The Family Jewels

Phoebe, Erin and Jeremy

It is a golden period for luxury jewellery – sapphires, rubies, diamonds and pearls have all skyrocketed in value. This boom in commodity prices during the economic downturn has prompted many to invest in precious gems. In November at Bonhams in Hong Kong a 43.16-carat Ceylon sapphire ring sold for more than HK$12m, while Christie’s sold an Archduke Joseph diamond for close to HK$167m.But leading jewellers Jeremy and Erin Morris, of British boutique David Morris, say that while savvy investors here can make great returns, they should look beyond the stones and see luxury jewellery as “wearable art.”

“There’s an underlying strength in the market for high-net-worth individuals who want to put their faith into something tangible,” notes Jeremy. “But shoppers in Hong Kong pay more attention to the stones and less to the styling. My challenge is to get people to buy great jewellery rather than just great stones.”

 

Wife and business partner Erin adds that some purchases should be governed as much by your heart as the return on investment. “When you’re buying jewellery, it should have an emotional pull at your heart,” she says. “Is it to celebrate an occasion? Or is it just because it’s the most beautiful piece you’ve ever seen and you can’t stop thinking about it?” It’s more than 50 years since Jeremy’s father, David Morris, first established the firm in London’s jewellery mecca of Hatton Garden, after honing his craft from the age of 15. He worked alongside wife Suzette Morris to build up the company. The designs quickly attracted the attention of Hollywood stars, royalty, and even heads of state.

Jeremy, who took over as managing director and principal designer 10 years ago, has built on these starry relationships – creating pieces for leading figures in film, music and fashion such as Gianni Versace, Victoria Beckham, Barbra Streisand and Madonna.

This is a company that is steeped in family history and traditional values, but also understands the importance of remaining relevant and connected to wider culture.

The flagship store is now based in New Bond Street, a must-visit strip of luxury retailers and high-end fashion in the UK.

Erin, a trained gemologist, instigated David Morris fashion collaborations with British designers Julien MacDonald, Jonathan Kelsey and Giles Deacon. David Morris jewels have featured in a number of James Bond
films. These connections have helped this small family business make some noise in a market dominated by big brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Jeremy says that being a family firm is what sets David Morris apart and enables the brand to deliver more to the customer. As he explains, “The fact we’re a family firm is pivotal to our success. There are very few brands like ours that are family owned. It’s part of our allure. The decisionmaking processes in family-run businesses are quicker because there are no layers of management to cut through. Ours is a little bit more of an authentic experience for people who want to buy luxury jewellery.”

Jeremy spent five years training in Paris and knows every stage of the process. This extensive knowledge underpins the way things are done at David Morris. “If you want something designed, then I’ll get out my sketchbook and I’ll design it on the spot,” he says. “If you go to a super brand, who do you talk to? You don’t talk to the owner. If you talk to the head of design, then they won’t necessarily know about the stones. I’m going to know about the stones, the design, the manufacturing, the price. It’s a one-stop shop. If you’re talking to any of my sales people, then they’re going to call me directly if there are any questions. The lynchpin of a family brand is to be in control of your own destiny. There’s no way for the brand to be diluted. If people want to buy David Morris, there’s only one place they can go.”

Erin adds that being a husband-and-wife team injects an energy and focus into the business. She says, “The passion that we both have for creating beautiful pieces of wearable art is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week interest that
never goes away.”

Jeremy’s daughter Phoebe has also started handling public relations for the business – bringing the running of the David Morris firm into its third generation.

The couple says that while they’re proud of the firm’s heritage, they believe innovation is important and have invested in technology and design. Expansion – in selected locations – is a key part of building up the brand in the 21st century. They now have stores in Moscow, Dubai, Riyadh and Doha, with a new venture in Abu Dhabi planned for later this year.

Jeremy insists that each location has unique pieces but all are made for women who enjoy wearing statement jewellery.

Erin & Jeremy

The Hong Kong boutique, at the Peninsula hotel, in June put on sale the Pagoda Collection, featuring Colombian emeralds, Burmese rubies, Kashmir sapphires, and coloured diamonds including an 8.88-carat yellow stone.

China seems the next logical step in the company’s global strategy, but it’s a difficult market to crack for a smaller brand when the big names are already well established. In the first six months of 2013, demand for polished diamonds grew by nearly 13 per cent in China to around HK$2.3b, and the nation is now one of the world’s biggest importers of blue sapphires.

“I think the demand is there in China. It’s just finding the right places and people to work with,” notes Jeremy. “There’s definitely a huge market out there, but this is not something that can happen overnight. We’ve done
little exhibitions and shows in Shanghai and Beijing. We’re slowly making inroads and will open there when the time is right.”

He believes ultimately that the quality, integrity and style of the products will ensure the company’s success. “It may not be the cheapest but it will always be the best that money can buy,” he says. “That is my brand position. In 50 years I hope that remains the company ethos – the rest is in the hands of the gods.”

 

By LTThomas, originally published on THE FAMILY JEWELS | The Reserve

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