Independent Jeweller in London

“The Jeweller” magazine is the respected publication for members of the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ). Each edition profiles a NAJ member, and editor Belinda Morris featured our founder, Jacqui Larsson, in the Spring 2021 edition. The interview explores her recent shortlising of business awards and her unique skillset- which reflects her professional path from life as a Chartered Accountant in Australia to becoming a Council Member of the London Diamond Bourse.

What motivated you to apply for the f:Entrepreneur accolade?

Awards can be career-changing. 2020 was a year of tremendous flux, change and uncertainty. During the first lockdown, I was determined to use the time constructively. A business associate suggested I apply for the Best Business Women Awards (BBWA) 2020. This was a silver lining to lockdown – ordinarily, I wouldn’t have the time for the all-encompassing process, which should not be taken lightly. It’s incredibly time-consuming, requiring a forensic introspective evaluation of your business – if done well it’s insightful and helpful with planning, irrespective of the application’s outcome.

I’m now a BBWA finalist – the winners due to be announced on 19th March. It’s a wonderful opportunity to raise my personal and brand awareness and presents opportunities to connect with other flourishing entrepreneurs. It inspired me to apply for the f:Entrepreneur award, and being named as one of the UK’s most 100 inspirational female entrepreneurs was exciting and thrilling. The judging panellists are esteemed business community members, so being shortlisted, or winning, is welcome recognition and endorsement. Life in small business has its highs and lows, so these successes are confidence-building and great for PR and credibility, particularly in an industry where consumer trust is imperative.

What drew you to fine jewellery? Was gemmology and diamond specialism part of the plan?

It was a roundabout route, a varied range of skills acquired throughout my journey – all relevant to my business today. I originally trained as a chartered accountant in Australia, and following a six-month secondment in Hong Kong, transferred to London where I managed clients in private equity and banking. I worked for Japanese brokers for several years, then took a career break after the arrival of our second child.

During this period I discovered it was possible to become credentialed in gemstones and diamonds – a revelation! I had a lifelong obsession with gemstones and jewellery, so indulging a fascination I enrolled out of curiosity, with no vocational intentions. I studied nights and weekends while raising two small children and it was an epiphany. For the first time, studying was a thrill, not a chore. I loved it and excelled at it. Gems and jewellery are not a hobby for me – they’re an integral part of my DNA.

A five-month internship with the Diamond Trading Company – formerly the sales and marketing arm of De Beers – was life-changing. I sorted rough and polished diamonds, visited the sorting room, was on-site during a sight, analysed rough diamond evaluation, studied the diamond pipeline and the Kimberley Process. This experience continues to inform me of today. I sat my diamond exams achieving the highest marks globally and was awarded the prestigious Deeks Diamond Prize.

These skills evolved naturally into a business. Repeated enquiries by friends and family to source stones or produce jewellery necessitated research to identify quality workshops and suppliers. I created an accessible channel to produce personalised handcrafted jewellery which was (relatively) affordable. I still sell jewellery to my first client…

The expertise acquired throughout my career contributes to running my business – professional and discrete client liaison, project management, accounting skills and of course my diamond and gemstone credentials. This potent skill set enables me to offer a seamless, informed and completely client-centric experience.

Where did you train in gemmology?

I trained with the Gemmological Association of Great Britain for my gem and diamond diplomas. Having no jewellery sector experience before starting my business has been both a blessing and a curse. There are aspects of the industry that I’ve had to teach myself, which would have formed part of training and experience had I worked at other establishments. If you pay attention, working for others provides a precious opportunity to learn how to do things well, as well as how not to do things.

The flip side is that I am open-minded, commercial and resourceful, and haven’t inherited a fixed mindset of doing things because “they have always been done that way”. I build things from the ground up – researching what is best practice and assessing what clients need. This informs the business structure, and how I communicate with, and deliver to, clients. I operate in a way that is current, efficient and consistent with the ethos and values of my business.

I’m also acutely aware of how quickly things change, in the jewellery sector like any other. I read voraciously and constantly research best practice – one of the many reasons why membership of the NAJ is so important.

What does being a Council Member of The London Diamond Bourse entail? Traditionally regarded as a male-dominated institution, is it less so these days?

Snake Ear Clip

I became a Bourse member in 2015 and a Council Member last year. Membership is very diverse – it’s not limited to diamantaires. Naturally, there are rough and polished diamond dealers, but there are also private jewellers, pearl and coloured stone merchants, ethical gemstone suppliers, valuers, estate jewellers and craftspeople… a really eclectic group. It’s a wonderful networking opportunity as well as a prestigious, secure and central address to meet with clients.

Being a board member is voluntary, extremely time consuming, but rewarding. Ordinarily, we meet monthly, but during the pandemic, it’s been on an ‘as needs’ basis – usually weekly. I take the role very seriously – it’s an opportunity to help shape the Bourse’s future direction. Due to seismic changes in the diamond supply chain, there’s an appreciation that the Bourse needs to change to stay relevant to members’ needs. Consequently, there are many new initiatives being developed, and it’s exciting to be part of this evolution.

Board Members have varied perspectives and experience, so the membership is well-represented in decision making. My different skillset and experiences, which include non-jewellery insights, mean I’m well positioned to contribute in different ways, and my connections allow me to introduce experts whose skills can help us re-position ourselves. This included working recently with Grove Design London to transform the private viewing rooms by capturing the heritage and expertise of the Bourse.

Historically, Bourse membership has been very male-dominated, but this is changing. The number of female members is steadily rising. In fact, 50 per cent of new members admitted in 2020 were women, reflecting the notable increase in numbers of women in all parts of the supply chain.

Has being a female in the (once) largely male world of diamonds been a challenge?

I don’t recall experiencing any barriers to entry to the diamond industry as a result of being a woman. A bigger obstacle was being an ‘outsider’ and becoming better informed about a very niche, often secretive industry. It’s taken persistence, curiosity and a lot of hard work.

The challenge I experienced as a woman was finding the balance between my personal and professional life – a largely female experience. Calibrating that balance is personal and different for each woman and her family – career decisions are inevitably affected by where that balance is. I found it difficult to commit entirely to my career until my children led independent lives. So I ran the business flexibly around my family for many years; it’s only more recently that I’ve been free to dedicate myself completely to building my business. The difference has been palpable.

Maintaining current awareness of technology and its role in business has also opened opportunities. E-commerce and social media have re-defined the retail landscape, so having a seamless e-commerce platform on a well-optimised site means that online sales supplement the bespoke business.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the fine jewellery world?

You are the company you keep, so choose carefully. Surround yourself with quality people who you respect and trust, who share common values. Support each other.

Be open minded and willing to learn from others and prepared to experiment. Some things will work and others won’t. Be willing to fail. A disappointing outcome is only a failure if you don’t learn from it.

Experience has shown me that very often the most successful people are not necessarily the smartest, but those who are endlessly curious, agile and tenacious, and willing to take calculated risks.

Where are your boutique and bespoke pieces made? Do you have a signature style?

Lagoon Tourmaline and Diamond Cocktail Ring

Lagoon Tourmaline and Diamond Cocktail Ring

All bespoke designs are designed in-house and crafted in London. Inspiration is drawn from many sources – most notably the client. My expertise is with diamonds and gemstones, so I particularly excel at identifying beautiful stones within a client’s budget. This often involves educating them about gemstones unfamiliar to them; it becomes an unexpected journey of discovery.

Jewellery is a form of expression, which communicates aspects of our personality – how we are, or wish to be perceived. Spending time with clients to understand what they’d like their jewellery to convey is essential. The process of successfully creating something distinctive andindividual can only be achieved if it’s truly collaborative.

The boutique pieces of ready-to-wear jewellery are currently sourced from a variety of producers and locations. I’m intending to release some house collections in the foreseeable future. I work tirelessly to identify exclusive collections of readyto-wear jewellery; it must be chic and versatile, accessibly priced, well-crafted and displaying a distinctive, intangible design with a wink. I see little point in stocking ubiquitous items available elsewhere. The collections have universal appeal to any jewellery lover, irrespective of age.