HOW DID YOU BECOME A VALUER?
As an integral part of the service I offer I frequently find that I spend several hours with clients. During the course of which I am often asked how did I begin my career?
The simple answer is that it wasn’t my initial path. I left school and spent a year in banking. The bank thought, and so did I, that a year was long enough for all concerned.
I had since childhood had an interest in history, geology and horology. I was a geek before the word had been invented. So I was delighted to be accepted by a local independent jeweller. It was 1973 and in those days there was very little educational structure for the jewellery industry. My education came via three older gentlemen in the shop. Amongst the many pockets of wisdom I learnt to strip down and reassemble a watch, identify a diamond (long before there were digital devices for the task) and recognise fake hallmarks. This intense and unstructured education has stood me in very good stead in my valuing career. I carried out my first valuation in 1974, I recall it well. It was a gold charm bracelet.
Being ambitious I joined another local company where I had heard that the proprietor, Edward Cox, was a keen gemmologist. Edward’s contagious enthusiasm for the subject spurred me on to further my studies. The formal study of gemmology is crucial to anyone who desires to become a jewellery valuer. I could do more than recommend The Gemmological Association of Great Britain. Gem-A are based in Hatton Garden and run world renown courses on gemmology and diamond grading. The courses have in recent years been extended to include a Batchelor of Science degree in conjunction with Birmingham City University.
There followed further years in a variety of managerial and valuer roles. I eventually found myself working for the Hopper family in Lincolnshire. The manging director, Gerry Hopper, was keen for myself and his son Tim to qualify as Registered Valuers.
We both attended a one day course run by the late David Wilkins and the late Michael Norman. Both of whom were great ambassadors for the newly created National Association of Goldsmiths Registered Valuers scheme. The scheme, over the past two decades, has developed into the highly regarded Institute of Registered Valuers, of which I am honoured to say that I am a Fellow.
In March 1993 I decided to go independent. I appreciated there was a gap in the market for a service visiting retail jewellers. At that time there were very few independent valuers around and the majority were office based.
The first few months were extremely difficult. I relied initially on advertising and press releases. The response was minimal. Therefore I decided to go ‘cold calling’, a practise somewhat frowned upon these days. There was no internet, no social network platforms, no LinkedIn to promote my business. I had to do it the hard way. But I was determined to make it work. I’ve always lived by the ethos ‘just get on with it’. So I did.
I visited over seventy businesses in a two week period. Mainly retail jewellers and auction houses to offer my consultancy service. Unceremoniously I was manhandled out of one shop. Took a deep breath, brushed myself down and entered the next shop.
My first break came when Steve Thompson of Eric A Bird Jewellers of Lincoln said they thought a visiting specialist valuation service would be an ideal addition to their customer services. It just takes one person to say ‘yes’.
Within a few weeks I had a portfolio of five shops in Lincoln and an auction house, Neals of Nottingham. From that moment on the business and my reputation grew steadily.
However I realised that if my business was to expand further I needed to move further south. At the invitation of my good friends John Carter and Peter Hering of Cellini jewellers in 1996 I opened an office in Cambridge.
The office gave me a good platform not only to offer businesses a visiting service but also a secure postal service. During this period I came under the radar of one of the major retail jewellery groups. Within a few months my fledgling business began to fly. Working twelve hours, six or seven days a week was the norm.
I wasn’t satisfied. There was a gap in my education. I had studied gemmology, diamond grading, horology, jewellery history, silver. I had qualified as a gemmologist, a diamond grader and a Registered Valuer. I even attend jewellery and silver making courses in order that I can appreciate how items are made. However it was the fleeting experience in the auction field that made me realise that I needed to handle, examine, determine and appreciate the finer jewels. It was one thing to visit exhibitions and auctions to view these items. It was another to appraise them. To be a consummate jewellery valuer I felt that a more in-depth experience of the auction world was crucial.
Phillips auctioneers, subsequently absorbed into Bonhams, advertised for a jewellery specialist. The post was a one year contract, based in Oxford and London. To be responsible for the appraisal, collection and cataloguing of jewellery for (fifty !) Fine Art, Regional, London and International auctions.
My interview was with Director John Benjamin (of BBC Antique Roadshow fame). Part of my interview involved the determination and valuing of a tray of, soon to be auctioned, items. I recall a Sri Lankan sapphire and a Carlo Guilliano brooch. Both of which I must have gauged correctly as I was offered the position, having seen off the other forty-three candidates.
I returned to Cambridge to close down my business and relocate to Oxford. Not an easy choice as I had to halve my income for the year. The year was intense. However I achieved what I set out to do. I handled some very fine items and made a contribution on the way in increasing the sales figures for the department.
After the contract I returned to Cambridge, rekindled Hawksworth Valuations, but now concentrated on the High Net Worth market.
In 2009 I was awarded the National Association of Goldsmiths’ Institute of Registered Valuer’s highly prestigious David Wilkins award for ‘outstanding skill, dedication and service in respect of jewellery appraisal and valuation’.
Today my business is primarily based around London HNW clients.
So what advice can I offer? It takes one person to say ‘yes’. Find that person. Have a goal, not a plan. Be determined, even if you do get man-handled. Continued professional development is key, never stop learning. Identify your USP. The best boss in the world is yourself.
Just get on with it.
Steven Jordan FGA DGA FNAJ FIRV
Jewellery, watches and silver valuer
MD Hawksworth Valuations Limited