Since when has your family been engaged in the business of jewellery?
I am a retailer first and foremost. Our family business was started in Australia by my great-grandfather, in 1884. He travelled to Australia from Ireland to hopefully find his fortune in the goldfields. As life often does, it took him in another direction and he established a small shop that later turned into a department store. It was my grandfather who started the jewellery side of the business with engagement rings, pearls and classic, traditional jewellery.
Opting for jewellery designing must have been a natural choice for you?
Growing up in the family business provided me with significant retail experience. The family dinner table talk was always about the store, and to drift into the business seemed so natural to me. It truly was all I ever wanted to do. Jewellery designing came later – my first experience was rather grass-roots shopkeeping. When I joined the family business straight out of school, it was a true department store selling everything from boats, sporting goods, toys, furniture, electrical goods, women’s fashion, fine china, silverware and of course, jewellery! I credit this early experience with giving me an understanding of why people shop, their purchasing decisions, marketing, advertising and the financial side of running a sound business. All of these early skills have held me in good stead in my own business.
Did you get to train on the job? Or did you arm yourself with degrees in jewellery designing?
Years of working closely with my parents in the business, and with some of the finest sales people I have known, was an extraordinary start for me. I was also able to train with qualified gemmologists and watch our fine craftsmen at work. I completed a gemmology diploma, but for me it was on-the-job-training that took me on my path.
Your jewellery pulsates with colours. Tell us more about how your aesthetic signature came into being.
I have always loved colourful gems and always loved jewellery that was significant in size! I remember my friends at an early age would look askance when I wore more than one strand of pearls and add a large-sized gemstone to drop from it. I always believed jewellery should say something about who I was, and from an early age, I saw precious adornments as very important.
What inspires you the most?
The gems I travel the world to source are largely my inspiration! They almost always talk to me; and I become excited when I find a gem that I know will ‘just live happily’ with something else I may already have. This happens all the time – and recently, I was offered a truly magnificent 23-carat untreated pink sapphire that will now grace a gem strand of naturally coloured pink pearls. It’s a match made in heaven, as the saying goes, but it’s Mother Nature at work. I am constantly marvelling at the extraordinary gems nature provides.
List some of your favourite gemstones.
Colour is vitally important to me! I dream in vivid colour and architectural detail so I often literally design in my sleep! My favourite gemstones are Australian South Sea pearls, opals, spinel, tourmaline, sapphires, peridot, garnet… I love them all. Like one’s children, I love all of them, but some days some talk to you more than others.
Your fascination for South Sea pearls and home-grown gems is legendary. Your comments.
My passion for pearls has earned me the title of ‘Pearl Lady’. Each year, I am fortunate to travel to the only independently owned pearl farm in Australia, in East Arnhem Land – one of the remotest places on the planet. Here I live on the pearling mother ship and watch as each pearl is harvested. It is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To witness the enthusiasm and care with which the highly trained pearl technicians and the fifty people who work at the farm care for the mighty Pinctada maxima oyster that produces these most magnificent pearls, is truly inspiring. Pearls are the only gems that emanate from a living organism – it is a miracle of nature. The pristine environment and the care for the sustainability of this amazing pearl farm are inspirational and a story I share far and wide.