By Michelle Graff
San Diego--For many in the jewelry industry, mentions of Zimbabwe do not stir pleasant associations.

Suspended from the Kimberley Process for a period several years ago, the nation, and the issues in its diamond fields, nearly tore apart the process. It remains a source of controversy within the KP today; just consider the current debate in the European Union regarding sanctions on the state-run Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.

But in San Diego, one jewelry designer has a connection to the country that exists outside the controversy, a passion ignited by meeting one very special local woman.

A few years ago, Alexandra Hart, also known as Alix, met a fellow San Diegoan named Tsitsi Mutseta.

A native of a small Zimbabwean village called Rundongo, Mutseta came to the United States as a result of human trafficking.

Hart says though Mutseta shares few details from this period of her life, she does know that Mutseta was told she was coming to the U.S. for a better life, only to be forced into unpaid labor, working in a basement daycare in California before she was able to leave.

Mutseta eventually put herself through school and was studying nursing at San Diego State University in 2007 when she started a campus organization called Compassion for African Villages (CAV), which raises money to send back to Rundongo.

Shortly before her graduation from SDSU, Mutseta was dealt another blow: she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Though it has been nearly seven years since her diagnosis, Hart said Mutseta is still alive today but is not expected to make it much longer.

There is not much that can be done to save her, but Hart wants to make sure CAV lives on, “so something she started doesn’t have to die when she does.”

A native of Boston, Hart has a master’s in metalsmithing from the Rochester Institute of Technology and apprenticed for a few years in the studio of Barbara Heinrich, picking up German jewelry-making techniques. In 1995, Hart moved to San Diego and opened her own business.

She works in 18-karat gold, palladium and sterling silver. Hart was one of the designers who created a collection called Pure Flight, which is part of Rio Tinto’s “Diamonds with a Story” initiative, in the Cutting Impact collection. The silver-and-diamonds designs, one of which is pictured here, debuted at the JCK Las Vegas show this past June.

The work Hart does in the studio, though, is not the only thing that keeps the designer busy. She also is active in the community, and keeping CAV alive is one of her current causes.

This Sunday, she has organized an authentic African dinner with Zimbabwean music fundraiser to benefit CAV in the event space at Vantage Pointe, an apartment building in downtown San Diego. The event is scheduled to take place from 4 to 7 p.m. and the cost is $5 at the door.

Hart admits that the area where Mutseta grew up, where agriculture is the main source of income, has little to do with the diamond industry.

Still, she wants to eventually involve the jewelry industry in CAV in some way, in the hopes that people will be drawn to the organization’s mission in the same way she was drawn to Mutseta’s magnetic personality.

“We were attracted to help her out,” she said. 

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