East end-born Stephen Perry has spent the last 45 years working in London’s high-end jewellery mecca Hatton Garden. Having started out as an apprentice, he now owns three family-run jewellery shops. Come heist or high water, he’s a passionate believer in the area’s craftsmanship and community.
I started as a jeweller’s apprentice in 1976, when I was 15 years old. I did a five-year apprenticeship making fine jewellery. When you finished the apprenticeship, they would tie you to a lamppost on a chair and everyone who walked by knew you’d completed it. It was an initiation, a bit like being on a stag do.
You never get used to working with things that are so valuable. I’m like a boy in a sweetshop! I was brought up in a working-class family from Whitechapel and we never had much, so I value everything. If you come in and spend £50 I’ll treat you the same as anyone spending a lot of money. The minute I lose that, it’ll be time for me to stop.
The Spice Girls once turned up in their Mercedes convertibles. I’ve had people from all walks of life come in. I made an engagement ring for Barbara Windsor, some jewellery for Michael Caine and a boxing-ring pendant for Frank Bruno when he fought Mike Tyson in Vegas.
I once discoloured a £300,000 diamond. My heart sank. It had gone from this beautiful white to brown. Luckily, I took it to someone more experienced and it went back to normal.
The Hatton Garden heist really lifted business because there was so much publicity. For months after, there were loads of people coming down. If you’re on Sky News, people want to come to the area to see what’s going on – it caused such a buzz and gave all the shops a boost.
I have a real emotional attachment to the jewellery. Sometimes I’ll buy a diamond and I won’t want to sell it. I’ll say to people: ‘I hope you’re going to look after this stone because it’s really special.’ I’ve got a story behind most of my stones in the window and I’ve designed most of the rings. I don’t think you get that with other jobs.
I’d never want to leave Hatton Garden. I know everybody around here and it’s a really big community. There’s rivalry, but it’s friendly and we like to try and keep trade in the street.
I used to teach apprentices to pass my knowledge on but who wants to spend five years learning now? Everything’s so fast these days.
We’re a proper family business. My children work with me and there’s nothing nicer for me than to see them happy. It’s like having a legacy.
Find Stephen Perry at Dynasty Jewels, Regency Jewels and Harmony Jewels in Hatton Garden.