnership with Nescafé Gold, among their many accomplishments.
- Below, Ursula shares some insights into the diamond business as well as important lessons for women.
Ursula resisted the urge to describe to me the four Cs of the diamond industry (Colour, Clarity, Cut, Carat) when we first met. She preferred to rather tell me about when one of her clients came in for a consultation to inquire about ordering a bespoke diamond engagement ring at Nungu Diamonds.
"We laid out a range of diamonds for her to make a selection, and when she saw a particular 0.41 carat stone, she started crying. It wasn't the biggest diamond on the table, but she shared that she'd felt an instant connection to that particular stone. It was beautiful to watch," shares Ursula.
Ursula Kagiso Legalane Pule is the creative director of Nungu Diamonds where she works alongside husband Kealeboga Pule. All photo supplied by Nungu Diamonds
Once the ring was designed and the client came in to collect it, her feelings were no different. She was still smitten with her choice.
"I watched her as she tried the ring on. Once again, she was almost in tears and trembling with joy as she put it on," says Ursula.
It's clear where Ursula's passion for the diamond business is rooted: It's all about how she and the team at Nungu Diamonds are able to touch lives in a very profound way.
These are the moments she lives for as the creative director of Nungu Diamonds, a Bedfordview based diamond cutting, polishing and trading company established in 2013 by her husband, Kealeboga Pat Pule.
Although she was part of the business planning process from the company's conception, Ursula officially joined the business three years later after enjoying a career in fashion design. She's now fully transitioned to designing jewellery for the company.
"There's such a parallel between fashion and jewellery design. Both mean that you are part of a special moment in your client's life as a designer. I get so excited with every piece of jewellery that I design, just as I did with my dresses when I dealt with private clients in fashion. This creative work gives me so much joy," says Ursula.
It's unusual for a young couple to work together, especially in such a niché industry, but Ursula explains the gap that needed to be filled in the local landscape inspired them to pool their skills.
"We saw a need for diamonds to be appreciated and consumed in South Africa as they are around the world. But, we also wanted very much to build a business that we would be proud to support and see the legacy become greater than us," she says.
"Like most cases when you build a business that is foreign from the world you come from, there is no template. You build and try to plan as you go; the important thing has always been what we believe in and, ultimately, how we want the brand to be perceived. That gave rise to how we work every day, the partnerships we take on, and how it is, we want the customer to experience the brand and us," says Ursula.
Nungu Diamonds is one of only five diamond companies selected to be part of the De Beers Diamond Beneficiation Project, launched in 2016.
This gives their company not only enormous credibility but also the opportunity to work with the best diamonds in the world, from the most reliable and credible source, and more importantly – diamonds that are responsibly mined.
Nungu also has affiliations with Diamond Associations such as the South African Young Diamond Beneficiators Guild and the International Young Diamontaires, which serves under the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, something that Ursula is very proud of.
And, needless to say, what woman wouldn't make use of the opportunity to spend her days surrounded by all shapes and sizes of diamonds?
As we ponder this thought, Ursula laughs, adding that what she enjoys most is the 'personality' of each of the diamonds. "None of them are the same, you could have the same weight and cut diamonds in your hand, but they will not be identical," she shares.
BESPOKE? IS IT FOR THE UBER RICH?
At the sound of the word, "bespoke" one may be led to believe that Nungu Diamonds pieces are out of reach for most people. But Ursula explains that their company works with clients to meet them at their comfortable budget level, while prioritising their personal preferences.
"When you plan to buy a piece such as a ring, it must be something that you love. It's a very sentimental purchase," she says, adding that it's a priority for them to create pieces that carry meaning for clients.
"We have young couples that come in, and we let them know that you don't necessarily have to break the bank. So, among the things we do is allow clients to pay off some of their pieces, and we can also build up an engagement ring to add a few bands over time, thus creating a set," Ursula says, adding that clients are also able to trade in their jewellery for new pieces.
Being able to create these unique pieces is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the business for Ursula, who shares that designing a wedding ring for her niece not long after her mother's death was a process she holds close to her heart.
"My aunt was so proud of Nungu Diamonds and when the ring was complete, my niece and I looked at each other and reminisced about how much her mom would have loved the ring. It was such a special moment for us," Ursula says, remembering her late aunt.
A PARTNERSHIP OF NOTE
Nungu Diamonds has recently acquired a notable partnership with Nescafé Gold for the coffee brand's winter 2021 campaign dubbed Crafted Beyond Compare. Alongside another company, Xhesha Timepieces, Nungu Diamonds has been commissioned to create unique, one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by the craft and luxury of Nescafé Gold.Selected members of the public will win the pieces in a Crafted Beyond Compare competition. This partnership is a highlight for the diamond company, says Ursula.
"What an honour! This partnership, everyone of the Nungu family and our clients validate our dream. They let us know that with every single purchase that this brand means as much to them as it does to us."
WORKING WITH FAMILY
While she enjoys working with and learning from her husband, Ursula admits that just as in any other job, some days are more challenging than others. "Joining my husband in the company was my challenge. I had to push past that feeling of 'I work for my husband', to one of I can have a voice in the company and know that I am here because I can do the work and contribute fruitfully," she says.
Kealeboga studied Law while Ursula is a creative, having graduated from North West School of Design in the top 6 in her class. Ursula says these apparent differences in their affinities required some learning in terms of their communication at work.
"There are times when I'd get upset while I was learning, but I knew that I had come in to learn and would constantly remind myself that these are things I needed to know in order to succeed in my role," Ursula shares.
On dealing with imposter syndrome and being a woman in a niche industry, Ursula says she learnt a lot when she came into the business. "There are times when I thought, 'Did I bite off more than I can chew?' But I had to learn fast from the people around me, including my husband," Ursula says.
Three years after joining Nungu Diamonds, Ursula was invited by the De Beers Group to be on the panel of international judges for their annual De Beers Shining Light Awards 2018/2019 jewellery competition, having been chosen because of her unique experience and skillset in the diamond and jewellery industry.
"When that happened, I had a bout of self-doubt, but I was quickly reminded that I already had a design background from my studies and fashion work. The entire experience was just lovely when I embraced it. You have to trust yourself and use every opportunity to learn," Ursula says.
"Everyone can be your role model. Take lessons from all people, especially your clients. Be it praise or brazen criticism. It will build you. You will become better than you had even thought possible."
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