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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fairfax And Roberts - Sydney's Oldest Jeweller

Jewellery is a topic that fascinates me because I have a very limited knowledge in this area and when I canvas most of the men I know, they are pretty much in the same category. Men might know diamonds and the price of gold because they are aware of it as an investment class or that it's something safe if the economy decides to go down the gurgler, but how many could name all the precious and semi precious stones there are or what are some of the names of the more intricate workmanship that goes into making a unique piece.

So, I decided to go and see Fairfax and Roberts, which is Sydney's oldest jeweller, in Martin Place in the heart of Sydney's CBD. It has been in operation since 1858. There I met with Kalle Kortelainen, their marketing director.

I went armed with my usual questions but I got lost in the world of jewellery and in the end I don't think I really got the interview I was looking for. So instead, I would like to impart what I did learn.

Firstly, I was curious as to what men buy for their women outside of engagements, weddings and anniversaries. Kalle said that the most popular items that are purchased by men for women are cocktail rings.

What is a cocktail ring? I would assume, like most men I know, you don't know either.

A cocktail ring is a ring which is worn by a woman for an occasion such as a cocktail party or a semi formal event. In a semi-precious form this might have a main stone of citrine or amethyst and these will usually be less expensive that anything which features precious stones. Precious stones, which I needed a refresher on, are diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies.

The hardest of the precious stones is the diamond (which I am sure that most of us know) and the most favoured by consumers. But that doesn't mean that the other stones are not more expensive than diamonds. Jewellery is quite an intricate art form which comprises the colour of the stones, the grade of the stones, the quantity of stones, the metals used to set the stones, the type of precious or non precious metal chosen and the quality of the workmanship in the metals. For example, in much of the stunning art deco pieces that I was shown, there were examples of saw piercing, millegrain and filigree workmanship, which are not abundantly clear to a naked eye like mine. This intricate workmanship increases the number of man hours taken to create the piece, forming not only the labour cost component, but the level of skill that is displayed by the resident artisans which adds its own value.

I do hope I am not boring my readers, but I really knew very little about jewellery until yesterday, so bear with me whilst I continue.

A pair of earrings usually takes a resident artisan between 80-100 hours to complete. By contrast, a ring might only take 16-20 hours. As a general guide, Fairfax & Roberts will custom make designs for customers from a price tag of $5000AUD upwards. This is often done for men who present the jeweller with their own stones or, in many instances, where jewellery and or stones that have been in a family for generations are re-configured or re-set to achieve a more contemporary look.

Whilst many of the pieces I saw and which I post below are more than $40,000 AUD per piece, Fairfax & Roberts does cater for tastes that start from as low as $4000.

When I asked Kalle what would be the top 5 items that a man might consider to purchase for a woman (or man depending on the couple) - he said that the most popular items he would suggest purchasing for a woman outside of weddings and anniversaries are as follows:

1. Diamond stud earrings - a classic that will never not be appreciated by the recipient.
2. An art deco ring - a classic piece which shows off the artisan's skills, from a period that is timeless and in a style that is always elegant.
3. The tennis bracelet - also known as a diamond line bracelet - was called a tennis bracelet after Chris Evert who wore them when playing tennis and whose bracelet fell off during a match in the US Open where she asked the umpires to stop play until she found it. Tennis bracelets are a classic which every woman desires to own. They usually consist of diamonds but in more elaborate forms feature unique chain designs and contrasting semi-previous and precious stones.
4. A 'Shamballa' style bracelet. Whilst 'Shamballa' is a branded item stocked by Fairfax & Roberts, the popularity of this style increases each year owing to the versatility with which it can be worn. Shambala styled bracelets and necklaces are often made using materials other than metal, such as leather and rubber, to set the stones so that they are can be worn with less formal clothes as consumers tend to dress down more than up these days. See more of that style here. And here.
5. A cocktail ring - whilst cocktail rings I viewed were more than $45,000AUD and included emeralds surrounded by diamonds, the cocktail ring is a great entry point for a man and will always be received well by a woman because it can be used for so many occasions. Kalle recommends semi precious stones as a wonderful entry point for gift purchases.

My world of jewellery is only just opening up and I hope that some of my new found knowledge helps other novices learn more about the art form. Kalle explained to me that the level of workmanship and artistry shown by their resident jewellers in the form of art deco pieces is becoming some what of a dying trade, with more and more brands making mass production pieces marketed to consumers who seek out trend, not craft. The story was a familiar one - one this blog well recognises.

One of the wonderful discoveries I made whilst at Fairfax & Roberts was not in fact jewellery. The Australian artisan David Boucher (no, not French sounding, more like couch) has on display at Fairfax & Roberts a considerable amount of his furniture, boxes and trays which feature his inimitable lacquered shagreen which is inlaid into exotic timbers such as ebony and American redwood. If you are stopping by Faifax and Roberts it is well worth your time asking the staff to show you the intricate nature of Boucher's work, the secret compartments, the drinks cabinets and desks. Boucher's work is world renowned and some of you might have seen recently the work that he has done with Rolls Royce on their Phantom range of cars. See more of Boucher and Co's work here. 

For more information on Fairfax and Roberts go to:
Instagram @fairfaxandroberts (link for inspiration) 

Boucher and Co lacquered shagreen with Fairfax and Roberts Tahitian pearl necklace

Boucher and Co drinks cabinet valued at over 200k AUD

Art deco rings are a specialty of Fairfax and Roberts

Emerald encircled with diamonds

Inclusions in emeralds are normal and often add character to the stone. 

Intricate workmanship is a cornerstone of the Fairfax and Roberts offering

Tennis bracelets, the name coined after Chris Everet lost hers during play at the US Open - make for a universally loved jewellery gift between from a man to a woman.

David Boucher's 17k AUD waste bin. Only for the most important rubbish!

A strong seller in the gift market for jewellery - Tahitian pearls and black spinel longuard chain.

Superb moving jaw solid gold cufflinks for men on display at Fairfax and Roberts.

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