Julie Tucker
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Laurence Graff: A lifetime with diamonds

Billionaire jeweller Laurence Graff has been in the industry for more than 60 years. His lifetime fascination for jewellery has made him one of the most respected jewellers in the world, with an estimated fortune of £4.2 billion.

Now aged 81, his passion for diamonds has been the driving force in his life since his humble beginnings as an apprentice at a jeweller’s bench in London’s famous Hatton Garden, when he was just 15. He was fascinated by the way a raw, rough diamond became a precious and refined gem.

He had founded his own company, Graff Diamonds International, by the time he was 22. Today, he operates at the pinnacle of the diamond jewellery market, owning more than 50 retail stores across the world. He received the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2013 for services to the jewellery industry.

Early years
Graff has journeyed from London’s East End to a world of kings and presidents, all thanks to jewellery. With clients including US President Donald Trump, the Sultan of Brunei, Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey and Larry Ellison, his high-end jewellery business is the envy of many contemporaries.

Born in Stepney, London, in 1938, he became a jeweller thanks to his mother, Rebecca, who took him to Hatton Garden to get his first job as a jeweller’s apprentice. She asked the owner what the career prospects were and how far her son could go. “The sky’s the limit!” was the reply.

Graff worked in Mr Schindler’s small shop, repairing rings and creating items of jewellery, while attending part-time classes at the Central School of Arts and Crafts to hone his skills. Surprisingly, after three months, his college tutor felt he would “never make the grade” – a prophecy that proved to be massively wrong!

Graff later said this remark fuelled his determination to succeed. From a hard-working family, he maintained, “I was born with a will to succeed.”

Drive and determination
His entrepreneurial spirit was sparked while an apprentice. At the age of 18, he began working alongside a more experienced jeweller, repairing Victorian jewellery. Graff suggested they formed a partnership. His flair, drive and determination led to his first triumph.

He negotiated an advance of 33 small diamonds for £60 from a diamond dealer. Rather than making 33 small rings, he used all of the diamonds to make one elaborate ring, with a huge flash of stones as a centrepiece.

On selling the ring to a jeweller, he made a handsome profit. Immediately afterwards, the jeweller called to say he had sold the ring already and wanted to order another.

Feeling inspired, Graff began thinking of ways to create unique diamond rings that would be in much demand. He created a ring with a unique 19-stone cluster, placing one large diamond in the centre, another six diamonds around it and then a further 12 stones on the outside. He also worked with rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

He had saved enough money to launch his own company, Graff Diamonds, in 1960. By 1962, he had two London retail stores and had established a reputation for creating highly adventurous jewellery.

Worldwide expansion
Aged 29, he decided to begin his global expansion to take his designs to a wider audience, aiming to enter the high-end market. He visited private yachts and palaces to personally meet potential new customers.

He soon found himself dining with kings and princes, commenting that it was “quite something” for a boy from the East End to have come so far.

The Graff brand was soon known across the world, thanks to his entrepreneurial and marketing skills – and of course his personal flair for creating unique pieces of diamond jewellery. His company began to build up a chain of international stores. The first one outside the UK opened in Monaco, at the Hotel de Paris, in 2000.

As his success continues into the 21st century, it has been quoted that Graff has handled more important diamonds than any other jeweller, not only of the current era, but probably in history.

Ethos for success
He puts a lot of his success down to the personal touch the brand provides for customers. “The people who enter our stores become part of our family,” he says.

He also believes his success is thanks to his great love of his product. “We love our jewels like we love our children,” he added, describing his creations as “very, very special to us.” He also prides himself on the high quality of his product, stating: “We strive to offer jewellery pieces that will last forever.”

The pieces that have been created by the master jeweller have included noble and historic diamond jewellery, combined with modern, innovative new designs that are set to be the famous pieces of the future.

Graff has never lost his enthusiasm or excitement, proclaiming himself to be the “luckiest man in the world” because he gets to see diamonds every day. The House of Graff remains a family business – his son, Francois, is now involved in the day-to-day operations. The company looks set to continue to soar, fulfilling the prophecy of Graff’s first mentor that “the sky’s the limit”.

For those with great minds, and their eye on the prize, Headspace provides affordable coworking environments, and our Farringdon location is just moments away from when Graff’s meteoric career began. For details of our flexible office workspaces, give us a call on 020 3691 7500.

Image © Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

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