When Nqobile Nkosi began to market himself as the owner of NQ Jewellery Design Services based in Dube, Soweto, people assumed that he used beads and recycled material to make his products. But this isn’t the case, and Nkosi found himself battling perceptions from the moment his business started.

"We make contemporary fine jewellery using gold, silver, platinum and diamonds. We compete in the luxury market," says the 33-year-old.

At the end of last year Nkosi clinched Tsogo Sun’s entrepreneur of the year award, the latest in a string of accolades for his business.

Being a jeweller was not one of Nkosi’s career goals. The aspiring electrical engineer was forced to drop his studies because of funding challenges.

His appeal for a bursary fell on deaf ears. A student who overheard him pleading with administrators for the engineering bursary told him to consider a jewellery design and manufacturing programme, which came with funding from the private and public sector.

Not wanting to spend a year idle, Nkosi reluctantly registered for the programme.

When he made his first wedding band he realised that if he could design, make and learn to package jewellery, he could sell it.

At the age of 24, Nkosi decided that upon completing his studies, he would set up his own business, rather than pursue the traditional route of seeking employment with a jewellery-design company.

"When NQ was launched, it became the first jewellery manufacturer and retailer in the township," he says.

Starting a jewellery manufacturer, however, requires "serious capital". He says this was raised through various means.

"I sold sweets, cakes and washed vehicles around the townships while still a student, making about R25,000 in a year." He says he brought this to the table so investors would take him seriously.

His first winnings came from the Jet Community Awards, which recognised him for his entrepreneurship, and helped get NQ up and running. He has also received funding from the National Youth Development Agency and won the SAB Kick Start award in 2012, and the Gauteng business leader of the year award in 2008.

Later, attorney Jerry Nkeli recognised Nkosi’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm and passion for his business and became his mentor and business partner.

Jewellery design and manufacturing is not for the faint-hearted, Nkosi says, especially for a young black entrepreneur. The sector, he says, is not transformed.

His raw materials are expensive and that cost eats into his operations. It is one of the reasons he has chosen to work mostly with silver instead of gold.

The key to his success, he says, has been making realistic promises to customers and refusing to compromise on quality.

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