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Soapbox & Opinions

We need to go big or go home

I’m a second-generation jeweller. I’m not technically qualified but rather am a family jeweller who has ‘learned on the job’ and who has earned the title of jeweller via satisfied customers.

My father taught me how to resize a ring and do basic repairs from an early age. He began as a watchmaker working for J Farren-Price; however, it was his cousin, Max Bourne from Gerrards in Sydney, who taught me the jewellery fundamentals and basics of how to set. I’ve also picked up many tips along the way from other jewellers, including Max’s son, Warren Bourne.

I’ve always been artistic, firstly at school then as a chef in the hospitality industry and later when completing tertiary studies in animation – my introduction to computer-aided design (CAD). It took me a while but I returned to the family business, which drew me further into the handmade and CAD world of jewellery.

I love the diversity of mediums in this industry and the opportunity for continuous self-improvement through learning new skills.

Okay, so I realise I’m painting a rosy picture. In reality, the majority of my life is spent repairing mass-produced, mainstream sale items that often cost customers more to repair than what they paid to purchase them. The sad truth is that this all helps to keep me in work and pay the bills.

"Master Jeweller could illustrate the dedication, experience and passion that leads to quality workmanship, whether the jeweller holds a qualification or not."

Jewellery was once treasured, handed down through generations, valued and protected by the owner. Now the market is full of cheap, brittle crap – white gold that looks yellow; jewellery so lightweight it seems impossible to manufacture; trade fairs that once ravished the visitor with gem-set jewellery now bursting with displays of brand-driven, base-metal costume junk.

No matter how many times one tries to educate customers on quality, price and the golden promises of some chain stores and brands rule the masses. How do we promote our value in a consumable world? The marketers will tell you to identify your point of difference and market to your strengths. This is often easier said than done in today’s market where we all share the same suppliers, the same brand-named stock and the same worldwide promotions.

Many of us are also besieged by the constant struggle to receive the same recognition and treatment as the larger stores. For example, we moved into our current premises in a shopping centre seven years ago. We were the first jewellery business to apply before the centre’s revamp and, like everyone, we desired prime location.

Unfortunately, we weren’t given preference over Michael Hill and Prouds as the shopping centre preferred chain stores. We ended up utilising two odd-shaped stores in a second-grade location within the shopping centre and centre management greeted us with, “You’re not going to make a go of it here; you’re going to go bust.”

I’m sure Michael Hill and Prouds weren’t greeted the same way!

As independents, we need a new approach; we need to showcase ‘us’. What if we could go grand scale and produce a TV series for jewellers similar to MasterChef? I’m thinking ’Master Jeweller’. I know there would be opposing opinions on what makes a jeweller a master; however, this isn’t about people gaining titles but is about bringing recognition back into our industry.

What a way to educate the general public. Despite our various qualifications, specialties or preferences, we could inspire the next generation of jewellers and document our master craft. In a similar way to what MasterChef did for cooks in their industry, Master Jeweller could illustrate the dedication, experience and passion that leads to quality workmanship, whether the jeweller holds a qualification or not.

I am consistently inspired by the Young Jewellers Group Facebook page, where jewellers share knowledge, support creativity and offer tips openly without competition. What if we could impart that upon the world? Could we save our industry from the shame of becoming retailers solely focused on sales? Possibly, and all in just eight to 12 weeks – just one season!

We could share our creativity and diversity and tell the big guys we are still here. With our calloused fingertips, buffing compound smeared across our faces and holes burned in our pants, the independents are here to fight.

We stand proud of this industry and the quality we provide. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking big.   

Name: Brendan Cunningham
Business: Cunningham Jewellers
Position: Owner, manager
Location: Coffs Harbour, NSW
Years in the industry: Born into it but officially 12

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