An Interview with Joanna Hardy, Jewellery Expert

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This year’s Oscar ceremony was an amazing display of the collaboration between fashion and jewellery brands as they all ensure their products receive maximum exposure. To dress Anne Hathaway was the pinnacle of achievement. Tricia Topping’s interview this week is with Joanna Hardy – a renowned jewellery expert and most appropriate for the Oscar’s week.

Tricia Topping, “Beautiful gems in amazing settings create a wonderful liaison between art and precious stones. This week I attended a reception at the home of the Russian Ambassadour to launch a major exhibition celebrating the close relationship between the English monarchy and the Russian Tzars spanning over 500 years. The guests were privileged to be shown a few of amazing jewellery pieces and treasures from the courts of Henry VIII to the early Romanovs which will be on display at the V&A museum until July 2013. Our interview with Joanna Hardy highlights one woman’s quest to encourage and promote a deeper understanding of gemstones to wider audience interested in jewellery and their history. Demonstrating how the industry grows and evolves, the well-respected The Goldsmiths’ Company has a free exhibition at the Goldsmiths’ Hall in the heart of the City of London for a month from 11th March. The exhibition will showcase the work the graduates who have benefited from the Graduate Bursary. Interestingly, the exhibition will show how the participants have developed by displaying an early piece of work alongside their most recent pieces. We have featured Stephen Webster who along with wonderful showroom in Mayfair is also a Creative Director one of the oldest jewellery house, Garrards. The combination of tradition with the celebrity glam rock style is perfect for today’s urban living. Hopefully, we are looking at the collector’s pieces of the future.”

What attracted to you to jewellery?
Thinking back, I may have been influenced by my godmother Margaret Biggs, who with her sister ran a jewellery shop in Farnham, Surrey. She was the first woman in 1929 to pass her gemmology exam with a distinction and was also the first woman to be president of the National Association of Goldsmiths. I would go and have tea with her in her Georgian house and the room was surrounded by very grand glass vitrines displaying the most amazing gemmological specimens. It was like an Aladdin’s cave. I loved ‘making things’ as most little girls do and when I went to my senior school I took an ‘O’ Level in Design which included making and designing jewellery. (Little did I know that this was the beginning of a passion in jewellery and gemstones that has continued for over 30 years.)

You started your career by grading rough diamonds for De Beers, do you think this is a normal route into the jewellery market?
This is by no means a normal route. In fact, it is a path that does not exist today in London, as the DTC (The Diamond Trading Company as it was known then) has since been pulled down. After school I went to Sir John Cass College in Aldgate East, London, to learn the traditional skills of a goldsmith and silversmith. I very soon realized that I did not have the patience to be at the bench, so I left college and went to work in Hatton Garden, while studying Gemmology in the evenings. I loved stones but I did not know what route I wanted to take in the jewellery world. It was only until I heard about a job valuing and grading rough diamonds when I thought, “Wow that’s different, I’ll apply”. I think the attraction was the thought that I would be traveling the world buying rough diamonds in Africa. This sounded very exciting and exotic to a girl of 20 years old. Needless to say, traveling in Africa did not happen as I needed to be a man to apply for that role. So after a few years I saw an advertisement to be an assistant polished diamond dealer in Antwerp, so I thought I would live there instead. There is no normal route to get into the jewellery market, but my advice to any young person that loves jewellery is to get as much varied experience as possible, because there are so many different areas one can work in and if you do not experience as many different areas as possible you may not realise the options that may come available. You should be bold and always have an enquiring mind.

You are now a jewellery expert on the BBC Antiques Roadshow, what is the item which caused your ‘eyes to pop and your jaw to drop?
What I love about working on the show is that you never know what is going to turn up. The best surprises are always ones where the owner thinks it’s worth 50p or they had bought for £1 in a charity shop. There are a couple of collections which are coming up on TV in this new series which were pretty jaw dropping but I can’t mention them until they have been aired on the programme. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

You worked for Sotheby’s for fourteen years and you must have seen some magnificent pieces being offered for sales. Is there a certain item that caught your imagination?
It is always the element of surprise and discovery which adds excitement to a piece. My personal favourite was discovering an amazing Purplish Pink Diamond 7.37cts, as it was and still is the best coloured diamond I have ever seen. In 1995 it went for over $6 million, now that stone would be worth more like $20million. But, since leaving Sotheby’s I have seen better jewels than when I was at Sotheby’s… and that’s saying something.

The values of Contemporary Art have been souring at the recent sales. You were behind the ‘London Rock’ exhibition of contemporary jewellery. Do you see contemporary jewellery market also rising in value?

This is a very interesting area and one that is still a hidden secret. The market is awash with jewels that have not been touched by a human hand. Anyone can design a range of jewellery, and through using computer technology like CAD machines can produce a piece of jewellery without even knowing how to solder two bits of metal together. This is fine for the mass market, but what I see is happening is the Goldsmith, the person who can actually make and design creative jewellery, is being sort after by people who are discerning and want to own a piece of jewellery that not only will stand the test of time but is different and beautifully made. People do not want to walk around with a brand label hanging round their necks. They want to be individual, but for people to feel confident about buying something that has not got a label attached to it there needs to be more awareness and education.

You have turned your love of jewellery into a business. Can you tell us more about your jewellery master-classes which you run in Knightsbridge?

I have always enjoyed lecturing and talking with people about what to look for when buying or just appreciating jewellery and I realised that there was no where in London where people could go and learn about the appreciation of jewellery. So I have set up The Jewellery School of Excellence, where I run jewellery master classes for people who want to learn more about jewellery and gemstones. No previous knowledge is required, just a shared passion in gemstones and jewellery. The classes are small and intimate, held at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge where I have a private room and the topics covered are gemstones, antique and contemporary jewellery. The idea is so people can go away at the end of the day feeling a little more confident about looking at jewellery when deciding what to buy. If someone says to me at the end of the day that they will never look at jewellery in the same way again, my mission has been accomplished. It is a very special day when we have the opportunity to look at pieces of the period we are talking about accompanied with fine wine and food, and of course you can pick my brains all day long too… there are about eight different themed days and my lectures are always changing as there is always something new to add.