My history in brief
That’s me inspecting a stone, holding the loupe & tweezers perfectly of course!
The Jewellery industry, it’s oddities, mysteries and characters held my attention from the minute I walked into London’s Hatton Garden looking for a “Weekend-job” back in 1973.
From that moment of visiting archaic workshops, in run-down buildings that hid the most fabulous and precious jewels I was hooked. Skilled craftsmen working on wonderful items at all different stages of manufacture. To me, they were clearly a passionate, articulate array of individuals, and the most odd interesting of characters.
I was sucked in, lost in the world of manufacturing, buying, and selling. It was, and still is, an industry where a lack of knowledge could lose you everything you possessed in a heartbeat, the shake of a hand was, and still is, binding. The wink or nod within a syndicate on the street buying or selling as a group was enthralling, and terrifying at the same time.
My weekend job was simple, I became a ‘runner’ working for a man who converted a disused toilet on a top floor, into a workshop for two, there was no lift of course, and I sat in the hallway as there was no room in the workshop! I would wait for them to finish a few odd repairs, usually the sizing of rings, then my job was to deliver them at break-neck speed to the shops up and down the street, where customers were waiting.
I was thirteen years old, I had no idea if this was legal or not, but didn’t care!I worked for two years running at the weekends. This served me well getting my face known in the area, it was apparent to me even then you had to fit in. Strangers were not well received at all, it took time, rather like moving into a sleepy English village from a big city, you are looked upon with caution.
At 15 years old I managed to arrange my work experience at Sir John Cass college in Whitechapel, London. I trained as a diamond mounter. Before my sixteenth birthday I used my knowledge of Hatton Garden buildings to start looking for full time employment, I knew which aspect of the industry I wanted to study, I just could not get a door to open.
A stroke of luck, an elderly gentleman by the name of Alec Greenfield told me he had not taught an apprentice for seven years, but he must have seen something in me as after a one week trial I started as an apprentice diamond mounter.
I remember our building at 34-35 Hatton Garden was rare as it was posh, marble and wood panels, we even had a liveried doorman, Jack. I always felt I should be opening the door for him, he was a sharp dresser, I was apprentice for five years and that feeling never changed.
I had fallen on my feet, not that Alec was the nicest man in the world, far from it.A hard taskmaster for sure, he thought nothing of putting a hammer on hours and sometimes days of my work – all part of the learning curve I guess, and he was one of the very best.
He sent me home once for drinking a can of coke in the street at lunchtime, he felt it was unbecoming of his good name in Hatton Garden. I can’t see that happening nowadays!
Alec was at the top of the tree, to this day I have never seen work in Hatton Garden like he produced. I still tell people he was Faberge standard, I honestly believe that. Learning from him and seeing the level of skill up close and personal was unbelievable, mesmerising. Had the technology and media coverage been available back then, he would have been sensational for a documentary. Decades later merchants still told me he had the hands of an angel, such was his reputation.
The apprentice he taught those seven years prior to me was David Morris, the internationally acclaimed jeweller. My goal was never a retail shop, I preferred the manufacturing, designing and ideas, seeing the consumer thrilled with the process and end result. Selling a stock item from a window never quite had the same appeal, albeit one of the many things I wonder about my choice of direction.
My workshop business was flourishing in Essex where I had set up after my apprenticeship, then in 1997 a Diamond merchants I worked with suggested I come back to Hatton Garden and set up a manufacturing business selling middle and higher-end production pieces to retail shops in the UK. The key was a partnership, their stock, my manufacturing expertise.It had to be done from a completely blank piece of paper, have a sustainable business model, design a range, have reliable workshop and staff, the list went on forever. It must have appealed to me as I took the ‘challenge’ – maybe I just missed the Hatton Garden buzz.
In eight months, we were up and running with an in initial small range on the road. We specialised in only UK produced pieces, we had found a niche for the retailers, quick turnaround and top-quality product that didn’t fall apart.The business was successful for ten years. It was a good experience, we all got on famously and worked hard as a team, benefiting from all having different skill-sets. We also could see a change in the industry, for many reasons manufacturing our way had run its course.
In 2007 I took the decision of going back to supplying end users, consumers. I’m pleased to say I have never advertised. The last few years I have dabbled with social media, but not with any vigour to try and build a business from it. All my work is recommendation.
Joining the London Diamond Bourse trading floor at that time was perfect for my requirements to retain a London base. “The Bourse” is renown in the industry worldwide as home for those who are very highly regarded for their integrity and business practice. Members subscribe to a professional code of conduct, enforced by arbitration.
This still gives me a sense of pride. I currently sit as Vice President of the Bourse, following some years sitting on the main council and executive committee. Of course, we joke that no one else wanted to do it, but in fact I believe if you are voted for by your peers it has merit and should be taken seriously.