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Geoff Saunders: A Traditional Hands On Goldsmith and Silversmith
Educated in Nairobi, Kenya and then London.
Attended Central School of Arts and Crafts, Holborn, London to study all aspects of the jewellery manufacturing trade including diamond mounting for bespoke jewellery, design, engraving, setting, casting, enamelling and silversmithing.
Hatton Garden, London working for one of the largest manufacturing jewellers in Europe, at the time, in their design and pattern making department. Part time work at weekends as a medal maker added another dimension together with making watch cases, bracelets and straps in precious metals.
Finally attended the Sir John Cass School of Art and Design to study gemmology, to hone design, gold and silversmithing skills.
Taking on the World of Jewellery
At the age of 22, I was ready to take on the world of jewellery making and decided to head back to Africa, this time to Johannesburg in South Africa. I took up the position of factory manager at one of the largest jewellery manufacturing companies where I spent 10 years designing and making new ranges of jewellery, running the workshop, managing and training staff. During this time I was privileged to be involved with some interesting projects that often tested my ingenuity and skills. I was asked on three different occasions to design and make different jewellery settings for the “Sterns Star”, at the time the largest brilliant cut diamond in the world, weighing 85.93ct fancy yellow in colour and of flawless clarity. The diamond, which was owned by Sterns Jewellery Company in Johannesburg, was used on several different advertising and promotional campaigns for the company. One of these was the “Diamonds in the Sky” project to coincide with the arrival of the first Jumbo Jet flight from London to Johannesburg.
Exciting and Challenging Commissions
Over the years I have been commissioned to some interesting and varied work, some of these include:
Opening and Growing a Business
After ten years I was able to fulfil my dream of starting my own business by establishing a workshop just outside Johannesburg where I offered an all-round repair service to the public and retail shops across the country. I also designed and manufactured a range of diamond dress rings which we sold to retail stores in and around Johannesburg. We were on our way!
The following year I purchased a retail shop in central Johannesburg from the original owner who had established the business in 1935. The shop had beautiful wood Art Deco fittings trimmed with solid copper and a central display cabinet in the forecourt outside the door that the public could walk around, all very glamorous and stylish. I had a large work shop upstairs that spanned our shop and the one next door and there I employed a team of craftsmen all of whom used traditional hand tools to create the jewellery for which we became known within the area. The workshop had a bonded warehouse status that enabled us to supply other retailers, in addition to our own shop, without having to pay the customs and excise duty until the items were sold. A great help for the cash flow!
An interesting few years followed. I was commissioned to make the “Sarie” music awards for Springbok Radio, a popular local radio station that promoted talented local music artists and this I did each year until the station eventually, and rather sadly, closed down.
An Established Independent Jeweller
As an independent jeweller I joined with a group of likeminded retailers to form a buying group that could take advantage of special promotions and offers normally only available to larger organisations. I eventually became a director of this group which gave me a great deal of marketing experience and understanding. In addition to jewellery we also stocked several of the top watch brands such as Longines, Omega, Tissot, Tag Heuer, Raymond Weil, Seiko and Pulsar and this started a lifelong interest in both watches and clocks. I was an active member of the Jewellery Council of South Africa and was called on occasion to arbitrate on disputes involving both the trade and the general public.
Over the years we maintained contact with many of our clients from the Johannesburg days and have made further items of jewellery for them as much as thirty years later. Sometimes we made engagement and wedding rings for people and then eventually found that we were making items for their children who by that time were scattered around the world. Our clients came from all walks of life, shop assistants, bank tellers, lawyers, doctors (our shop was in the heart of the medical centre and close to the supreme court), a banana farmer from Swaziland, the late Sir Seretse Khama’s family from Botswana (I was commissioned by Lady Ruth Khama to make the plaques for the memorial to Sir Seretse Khama in his traditional homeland, Serowe), academics and musicians, the list goes on.
I was asked by a friend and colleague who was an extremely talented and creative designer to execute a design that he had submitted to the Diamonds International Design Competition. I felt privileged that he had asked me to do this for him and I did create the amazing brooch in 18 ct yellow and white gold with blued steel set with diamonds.
During the years in Johannesburg I took the opportunity to study further and qualified as an evaluator through the prestigious South African Gemmological Association, a qualification that has served my clients and I very well for many years. Additional qualifications include:
1. A certificate in antique jewellery from The Jewellery Council of South Africa.
2. A certificate in pearl identification and grading from The Jewellery Council of South Africa.
3. A certificate in diamond identification and grading from the Gemmological Institute of America.
Our business in downtown Johannesburg came to a close when the building we were in was sold and the new lease we were offered as a consequence did not fit our requirements. We moved to the suburbs for a while where we became very involved with jewellery as a fashion item, staging fashion shows and instore events with glamorous models mingling with clients so that they could see, touch and try on the collections.
A Stint in the Corporate World
At this point I was head hunted by a leading jewellery company with a group of retail stores as well as a jewellery manufacturing facility. I was appointed production director overseeing the production of special orders and repairs that required direct communication with the individual retail stores within the group. I firmly believe that each new challenge is a learning curve and in this case the involvement with factory staff, retail staff and their shop managers as well as my fellow directors was both rewarding and frustrating. When you have been your own boss for many years it is a constant pull to return to that situation and I eventually succumbed and set up my workshop once again above our retail shop.
Back to being an Entrepreneur and Working in the Community
This time it was an antique shop in the midst of the largest group of retail antique shops in the country which became a mecca for South African and international buyers of antiques. My wife, Corinne, had bought the business a couple of years earlier and now we were once again under the same roof in an extremely trendy and vibrant suburb of Johannesburg, Parkhurst. We had always worked well as a team and we soon became very involved in the community and the trade within the suburb, eventually moving to a new home there. Again happy and exciting times followed. We were invited to become members of the South African Antique Dealers Association, a body of knowledgeable and experienced antique dealers who promoted integrity and guaranteed authenticity within the trade. I eventually became the chairman of the association, a position which I held for seven years. As well as the day to day business of the association my main function as chairman was to organise the annual Johannesburg Antiques Fair which was a glamorous highlight on the Johannesburg social calendar. It was held over several days with a gala event on the opening night the proceeds from which were donated to a different charity each year. The members of the association worked hard throughout the year to source the very best items from around the world to showcase at the fair for their clients and over the years many fantastic items were displayed and sold, many of them were shipped back around the world. A sister fair was held in Cape Town each year at the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens this time organised by the committee in the Cape. Each year we made the journey to Cape Town by road towing a couple of tons of antique furniture, clocks, silverware and of course jewellery. Hard work but great fun and of course the beautiful gardens nestled at the foot of Table Mountain made it all the more worthwhile. During the time that we had the antiques shop in Johannesburg we formed an art and antiques group within our street of dealers to promote the shops there and I became the chairman. We held wonderful street events on Mother’s Day and in late November and early December we organised the popular antiques by candle light evenings which involved carol singers in the street, Christmas trees, mince pies and gluwhein and gently led us all into the Christmas season. Our daughter Erica became involved with the committee for these events using her marketing skills and contacts to contribute to the great success of the promotions.
An Attempt at Retirement
After 15 years in Parkhurst we made the decision to semi retire and relocate to the coast about 120km south of Durban where we set up shop in a newly repurposed river side fishing wharf that incorporated restaurants, shops, a conference facility, fresh fish caught daily, a beauty spa and a cooking school. What an idyllic location, it felt as though we were on holiday every day! With the workshop installed on our property, within view of the wharf but on the other side of the river, we ran a business that soon became well supported by the local residents and the holiday makers. We were able to pursue our love of antiques at monthly antique fairs in Durban and Johannesburg, where we continued to offer our specialised restoration services to the trade as well as the public. We staged many promotions at the wharf including antiques road shows, talks and presentations and several charity auctions and dinners. We were able to do all this together with a more relaxed lifestyle away from the hectic frenzy of Johannesburg.
Our Link to Canada and Our New Home
Our only daughter, Erica, had by this time married a Canadian and was living on the other side of the world in Calgary and after several trips back to visit us, as well as her many friends, she suggested that we visit Canada. Our Christmas gift that year was a pair of air tickets to do just that, no excuses now! Well we had a fabulous holiday visiting Calgary and its many attractions, Banff and Vancouver ( sooo reminiscent of Cape Town ). Now the pressure was on! Why waste precious years living so far apart! We could start a new business in Calgary which I could operate and promote, said Erica, and you and Mum could help and advise me with the benefit of your years of experience. It did not take long for us to see the sense in this suggestion and with the immense and generous support of our favourite son-in-law we finally relocated “lock stock and barrel” to Calgary. The story does not end here as we go forward with Erica’s new business in the hope that she will gain inspiration and energy from the many experiences that we have enjoyed. La Vogue Vintage takes us all in a new direction as Corinne and I reflect on fond memories of Africa together with the anticipation of things to come here in Calgary.
Book your appointment today to talk to Geoff about your repair, restoration or custom made jewellery requirements. Call 587-390-7222 or email and chat to Erica.