An amber brooch belonging to her grandmother ignited Olga Oleksenko’s deep appreciation for jewellery. “Thanks to her and her adornments, I became aware of the beauty of jewellery,” she says. “They weren’t expensive pieces, but she wore them in a way that brought out their distinct beauty. From that time onward, I began paying special attention to brooches.” They are versatile and able to transform a look, she says, and that they evoke memories of her grandmother’s impeccable style made them her favourite type of jewellery.

Before Olga launched Strong & Precious Art Foundation, a platform that nurtures Ukrainian jewellery designers, she was the boutique director of Van Cleef & Arpels in Kyiv. From the 12 years she spent with the brand, she gleaned invaluThable expertise, insights, and understanding of high jewellery which became a cornerstone for Strong & Precious Art Foundation.

Her tenure at VCA more than made up for her lack of formal training in jewellery design. “I attended several training courses and visited artisans’ workshops – an extensive hands-on experience that sharpened my vision, refined my tastes, and deepened my understanding of jewellery craftsmanship and artistry.”

Olga also avidly collected antique jewellery with advice from experts and curators whose perspectives and personal insights have broadened hers. “I’ve never purchased jewellery based solely on my intuition,” she says. “I’ve consistently sought help from industry veterans to ensure that every piece I choose resonates with history, craft, and beauty. In essence, my expertise has been cultivated not only through professional training, but also my meaningful interactions with the right people in the industry.”

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Elevate and Celebrate

Strong & Precious was launched in April 2022 to elevate and celebrate Ukraine’s jewellery heritage. “Our Foundation’s ethos is rooted in the belief that beauty, in its myriad forms, has the power to inspire, uplift and transcend.” The Foundation debuted at GemGenève (Geneva International Gem & Jewellery Show) in 2022. In the same year, it collaborated with Sotheby’s to showcase the works of contemporary Ukrainian jewellery designers at an auction.

Today, the Foundation is the only platform in Ukraine that supports local designers in such a profound manner, Olga claims. “We assist them in their growth and evolution. We seek out and collaborate with the most gifted designers who possess an individualistic and potent style, and we work with those who create at the pinnacle of jewellery craftsmanship.

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“Our exhibitions have an overarching narrative to share. From my days of blogging and lecturing, I’ve been committed to the belief that jewellery art holds its rightful place in global culture along with sculpture and painting. My vision is to position the creations of Ukrainian designers not merely as adornments but as true art objects — exclusive, elusive, and a testament to unparalleled artistry,” she points out.

“We have brought to life three remarkable projects,” Olga says, “each with its unique narrative and artistic vision.” Following their initial collaboration with GemGenève 2022, they attended the fair in November 2022 and again in May 2023. “Each instance was an opportunity to shed light on the dazzling creations of Ukrainian jewellers.”

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Reclaiming An Identity

“Central to our ethos is the emphasis on national identity,” Olga points out. “We respect and celebrate the authenticity of Ukrainian culture, its profound heritage, and promising future.

“We seek to illuminate the deep wellsprings from which our unique talents arise. However, our commitment stretches beyond just showcasing our heritage; it’s a profound engagement with the vital questions of national identity, particularly resonant in these current times.”

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During the Soviet era, Olga claims, concerted efforts were made through propaganda to erase the distinctiveness of Ukrainian culture and art. “In light of these challenges, it becomes an imperative for every Ukrainian embedded in arts and culture to project our unique voice onto the global stage.”

Showcasing the authenticity and richness of Ukrainian cultural traditions, revealing its roots and asserting its cultural identity have become the Foundation’s mission. “This dedication to our heritage and identity isn’t merely a passion; it’s our cultural front and our most cherished value.”

A Show of Strength

Strong and Precious has assembled ‘How Precious UA’, a one-off collection highlighting the works of five Ukrainian jewellery brands: NOMIS, Inesa Kovalova, Drutis Jewellery, Guni Project, and Yuval’ Studios. (The Foundation is also represented in the showcase.)

‘How Precious UA’ promotes the idea of jewellery as a pivotal facet of global culture, akin to other arts, Olga says. “I aspire to position the creations of Ukrainian designers as art objects – exclusive and somewhat elusive.” It also emphasises the inherent diversity of Ukrainian culture and talents, which guided the selection of participating brands.

The project captures symbols of the modern Ukraine in jewelry. “I believe they executed this task flawlessly. We saw our roots and heritage in the Trypillia necklace and elements that form the backbone of our country’s economy in pieces like the ‘Kolosinnia’ necklace. The intellectual capacity of our nation was embodied in the Nomis necklace, where the word ‘freedom’ is encrypted in binary code – the language of programmers, a field in which our country excels. We also glimpsed the strength of our ties and attachment to our homeland in the Link brooch. Truly, the symbols and meanings are abundant, and I could speak on this issue for hours.”

‘How Precious UA’ provides an impetus for brand development. The pieces assembled for this project was funded entirely by the Foundation, ensuring the brands’ freedom in conceptualising, applying techniques, and selecting materials. Some participants worked with precious materials for the time, which marked their professional and creative growth. Each piece in the collection is unique and will not be replicated in the form presented at the exhibition.


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