Jewellery invariably holds a special place in our lives whether it be sentimental value, cherished memories or a significant commitment. Jewellery pieces can have unique emotional value that far outstrips material worth and can connect us to meaningful love, family legacy, stories or memories.
Outdated or broken jewellery doesn’t have to stay gathering dust in the cupboard. Be it a family heirloom such as great grandma’s engagement ring or a loose gem from a fossicking expedition, an out-of-style gold necklace from the 1980s or strand of pearls, there are plenty of options to give it all a second life and uphold the significant legacy a piece could have in a person’s life.
Customers to Brisbane Arcade are spoilt for choice with a host of talented jewellery designers working directly with customers in on-site workshops.
Family-run business, Robert White Jewellers is Brisbane Arcade’s oldest tenant, celebrating 50 years in 2024, coinciding with the Arcade’s 100th anniversary.
James White, 26, now runs the business with his sister Hannah, 36, after their father Robert White passed away in 2018. The siblings have been regulars in the store since they were newborns.
Both James and Hannah are on the floor of the store six days a week, with the business specialising in custom-made jewellery design, including restoration or remodeling of family heirlooms. All items sold in the store are made in their Brisbane workshop.
“I’ve been walking into that shop since I can remember, hitting my head on the granite counter and now I’m running the business with my sister. We were born into it,’’ James says.
“We are now seeing great grandchildren of clients. A piece might have been passed down and we might have a grandson wanting to get engaged and have a ring remodelled.
“We’re 50 years and we are planning on being here for another 50. There are big things to come in the next 10 years.’’
Stephen Dibb, of Brisbane Arcade’s Stephen Dibb Jewellery – located in the Queen Street Mall level of the Arcade – says customers are more aware than ever of repurposing, repairing and giving new life to pieces of jewellery that often hold significant sentimental value.
Stephen, 60, who has 45 years’ experience in the jewellery trade, says Covid saw customers embrace a trend towards a less disposable society.
“We noticed that people didn’t want just more new stuff from overseas, they really were considered and looking through their stuff and maybe remembering stories. It made people a little bit more sentimental,’ he says.
“And we did find that there was a really big leaning to locally made, where customers could actually speak directly with the jewellery designer and trust the work they did.
“The arcade is one of the few places where people can be in touch with a true small business. We are not multinational companies, customers are dealing directly with the designers or the people who are going to repair or repurpose items.’’
Stephen’s whole family – his wife and four children – are all involved in the business. He was attracted to Brisbane Arcade for its reputation for high-quality goods.
“We find that people here prefer real marble, real leather, engraving, good pens,’’ he says.
“I have always thought of the Arcade as the epicenter of quality and a really great arcade for design. It is like a grand old dame… I think tenants feel honored to be here.’’
Gemologist Mark Seddon has been a Brisbane Arcade tenant for 15 years with his store, Girls Love Pearls. He is the only pearl threader in the Arcade and does all repairs in-house, without having to send pieces away.
The son of a boatbuilder, Mark, 55, grew up around boats, the sea and salt and believes this is where his love of pearls comes from.
He says repurposing jewellery has become more popular, as tighter economic times mean customers are more conscious of reusing what they already have.
“We get people coming in with family heirlooms or precious items which may have been passed onto them or they have simply had stored in their drawers or cupboards for ages,’ he says. “Sometimes there are triple-strand pearls from yesteryear, and we’ll restring into single strands which are a bit more contemporary.
“Recently, I had a lady who wanted her three-strand pearls separated into three pieces with new clasps to give to her three granddaughters when they turned 18. That’s nice to be able to do that.
“People are conscious of having rapport and trust with a jeweller. If you can work on the on the premises, it’s so much better than having to send it away to a workshop somewhere else.’’
Tucked away on Gallery Level of the Arcade, Ferdinand Woolley, of Ferdinand Woolley Jewellery, works out of his onsite workshop overlooking Queen Street Mall.
A jeweller for 30 years, Ferdinand, 49, specialises in quality handmade pieces but is equally skilled at repairing, restoring and remodeling. He likes speaking directly with customers, sometimes learning the history and special significance of a piece of jewellery.
“Of course I treat every piece that comes in with the same quality and finish but when it’s a sentimental value piece, when there’s a story behind it, it makes you feel invested in making sure it really works out well,’’ he says.
“Clients are genuinely really thankful. You know you have fixed something they love or cherish and when they see it brought back to life it’s a good feeling.’’
Ferdinand has also noticed that more people wanting to repurpose jewellery are seeking out local, small businesses, a trend perhaps spurred on by Covid when people spent more time on social media, at the same time jewellers like Ferdinand were posting more about their handmade creations.
“With Covid, people started to learn more about the jewellers out there who you can go to directly,’’ he says.
“They like being able to talk to a jeweller directly, rather than sales people at the front. The piece is not going to be sent away, they can tell me exactly what they want and the story behind it.’’
James Tyler, of James Tyler Jeweller also has a Brisbane Arcade workroom where he creates custom-designed jewellery entirely onsite in addition to a retail showroom – both located on the Gallery Level of the Arcade.
His business also features repair and repurposing work that sometimes includes unusual requests such as jewellery containing a loved-one’s ashes.
James’s wife Desiree Tyler, who does repair work on non-precious jewellery, says there is a wide range of requests that come through the door from repairing a jewel on a designer handbag or shoes to memorial jewellery such as lockets containing ashes.
They are also able to melt down old gold jewellery or gold scraps to create a new piece. “There is an excitement about what will come through the door,’’ she says.
“Jewellery holds such meaning to people and they can be emotional, particularly when ashes are involved or it’s grandma’s wedding ring.
“We’re finding quite a number of young people are happy to reuse grandma’s ring with a basic resize, a clean and polish and it’s ready for the next generation. The throwaway, disposable nature of society can’t continue.’’