Jenny Berich meets a man who has devoted most of his working life to the Australian jewellery industry – manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing.
After more than 50 years in the Australian jewellery industry, 80-year-old Stuart Ferguson still has no plans to retire from the business he loves.
Stuart, the owner of upmarket jewellery retail store Stuart’s Master Jewellers in Armadale Victoria, began his sparkling career selling wholesale jewellery for The House of Hawke in 1954.
Although happy to be trained by “a very good company”, Stuart immediately realised that “simply selling jewellery was not satisfying enough” for him.
“I wanted to go back to the beginning of the story and to find out how jewellery was made,” he says.
“I had an appreciation of the craftsmanship and an interest in the process of the manufacturing of jewellery – how the rings were made, how the settings were structured and even how the boxes/packaging best presented the items.”
In 1969 Stuart opened his own jewellery wholesaling business in a small Melbourne warehouse.
“I knew it was going to work as I am a very dependable person who achieves what he sets out to achieve without any fear of failure,” he says.
“I enjoyed buying precious jewellery from manufacturers and selling it to retailers but
eventually I began to have the desire to lift the quality of the product I was selling as I have that sort of active mind, always wanting to make things better and stronger and more beautiful.”
Three years later in 1972 Stuart moved his business premises to Carlton where he began manufacturing his own range of more than 4000 jewellery products.
“I realised that the jewellery made in Germany was superior to the jewellery being made in Australia at the time,” he recalls.
“This was particularly obvious in ring designs – German-made rings were stronger and better looking as they were made without any visible joins.
“Therefore I went to great trouble and expense to bring over machinery from Germany that could produce seamless rings.
“It took weeks to get it all together and in fact the first ring we made in the factory was the most expensive at a cost of $700,000.”
The investment paid off as the company’s sales of wedding rings skyrocketed.
“I found the experience of travelling overseas and discovering new jewellery styles and products, and then coming back and producing new “pieces of artwork” with my own personal touch very satisfying.”
Nonetheless in 1986 Stuart decided it was time to move away from the wholesale side of the jewellery business and opened his Armadale retail store.
“I wanted to allow my more creative side to develop so I could have more input in personalising designs of jewellery,” he says.
“Jewellery is not just a product. It is an extremely personal and powerful object. Jewellery is given at all meaningful and life occasions.”
Fitted out with custom-designed Biedermeier-style furniture, Stuart’s Master Jewellers is today a well-established local landmark with a loyal clientele.
Stuart runs the store with his wife Helen, who is responsible in the quality control and behind-the-scenes paper work, while he concentrates on the “more creative decisions”.
Stuart says his store’s customers come from all over Australia and even overseas.
“They (the customers) are sometimes related to people I have helped years ago or people who have just walked in off the street,” he explains.
“Word-of-mouth was and is the best way to advertise. People who are happy with the service will keep coming back and they will tell their family and friends.”
Whether serving customers at the counter or overseeing a design in the backroom, it is clear that Stuart loves working in his store.
“I really enjoy the work I have dedicated my life to,” he explains.
“Travelling and buying overseas is extremely stimulating. The designs of jewellery are beautiful and I appreciate the work that has gone into them.
“I also value the relationship that I build with my customers, more so since I have been able to scale down.
As I have mentioned, jewellery is about marking and noting important moments in our life. I am very honoured to be able to share these moments with so many people.
“Most importantly, I also value the time I am able to spend with my wife in our current location. We are a great team.
“I am lucky enough to be able to meet people, see who they are, what they would like and choose or design something for them. I am immodest in saying that I am good at this; choosing styles and designs which suit particular people.”
Stuart says that his immediate plans for the business are to maintain “the personal touch” that he has established and to build on the current customer base”.
He says he has no plans for retirement.
“Retirement is something we don’t discuss a great deal,” he says. “While we continue to enjoy the work, we will keep going.”
Like the precious jewellery he sells, Stuart Ferguson is obviously designed to last.