Susan and the watchmaker

The marriage of an award-winning jeweller and a business-minded watchmaker is the foundation for one of WA’s most successful jewellery stores – Blennherhassett Fine Jewellers  …

The marriage of an award-winning jeweller and a business-minded watchmaker is the foundation for one of WA’s most successful jewellery stores – Blennherhassett Fine Jewellers  

The career paths of Susan and John Blennerhassett first crossed in 1990 when John employed Susan as a jeweller at his newly established fine jewellery store – 2 years later the two began a personal and professional relationship that has seen the business flourish and Susan’s jewellery designs win national accolades.

Until their meeting both had enjoyed individual success in the jewellery industry.

John started his career as an apprentice watchmaker with Perth’s Caris Bros in 1966 before joining the Omega Group to set up the company’s watch service centres in New Guinea, Fiji, Brisbane and Sydney over five years.

He then returned to Perth and joined Mazzucchelli’s Jewellers but after nine years managing two of the company’s stores, John had a strong desire to do something of his own and resigned when the opportunity to purchase a jewellery store arose.

“I bought Broadway Fair Jewellers in February 1986. The store (located a level below the Blennerhassett’s current Nedland’s store) had been going for about 12 months but was not very successful,” he recalls.

“I thought I could make it a success but within six months I put it back on the market as I was battling to survive. In the end I couldn’t sell it so I persevered and persevered and slowly business started to pick up.

Meanwhile Susan began a jewellery making apprenticeship in Melbourne after discovering a passion for jewellery making in a high school art class. Shortly after completion of her apprenticeship Susan moved to WA where she found employment with Solid Gold Jewellers but unfortunately found her new role unfulfilling as she had no customer contact.

“At Solid Gold I was based in a workroom so if I made a piece I never really knew if the person liked it or if it really suited them so there was no gratification for me,” she says.

“I like to be able to deal with a client and see what style of ring will look best on their fingers or what type of chain flatters their face and body – I believe that a relationship between a jeweller and a client is absolutely essential to get the best possible result.”

After her time at Solid Gold, Susan joined Lavenders Jewellers, another small retail store/workshop, where she worked happily until the owner sold-up and headed back to the US.

A short-time later, in July 1990, John employed Susan as his in-store jeweller – the couple married four years later.

Today John, who has moved away from his watchmaking trade to focus on the day-to-day management of Blennerhassett Fine Jewellers, attributes much of the business’s success to Susan.
“Susan is one of Australia’s leading designer jewelers,” he says proudly. “She’s won a number of JAA design awards and has just won the 2007 Harpers Bazaar Diamond Guild of Australia ‘Solitaire Award’.

“Susan is one of the very few jewellers in Australia that completely does the whole job – she will design the piece, fully handmake it and then set it herself. Our customers know this and are therefore prepared to wait for their items as they know her attention to detail is at an award-winning standard.

“Jewellery making really is a passion for Susan – she works in the store six days a week and then makes more jewellery in her workshop at home in her time off,” he says.

But despite Susan’s passion for jewellery making she only started entering competitions in 2000 when both realised the impact winning an award could have on their business.

“One of my customers mentioned she had gone to another jeweller simply because “they’d won an award,” recalls Susan. “ I immediately realised that winning an award would increase consumer confidence in our business too so Ian (a jeweller employed by the Blennerhassett’s) and I began working on our first entries for JAA’s biannual Australian Jewellery Design Awards.

The two jewellers entered four pieces in the 2000 awards. All four were category finalists and two were winners – Susan’s ‘Pure Infinity’ neckpiece won the Platinum category and Ian’s ‘Prism’ diamond cuff won the Diamonds over $2000 category.

In the 2002 JAA Awards Susan’s ‘Pyrotechnics’ pendant and earring set won the Platinum category again while her ‘Bedazzlement’ armlet was a finalist in the same category.

In 2004 her ‘Harbor Lights’ piece was runner-up in the Platinum category and in 2006 her ‘Bohemian Affair’ ring won the Platinum category.

“To date I haven’t yet put in a piece that hasn’t at least got through to the finals,” she says with a smile.

In addition Susan’s talents were recognised in the 2005 and 2007 International Opal Awards where her ‘Shangri-La’ cuff and ‘Kakadu Falls’ ring were both highly commended, and at the 2007 Harpers Bazaar Diamond Guild of Australia Awards where her ‘With a Twist’ ring won the solitaire category and ‘Cocktail’ neckpiece, a combined effort with her apprentice Amy Smith, was a finalist in the fancy diamond category.

Susan hopes to continue entering awards as she enjoys the challenge but says time constraints make it difficult as competition pieces “can take up to 200 hours to complete”.

So for now at least, the day-to-day running of Blennerhassett’s Fine Jewellers with her husband remains her main focus.

The couple has two stores, a 100 square metre shop/workroom at the rear of a small local shopping centre in Nedlands and a 50 square metre shop in an arcade in Claremont’s fashionable shopping district.

According to John both stores are “traditional jewellery shops selling up market jewellery”.

“Our market is completely opposite to Shiels, Goldmark, Zamels and all those type of jewellers,” he explains.

“We don’t sell on price and discounts. We sell our items for what they are – beautifully made jewellery pieces featuring quality diamonds and other precious stones.”

The Blennerhassett’s business and personal partnership is obviously the key to the business’s success over the years but John is probably right when he says that Susan’s jewellery making skills are what really makes the business stand out from its competitors.

“Susan’s reputation as a jeweller is the magnet that draws a lot of people into our shop and helps sell the other jewellery and watch items that we stock,” he says.

Susan agrees that her Awards add credentials to the store but believes that her one-on-one relationship with clients is a far more important asset.

“I am totally accessible to clients,” she says. “If you walk into Tiffany’s you’re talking to the shop girl but if you walk in here I can design, make and set the perfect piece for you – the piece that suits your looks, needs and personality.”

The future for Blennerhassett Fine Jewellers, which started life as a little shop with just $50,000 in stock, is looking big indeed – especially since the couple’s youngest daughter, 10-year-old Maddison has recently discovered her own interest in jewellery making.