The founder and chairman of Graff Diamonds muses on his love of art.
Born in Stepney, East London, educated in Hatton Garden and now operating a global business worth several billion, Laurence Graff is a man that proves anything is possible in the jewellery industry. All that’s needed is determination and an eye for a very good stone.
“At the age of 15 I started work as an apprentice at Schindler’s workshop in Hatton Garden, learning my craft at the Central School of Arts and Crafts,” Laurence Graff recalls. “After three months I was told by my employer that I would never make the grade, that I had no future in the jewellery industry. I didn’t give up, but moved on with more determination to succeed. At this early stage in my career I learnt the importance of self-belief and of trusting one’s instincts.”
Fast-forward to today, and the past 12 months reveals that this same steely self-belief has never left Laurence. The Graff business has expanded globally this year, with 11 store openings across Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including a boutique within Harrods, Knightsbridge.
The luxury jeweller also won the Queen’s Award for International Trade in 2014 – the fi fth time in its history that it has won the accolade – and also took part in its very fi rst BaselWorld. And boy, did Graff do so in spectacular style, unveiling the Hallucination — an exceptionally rare multi-coloured diamond watch. “At $55 million it is estimated to be the most valuable timepiece ever created,” Laurence says.
“I had thought about developing a piece such as this for many years, celebrating the miracle of coloured stones and demonstrating our all-consuming passion for diamonds. The Hallucination made this dream a reality; it was a very special moment.” But 2014 hasn’t just been about Graff presenting serious sparkle.
For Laurence himself, there has been a very special accolade. “I was overjoyed to visit Buckingham Palace to receive an OBE for services to jewellery from the Prince of Wales. It was a very proud moment and a true privilege for my achievements in the industry to be acknowledged in this way.”
He is also very proud of Graff’s family-run facet, with his son Francois Graff holding the role of chief executive officer. “Francois continues to inspire not just me, but our employees around the world,” Laurence says. “With unwavering energy, passion and determination he drives our growth, while adhering to our founding vision of always striving for the very best. It is an ethos that permeates everything; from our beautiful jewels, to our employees and the furnishings in our stores. I’m extremely proud of his achievements.”
Looking ahead, Graff will sustain the level of expansion recorded in 2014, while maintaining its position as the very pinnacle of the luxury jewellery industry. New stores will open in Hong Kong, Japan and Saudi Arabia throughout 2014 and into 2015, taking its store portfolio to more than 50.
“This is a considerable achievement given that we launched our fi rst location outside the United Kingdom in Monaco in 2000,” Laurence says. But before then, Graff will take part in September’s La Biennale des Antiquaries in Paris with a specially-curated collection of jewels including the Royal Star of Paris, a brooch incorporating the Graff Sunflower, a 107.46ct Fancy Yellow cushion cut diamond and the Graff Perfection, a 100ct D fl awless pear-shaped diamond drop.
“The world has seen very few diamonds that exceed 100cts, so it is unprecedented that two stones of such magnifi cent quality and carat weight have been brought together in one jewel,” Laurence explains.
Acquiring outstanding stones is the Graff signature, making Laurence a hero to many stone collectors and jewellery designers. The secret? “I truly believe that when you are searching for the perfect precious gemstone you should look for an emerald greener than green, a ruby redder than red and a sapphire bluer than blue,” he says.
While diamonds and gemstones might be the centre of his working life, for Laurence there is something else that stirs him. Art. “I have a well-documented passion for art; my interest was first piqued when I attended an auction in the late 1970s and acquired a small Renoir, which I put in my safe with my diamonds,” he recollects.
Fast-forward to today and his interest is nearing obsession. Sitting before one of Julian Schnabel’s Unititled Chinese Painting for his Hot 100 photograph, Laurence Graff admits that he reads and researches contemporary art constantly. “As with my diamonds, I always trust my instincts and need to have a real love for a piece before I will consider acquiring it.”
To read a digital version of the Hot 100 2014 book in full online, click here.