With a jewellery-making heritage spanning over a thousand years, it was probably inevitable that the Gregory family would succeed when they opened up their jewellery manufacturing and wholesale business in Sydney in 1978.
Isak, Lahdo & Christopher Gregory, the co-directors of Gregory Jewellers, began producing silver filigree jewellery in the Aramaic village of Midyat during the late 1950s, as apprentices to the master jewellers, known as the Asra family.
According to Christopher and Lahdo, jewellery-making, particularly silver filigree work, was the main trade for all the men in the village − and has been so for over a thousand years.
Nonetheless the quality and popularity of the brothers’ designs prompted their uncle, Isaac, to join forces with them and formally establish Gregory Bros as a business in 1967.
During the next decade, the business shifted its focus from the manufacture of silver filigree jewellery to fine diamond jewellery, and became increasingly commercially successful in Turkey. However due to ‘political unrest’ in the country, the Gregory Family, despite knowing very little English, decided to migrate to Australia, “the lucky country” from 1976 to 1978.
When the Gregory trio and their families arrived in Sydney they set up a workshop in the centre of the CBD and began manufacturing the precious diamond jewellery that had proved so successful in their homeland.
The business quickly established itself as a trusted supplier to “some of Australia’s most luxurious and respected jewellery brands” and during its peak, in the mid-1980s, boasted more than “1500 loyal clients” in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
However, Gregory Bros’ fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse in the late 1980s due a confluence of economic factors including the devastating 1987 stock market crash and the resulting drop in property prices.
Edward Gregory, son of Lahdo Gregory and joint CEO of Gregory Jewellers today with Helen Gregory, daughter of Christopher Gregory, says that in many ways these outside factors “forced” the family business to move into retail.
“Wholesale business was really slow,” he explains, “and we were slowly starting to go under due to what was going on around us.
“Many of our jewellery clients were not paying their accounts and a lot of our stock had to be written off completely when some of our clients were declared bankrupt.
“We were quite happy being manufacturers and wholesalers but because the market changed we had to change otherwise we would have gone bankrupt too.”
The three families re-mortgaged their homes and then contacted numerous shopping centres in a bid to establish a retail outlet.
“Unfortunately as our name wasn’t recognised in the retail market at the time many shopping centres didn’t want to know us but thankfully, the leasing manager at Blacktown WestPoint, Jim Wakeling, gave us an opportunity.”
In 1989, the Gregory’s opened the doors to their first store. Called ‘Diamondland’ to differentiate it from their then still active manufacturing business, the store took about six months to establish successfully.
“Our aunt and mothers, Gulay, Leyla and Rose took on the retail work. The first six months were difficult but after that they learnt what they were doing, how to build relationships, how to close a sale, etc, and the business began to take off,” explains Helen.
A few years later after the Gregorys opened more stores, the Diamondland name was replaced with ‘Gregory Jewellers’, and gradually began to expand their retail empire further while winding back the wholesale side of the business.
Today the business encompasses 14 “boutique showrooms” throughout Sydney.
Each is stocked with rings and diamond jewellery, designed and manufactured by the company’s jewellers as well as locally designed but imported jewellery and an extensive collection of Swiss watches including Baume and Mercier, Bell & Ross, Breitling, Cartier, Dior, Gucci, IWC, Jaeger Le Coultre, Longines, Omega, Oris, Rado, TAG Heuer, Tissot, TW Steel and U-Boat.
Helen says the company’s success can largely be attributed to the fact that the Gregorys are “yes” people who cater to their customers’ needs for bespoke designs.
“We have always been ‘yes’ people,” she says. “We would never say ‘no’ to a customer − whatever a customer desires we aim to deliver.
“I guess that’s what makes us stand out from everybody else. As experienced jewellers we have the ability to deliver bespoke designs and that’s increasingly important as more and more customers want the opportunity to create something unique from a sketch.”
Edward agrees, readily acknowledging that the business is moving “in the opposite direction” of many of its competitors by manufacturing most of its stock.
“With the high cost of labour the cost of manufacturing is such that a jeweller cannot be globally competitive if they manufacture in Australia but nonetheless instead of focussing on more affordable imports we are expanding our local manufacturing business so we can give our customers a product that is 100 percent Australian-made and 100 percent Gregory-made from design to manufacture.
“We believe that by doing this we are maintaining our soul and that we haven’t given away what our parents have inherited – being a history of more than 1000 years of jewellery-making experience – for the lure of the dollar.”
“It probably makes it more difficult to compete but we’re very comfortable with the direction were taking.”
Helen adds that although the business does have “some ready-to-wear jewellery made overseas” it is designed locally and the “production process is tailored to meet our standards, under strict quality control”.
“We will however never deviate from making our own engagement rings although some High Street jewellers have already done so.”
Edward and Helen are both adamant that Gregory Jewellers will always remain true to its family’s cultural heritage.
Isak, Lahdo and Christopher Gregory are still directors of the business and are not only actively involved in overseeing the jewellery design and manufacturing side of operations but also find the time to regularly visit their stores – Lahdo and Chris often still work seven days a week.
Furthermore Edward and Helen are not the only members of the Gregory families’ second generation to be involved in the family business.
Edward’s younger brother Robert is Gregory Jewellers chief operating officer, while his older brother Simon manages the Castle Hill boutique. Helen’s sister Suellen is the group visual merchandising manager, based in Bondi Junction, and her youngest sister Sara the noutique director of Gregory Jewellers newest boutique in Westfield Chatswood.
The family’s cultural heritage will also be spreading its roots further in the coming years.
After operating so successfully in NSW for the last 45 years, Helen and Edward say the family is finally “open to expanding nationally”.
Although reluctant to reveal their expansion plans in great detail, they are happy to say that their first interstate store, in Melbourne’s Highpoint shopping centre, is due to open this March.