Alan Linney and Bill Reed, the principal owners of Linneys jewellery stores in WA, have largely built their business by creating innovative jewellery featuring three of the State’s finest natural treasures – Broome pearls, Argyle diamonds and Western Australian gold.
Alan’s career began with a jewellery apprenticeship in 1966 and then rapidly progressed to small business ownership when he decided he was “virtually unemployable”.
“I just wanted to surf in the daytime and work at night,” he recounts, “so in 1972 I rented a bench space and started business in the historic London Court (in Perth).”
One year later Alan opened his own workshop and “worked day and night to get the business going” until a dislocated shoulder “forced” him to take on his first employee.
By 1975 Alan had four jewellers working in his workshop and had begun making his mark on the local jewellery scene with his first exhibition in a Fremantle art gallery.
Some 70 per cent of the jewellery pieces at that exhibition sold immediately.
“This was very encouraging so from then I decided to create jewellery pieces that were positioned between commercial jewellery and art,” he says. “I was in fact probably one of the first Western Australian jewellers to create organic or free form jewellery.”
Despite “some skepticism” about Alan’s organic jewellery designs from local jewellers, his work attracted the attention of Broome based marine biologist and pearling expert Bill Reed in 1979.
Bill was in Perth looking for jewellers to handcraft jewellery pieces with Broome South Sea pearls.
At the time Australian jewellers were not using any Australian pearls in their designs as all local pearl crops were exported overseas, mainly to Japan. Some of the pearls were then sold back to Australian jewellery wholesalers and retailers as “South Seas pearls products of Japan”.
Bill was determined to make it possible for Australians to buy Australian pearls and Australian pearl jewellery from Australian jewellers but needed a talented jeweller to help make his vision a reality.
After numerous discussions and much creative energy, Alan and Bill officially joined forces in 1983 trading as Linneys in the retail market.
“We realised there was an opportunity to market an Australian product that until that date had not been presented to the Australian public,” says Alan, “ so we took the pearls directly from the pearl farms, created jewellery and became the first people to show Australian pearl jewellery at a retail level.”
Sadly the general public’s response to this historic event in Australian pearling history was less than enthusiastic.
“We put up a sign outside our Subiaco store saying ‘Broome pearls come to Perth’ but no one came to see,” recalls Alan.
The two men then tried advertising in WA’s daily newspaper, The West Australian, to attract customers but without success – it seemed the general public simply had no interest in local pearls.
Fortunately for Alan and Bill the public’s mood changed dramatically when a news story on the new arrivals appeared in the same paper.
“When the editorial was published people started queuing up to find out about the pearls and buy them,” says Alan. “Then the America’s Cup came along and we had people queuing up in stretch limos from overseas eager to buy pearls.”
Alan and Bill had successfully launched South Sea Pearls on the Australian market – and successfully secured Linneys name as one of WA’s finest jewellery stores.
Nonetheless, as Alan stresses, Linney’s success has not been built solely on its stock of Broome pearls as the pearls are now stocked in most quality jewellery stores around Australia.
Linneys today, as always, designs jewellery with a strong focus not only on pearls but also Argyle diamonds and Western Australian gold and other precious metals and jewels from around the world.
“The key to our success is our unique designs,” says Alan.
“People come to our stores to buy bold and innovative jewellery handcrafted by us that they can’t buy anywhere else. Our designs are completely unique. A lot of other jewellers buy from people that sell to hundreds of stores. We don’t do that so our customers can be confident that they are buying something unique – with or without pearls.”
He acknowledges the business purchases some jewellery pieces to complement the store’s own designs but stresses it is a very small component of overall stock.
“We buy chain and specialised pieces selectively from international fine jewellery manufacturers to complement the designs we have here or if the jewellery uses treatments or techniques that don’t make sense for us to invest in,” he says.
Today Linneys has three stores in WA – in Subiaco, Burswood and Broome – and employs some 50 staff.
Subiaco, which opened its doors in 1983, remains the company’s flagship store. Located in one of Perth’s most upmarket shopping precincts, the store is an elegant gallery arcade featuring more than 450 square metres of ground floor space (including 160 square metres of retail space) and is home to eight of Linneys’ manufacturing jewellers. The store caters for local clients as well as a good number of interstate and international.
Linneys Burswood store is located in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel at Perth’s Burswood Casino. The store, with no manufacturing jewellers on-site, has a clientele mostly comprised of visitors from regional WA as well as interstate and overseas.
The company’s third store is located in the heart of Broome’s historic Chinatown.
Boasting 300 square metres of floor space, the store, which was opened in 1991, employs four manufacturing jewellers and is a magnet for local and international tourists.
Alan and his partners, Bill Reed and Lindsay Youd have further expansion plans for Linneys but stress the company will never have 20 shops across Australia.
In the near term Linneys will continue to operate as it has done for the last 25 years – producing innovative designs with some of the best pearls and diamonds that Australia and the world has to offer.