My life in this business began after I was demobilised – having served three years with the Royal Air Force in Singapore – and returned to England on January 13, 1948.
My brother had been an apprentice pre-war with a then well-known manufacturing jeweller and although I had no previous experience in the trade it seemed obvious to me that I should try my hand at the jeweller’s bench.
After about three months I realised that my interest was not in the making but really in the finished articles and assessing their value.
I looked in shop windows, which in those days were mainly stocked with second-hand antique silver and jewellery and started to buy some items, albeit only inexpensive pieces due to my lack of capital.
I was limited as to where I was able to sell as I had to rely on public transport. However, I found that by going to Cutler Street in London’s East End on Sunday mornings, I could usually sell three or four items that I had purchased during the week.
I wanted to expand my business and I heard from someone that there was an antiques jewellery dealer and a silver dealer in Portobello Road in Kensington. I made myself known to them and they were happy for me to trade alongside them. I said I could attract more antiques dealers and in so doing over about two years, established Portobello Road Market as a leading market for antique jewellery.
This experience put me in good stead for being the pioneer for many fairs and exhibitions, both home and overseas, and this put me on the route towards my meeting royalty.
In 1967, I approached the Board of Trade with the proposition of exhibiting jewellery and silver overseas and to obtain government subsidy. This was agreed and an export council would be formed including myself and another dealer.
Through the newly formed Jewellery Trade Centre in Farringdon Road, it was arranged for a contingent of British jewellers to exhibit in an exhibition in New York. With the help of the government subsidy, we chartered a Boeing 707 which was named the ‘Jewellery Trade Clipper’ to take us to our first exhibition in the US. I was the only antique jewellery dealer as the rest of the contingent were manufacturing jewellers, one of which is a leading jeweller today.
This was the first of many trips I made to the US, exhibiting in many trade shows and I became very well-known in the trade, supplying many of the major jewellers in the country. I also exhibited at a number of fairs in the UK and Asia.
I was invited to exhibit at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre when it was officially opened by their Royal Highnesses Prince Charles and Princess Diana, who visited my stand immediately after.
I exhibited at Olympia on many occasions and was chairman of the Vetting Committee and also on the advisory board. In 1991 Princess Margaret visited my stand at the fair and spent quite some time in conversation with me and my wife.
I have also been in possession of a number of royal-related pieces of jewellery. To name a few: a brooch of the Wings of Victory to Dame Clara-Butt after her performance at Buckingham Palace; Queen Mary’s Fabergé parasol handle; a Queen Victoria heart pendant; a George VI cigarette case and a Princess Alexandra bar brooch. The latter three items I still own.
One of the finest royal pieces I had was the complete coronation album of King George V and Queen Mary which included a small circular blue brooch with the insignia crown above an ‘M’ in diamonds which was manufactured by Child & Child. Only six of these were made.
During my many years in the trade I was made a Freeman of the City of London and owned several shops. At one point I did enter into manufacturing to make high-quality reproduction jewellery. I was fortunate to have in my employment a very talented craftsman who could manufacture jewellery to a very high standard.
One of the finest pieces he manufactured for me was the Benjamin Jewellery book bracelet which was featured in the national press, on television and on Movietone newsreel.
I decided that I would manufacture a unique version of this book bracelet especially for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I visited Buckingham Palace to present this gift to Her Majesty and during the preamble with the queen’s personal secretary, Sir Philip Moore, I commented that the book was quite firm in its closure and would require a certain amount of pressure to release the leaves of the bracelet.
His reply was: “Her Majesty has nimble fingers and is known to have changed a brooch she was wearing while on parade with another one she preferred, completely without notice.”