How do you become a private jewellery concierge?
PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 May 2016
Neil Geddes of NJ Geddes Fine Jewellery in Leeds shares his jewellery tips.
A long, fractious and frustrating search for an engagement ring led Neil Geddes to the perfect diamond – and an absolute gem of a business idea. ‘The level of knowledge on the high street was appalling,’ he said. ‘The sales staff basically just read the ticket on each ring. If you’re buying a pair of gloves, you don’t expect the sales assistant to have an in-depth knowledge of the glove industry. But when it comes to jewellery, you expect a bit more.’
In the end, he took advice from an independent jeweller who had been in the industry a long time and was a fount of knowledge.
‘I was just wowed by him,’ said Neil. ‘He sourced a beautiful diamond for me and he also shared a huge amount of fascinating information about gemstones.
‘I found myself eyeing up women’s jewellery in the pub, which was not necessarily the best idea, especially if their husbands were with them, but I just couldn’t help myself.’
So he quit his job as an account manager at a Leeds training organisation, where he worked with big businesses like BT, British Airways and Deloitte, and funded further gemology studies by working in a pub for eight months. The resulting professional qualifications from the world’s foremost diamond education authority, the Gemological Institute of America, enabled him to set up NJ Geddes Fine Jewellery Concierge (njgeddes.com) at Aspire in Infirmary Street, Leeds, and are paper-proof of his knowledge, but it’s his natural passion for his subject that really impresses.
Unfortunately, however, enthusiasm and likability are not the keys to the diamond kingdom and, even though he was qualified and starting to attract clients, his reach initially was restricted to other gemstones.
‘I had a supply chain – access to gems and a workshop in London who could make bespoke pieces for me – but I couldn’t break into the diamond market,’ said Neil.
‘It took many, many months of knocking before I eventually got my foot in the diamond door. That’s many, many months of referrals and personal meetings. It really is about who you know and how much they trust you.’
And, of course, when you first launch yourself into the jewellery business, no one knows you and trust is hard to come by. That probably explains why Neil took such a big risk with his first sale. ‘Gosh, that was a big, big risk,’ he said, ‘but at least it was calculated.’
He got chatting to a couple at an event at a Leeds’ jewellers. They were intrigued by his private concierge service and asked him to source some earrings. But, because he was an unknown quantity, the supplier wanted the money upfront.
‘I maxed out three credit cards to cover the £10,000 price,’ said Neil. ‘Yes, there were sleepless nights because my clients were not obliged to take the earrings and the supplier wasn’t obliged to take them back. But I had confidence in my business and it worked.
‘It’s not something I’d suggest anyone includes in their business plan when they sit down with their bank manager but, for me, it was a risk worth taking.’
He still works with those customers today, alongside a regular coterie of high net worth individuals looking for the finest diamonds and gemstones from around the world.
Neil is also now recognised as a leading figure in the industry, after winning acceptance in the international diamond wholesale market without any prior connections or a long-standing family business behind him. He’s even managed to become a highly respected ‘attendee by approval’, at the Antwerp Diamond Fair – the world’s most prestigious annual buyers event – and works with Christie’s and Sotherby’s in London, Geneva, Hong Kong and New York to find the very best jewels at auction.
His work is not exclusively partnered with the highly-moneyed market though. If he’s dealing in high jewellery (the works of art at the top-end of the market) then it can take somewhere in the region of six months from consultation to delivery. But if you’re after a classic diamond ring, you can have it in as little as three weeks.
‘Working with me is like having your own personal tailor on Savile Row, only you’re not paying for the Savile Row brand,’ Neil explained. ‘I take a one-to-one personal approach with each client and everyone – whatever their budget – gets the same level of service.’
In the years to come, he hopes to widen his reach by employing other dedicated concierges and, perhaps, open his own little boutique store. In the meantime, however, he’s happy to continue adding a little sparkle to his clients’ lives.
‘Who knows what tomorrow might bring,’ he said. ‘For now, I’m happy to learn something new about this wonderful industry every day. I could do this for the next 50 years and still have more to discover.’
Neil is now owner of NJ Geddes Fine Jewellery, one of only a handful of private jewellery concierge and couture diamond buying companies in the UK. He operates across Leeds, Manchester and London from headquarters at Aspire in Infirmary Street, Leeds.
He has worked with high-end clients – celebrities, CEOs and successful business people – as well as those looking for a less expensive, though no less special, piece like an engagement ring or a milestone anniversary gift for the last five years.
His aim is to deliver an experience akin to buying a beautifully tailored suit from Savile Row but with a more achievable price tag.
‘Everyone likes value for money, whether you’re paying £2,000 or £100,000 for a piece of jewellery,’ Neil explained. ‘It’s important for me to build up a picture of my client’s life, their preferences and their goals.
‘And it’s also important that the whole experience feels special. I take just as much time and effort with someone spending a couple of thousand on an engagement ring as some of my higher spending clients because I know how much that ring means. Yes, this is an aspirational option but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a huge amount of money to benefit.’
After an initial ‘getting to know you’ consultation, Neil either collates a selection of suitable pieces from top-names in the industry like Tiffany and Cartier or sets about seeking out the perfect stone from his international connections and commissioning a designer to create a bespoke piece.
Find Neil at njgeddes.com