Why leaving school at 14 was this Kent jeweller’s best decision.
Robert Bicknell is a big brand in the making. The tatt-clad founder of Flawless Jewellery has all the necessary attributes, including the attitude, the skill and a beguiling back story.
It’s a classic tale pitting Robert as the council estate lad done good. A bit like that other salt of the earth designer Paul Smith, who left school at 14, Robert just wasn’t cut out for traditional education.
“I was a bit naughty,” he concedes, a cheeky grin on his face. Does he care to elaborate? “I wasn’t nasty, nothing that would hurt anyone. I just wasn’t really that interested in school. But I was good at art. And better at design and technology. Fortunately for me, someone noticed.” It was his head of year that pushed Robert into night school, where he was a 13-year-old surrounded by adults, many of whom were over 60.
He had to be interviewed before he started, such was the fear of his disruptive potential. But he got in and he behaved himself. Better, he applied himself. And soon he was an apprentice in Hatton Garden with Gary Howard at Fine Gold Jewellery. From there he went to Bond Street where he worked on heavyweight restoration jobs and after another stint in Hatton Garden he went to Australia where he worked as a senior jeweller for several years before coming back to the UK to set up on his own. He now has two shops in Kent, both with on-site workshops, one in Wetserham and the other in Chislehurst.
He’s earned his stripes and part one of his story really culminated last year when he was selected above all other jewellers in his area to create some pieces for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and was subsequently presented to her. Wearing a suit – for once – he and her majesty chatted about jewellery; turns out she’s a fan.
Nowadays, anyone who encounters him toiling at the bench on another piece of his perfectly poised classicism with an edge, may do so amid the amped up strains of rock band Queens of the Stone Age. Robert, if you hadn’t guessed by now, is a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t always come across in his jewellery, which includes minimalist settings along with Daisy and Bow ranges, but a glance at his cabinets shows you heart and dagger designs and Day of the Dead skulls too, which he points out were made five years ago, way before the boom in demand for these Mexicana designs. Seems he has a natural instinct for trends.
Now he consolidates all those skills in his own designs – about 30 new makes a month, along with other commissions – which are made at the bench in either his Chislehurst base, which opened six years ago, or this year’s newly opened and bigger branch at Westerham. And so even after 25 years of experience in the industry, Robert’s is a story of potential. He is already being courted for designer collaborations and with one eye on some potential forays into watch design and another on a clothing line, he really could be the next big thing.
Robert Bicknell was selected as an IJL Retail Star in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2013 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. To read a digital version of the book in full online, click here.