The Musson life philosophy, ‘look to the future – respect the past’, has transformed the family’s name into an internationally recognised brand.
The son of an Italian wood turner, Robert Musson learnt handcrafting skills at a young age and wanted to be tradesman.
So when a family friend offered him a jewellery apprenticeship at Clark and Walton’s in Sydney’s Surry Hills in 1967, he began working with precious metals instead of wood skills.
During his five-year apprenticeship at the company which was “one of the best handmade firms at the time’, Robert won his first accolades – two consecutive Australian Jewellery Design Awards.
Shortly after completing his apprenticeship, he opened his first retail store, Musson Jewellers, in the foyer of an office building in Crows Nest on Sydney’s north shore. The small shop had no street frontage and its only retail neighbours were a newsagent and a shoe store but it was “a start” in the competitive jewellery industry.
“It was a hard slog,” says Robert. “Kerry (his wife) and I built all the window displays and fittings ourselves.”
“We had fantastic diamond and gemstone product for the time, but not much else.”
Realising that they needed more foot traffic and street frontage to build the business further, Musson Jewellers moved its premises up the street to busy Willoughby Road in late 1974.
“It was a fantastic Christmas and we haven’t looked back,” recalls Robert.
“Clients would come just to look at the store and the way we presented our product.
“We were successful with all the advertising businesses that were prolific from North Sydney up to St Leonards as we offered innovative design and quality.”
Musson Jewellers’ success grew further as it became the first retailer in Sydney to stock Cartier and quickly gained recognition as the South Pacific service centre for the prestigious brand.
Eight years later in 1982 Robert opened a “very stylish black glass and brass-look” boutique in the then new Chatswood Chase Shopping Centre.
“I always wanted to call our shop a boutique because then you know you’re selling a product that is always more individual than your competitor.”
Since then Robert has been “fortunate enough” to have won several jewellery design awards but feels his greatest achievement was being a finalist in the De Beers Diamonds International Award in 2000.
Melissa Coghlin from the De Beers Diamond Information Centre had been chasing him to enter the Award for many months, but Robert thought winning would be impossible as “it was the year of the new millennium and every major player in the world would be involved”. And, perhaps even more importantly, he had no design ideas.
Nonetheless on the Friday four days before the competition’s closing date, Melissa managed to convince him to enter, suggesting that he focus on an Olympics theme.
Robert, who was already at his beach house for the weekend, bought a pencil and some paper from the local newsagent and then sat down and designed a five-ring ring he called ‘Millenium’.
He drove back to Sydney on the Monday and couriered the sketch to Hong Kong to meet the Tuesday entry deadline.
“Six weeks later I’m one of 80 finalists from all over the world,” he recalls proudly.
Robert’s youngest son Olivar, already a jeweller by trade, joined the business in the same year.
Olivar was always interested in designing but believes “you have to know how to make something if you want to design it”.
Both his parents tried to talk Olivar out of making a career in the jewellery industry by telling him it was “too hard”. Olivar now wonders if they were using reverse psychology or simply preparing him for the dedication needed to succeed.
“You will only survive in this industry if you are passionate” he says.
“Making something that is truly treasured is what motivates me each day.”
Five years ago Olivar convinced his older brother Damien, who worked in management and recruitment, to join the Musson team as well.
Today the three Mussons work together with their 14 staff in the boutique, and at their recently built design and production studio, to ensure the brand’s continued success.
Musson’s distinctive designs attract an “incredible national and international clientele” ranging from influential business identities to famous sporting personalities – the company has created butterfly brooches for singer Mariah Carey and a native Mallee wood and Argyle diamond souvenir for the Mayor of Luxembourg’s wife.
According to Robert, much of this success can be attributed to the company’s promotion and use of high quality diamonds – particularly pink ones.
He says the company was “one of a handful of jewellers across Australia” invited to become a De Beers Carat Club member and is now an Argyle Atelier – he is also a founding member of the Diamond Guild of Australia,
Apart from the use of quality diamonds and gemstones, Robert says designs that are “sophisticated, distinctive and ultimately wearable” arealso key to the company’s success.
“I like to spend time discussing the customer’s expectations and lifestyle so the end result is jewellery of individuality and chic which will be worn with pleasure for many years to come,” he says.
“I like people who come to us for our design brand. They have an expectation of service and give us free reign. They trust us.”
Remembering his De Beers award-winning sketch, Robert has some tried and tested advice to pass on.
“I tell my sons if you want to be called a designer you should be able to design at that moment. You must have a creative mind that can derive inspiration from everyday objects.”
To do that, he appreciates the classical whilst remaining open to new ideas, and encourages his sons, staff and clients to do the same.
Robert’s aim now is to continue to provide the same sophisticated, wearable jewels and high quality service that people all over the world have come to expect from the Musson name.
“Our aim is to build on the reputation and high standing that Musson has built over the last 39 years,” he says.
To that end, Olivar, now Musson’s creative director, “ensures every piece made by Musson is on-brand”.