Valeriya Guzema identifies as a journalist, a jewelry designer, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a Ukrainian. Her nation’s identity is woven deeply into her own.
That is why Guzema Fine Jewelry has become not only her business but also a larger calling—it is Guzema’s way of educating the world about Ukrainian master jewelers, the county’s cultural heritage, and her personal take on the symbols of her native land.
It has been a long journey to this point, Guzema says, including the highest highs of working at fashion magazine Elle, to the lowest lows, including right now as Ukraine fights daily in a war against Russia. It’s one more reason why seeing her pieces on Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, is so meaningful to Guzema.
Guzema started her jewelry brand in 2016. Since then, Guzema Fine Jewelry has debuted more than 30 collections, including its latest. The Spadok collection with its coral, amber, and gold pieces is named after the word heritage, the designer says, showing that even under the oppression of war the Ukrainian spirit remains strong.
For example, Guzema uses embroidery throughout the Spadok collection, a technique used for making clothing and household items in the Ukraine. But it also includes a pixel pattern motif, something found on the military uniforms of Ukrainian soldiers, reminding its wearers that the war for independence continues, she says.
Guzema was born and raised in central Ukraine in the city of Svitlovodsk, and her family later moved north to Chernihiv, where she was in school. Her mother was a mathematician who later got her law degree and worked in that field as well as her father. It was a modest childhood, Guzema recalls, but they made it warm and full of family.
Guzema admits she has a touch of her grandmother’s rebellious spirit in her—they would play cards together instead of acting out some fairy tale, she says. That rebel spirit served her well as she moved into the world, trying her hand as a translator but settling into the world of journalism with her first job as an editorial assistant at Elle UA.
“I answered letters, wrote for a website and a magazine, produced [photo] shoots, and worked as a stylist’s assistant,” Guzema says. “I never refused any experience because I was interested in all areas. Here, I studied in detail the entire structure of the fashion industry, discovered communication from the inside, and learned how gloss should work.”
Her next role prepared her for jewelry in a way—Guzema became a television host for the HD Fashion TV channel. This is how she learned about brands, designers, and what it takes to develop a brand from its idea to actual items for sale.
“I have been interested in jewelry since childhood, so I started developing my first designs,” Guzema says. “The main conclusion I made from working various jobs in the fashion industry was that every person is unique. Neither clothes nor jewelry are designed to somehow change or reveal a person. They can only compliment one’s uniqueness. This is what I later engraved in the philosophy of my brand.”
In fact, Guzema’s first investor was her mother, who invested the family jewels into Guzema Fine Jewelry. Her grandmother’s accessories and her gifts to Guzema served as inspiration. And, as it always will, the Ukraine served as its higher calling.
“Now the commercial goal has taken a back seat, surviving and helping Ukraine in various ways has become the main priority. That is why my team and I created the Guzema Foundation to raise funds and help the armed forces even in small amounts,” she says. “If we talk about volume, we are not a very large fund, but we work purposefully and only with those who are on the front line, at ground zero.
“We are small but very mobile and prompt in fulfilling requests. I think this is very important because in war every minute is worth its weight in gold.”
Top: Valeriya Guzema created a jewelry brand to fulfill a space in the marketplace for Ukrainian handmade jewelry that blended its unique style and techniques with gemstones and fine metals, she says (photos courtesy of Guzema Fine Jewelry).@jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Twitter: @jckmagazine
Follow JCK on Facebook: @jckmagazine