Edition Five – The Star In The Stone

Published on by

Three hundred years of exceptional period Jewellery with Mr John Joseph


The end of the evening draws ever closer and the air in Morton's Night Club is heavy with the sound of Jazz and the heat of the room. Cecilia Stalin's vocals shimmer as they unpredictably glide delicately over the undercurrent of conversation and laughter; her words catching fire as session drummer Jack Pollitt, Pianist Tim Lapthorn and Bassist Mark Lewandowski strike the match.

The sound is explosive and yet for the briefest of moments my gaze isn't focused entirely upon the stage and the performance, rather my attention follows the actions of John Joseph as he examines his person, on a hunt to locate the whereabouts of his cloakroom ticket.

Wearing a fine sport jacket of dark navy, John peels back the left breast to reveal the inside pocket. Sporting two smartly aligned Montblanc Meisterstuck pens, the sense of order is swiftly laid to rest as both the pens and the pocket make way for John’s hand as it dives inside to exhume its contents, which are placed onto his lap.

Mr John Joseph at this years Olympia Fair

Registering a moment of disappointment as a closer inspection of papers and notes reveals no cloakroom ticket, John's expression quickly turns to one of surprise as the right-hand side pocket seems to have yielded results. As if savouring the suspense in the momentary shared interest we've created, John submits his clenched hand to the centre of our group not before giving me a knowing ironic smile.

"Never leave home without it" says John as his hand opens to reveal a Jewellers Loupe. Our group laugh uproariously and I motion to examine it in more detail. Reassuringly heavy, where there was once a fine brass finish, a highly smoothed stainless steel casing has taken its place and it feels warm and honest. The lens and the outer case move freely as the stiffness of its once newness is now long gone in light of countless years of service.

Everything here is unheated, they are as they were made by nature. They're unearthed, shaped, polished and nothing more.

To some waxing lyrical about a used Loupe could be considered incidental (after all, I imagine it's certainly how John himself is likely to regard the fact) and yet, coming from the man to which it belongs, this unassuming, honest well used Loupe is akin to a silent partner and at once symbolic of one man's commitment to the buying and selling of original, rare and unique period Jewellery.

Born and raised in London and now living in Hertfordshire, John Joseph has dedicated in excess of 40 years to the buying, selling and sourcing of fine Period Jewellery. Specialising in Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and Art Nouveau, John’s collection is forever changing. Eliciting surprise and delight in equal measure, an international, loyal and discerning clientele respond favourably to John's discerning, masterful eye and impeccable taste for which he has become known.

Featuring only original, rare, unique an unrestored examples, John is one of a handful of dealers worldwide which only sources and offers pieces that feature unheated stones. As the name suggests; unheated gemstones are just that – unheated. While used to make stones brighter, more vivid and to remove imperfections – or inclusions – the process makes the gemstone brittle.

Top: One of many trays of rings featuring Opals, Onyx and Diamonds Left: A unique hand painted ’double dog’ brooch
Right: A rare Art Deco platinum set diamond cuff bracelet

"Everything here is unheated, they are as they were made by nature. They're unearthed, shaped, polished and nothing more. It's how things used to be done up until the end of the first half of the 20th Century." Unheated, original, unrestored and unique, John doesn't deal in multiples of any of his pieces because they simply aren't available. This makes them rare and consequently: desirable.

Naturally, this simple yet effective approach to buying has earned John an enviable reputation and is one of a handful of businesses around the world that count connoisseurs amongst their clientele: Customers who're looking for a one-off piece, something exclusive, exceptional – people who're actively seeking to enjoy beautiful piece of Jewellery to wear, as an investment or to diversify their asset class.

Naturally, for a collection so extensive, John Joseph is also one of a handful of businesses within Gray's that occupies two stands. "This isn't everything" he says as I regard the vast selection of offer. The resultant effect is a visual spectacle, a veritable visual feast as Burma Rubies, Ceylon Sapphires, Aquamarine, Emeralds, Star Sapphires, Fire Opals, Dragonfly Brooches and signed pieces by Van Cleef & Arpels catch the light as well as one's eyes and imagination.

A natural salesman, a wit, a raconteur and a passionate gentleman, John has an infectious energy not only for his trade but for life and it's this very same energy which carried many of our conversations over the course of our meeting at Brown Hart Gardens and subsequently revealed that it was a "sweetness" which came before the "sparkle" that one is apt to associate with John today.

"I've always had a flair for sales" says John as he recalls a story from his youth, which confirmed an innate aptitude had been there from the beginning. Invited by the Headmaster during his High School years, John and a friend were tasked with the running and management of the school Tuck Shop. Viewed as a poison chalice by many pupils, the micro business had seen meagre takings, making a loss every year during its operation.

Under new management, the entrepreneurial spirit shone brightly in John and his companion and no sooner had the shop reopened, did the duo see the shop turn its first ever profit. "We bought and sold at the right price. It was really quite simple."

Briefly experimenting with fashion in his twenties, before writing and very nearly beginning a career as a Copywriter, we discover a shared fascination for the craft and its many forms. We discuss the original Ad Man David Ogilvy and poetry – an art form John himself has rediscovered during recent months – and is gracious enough to share one of his recent writings with me upon my request.

John acknowledges he had always had a fascination and a sensitivity for Jewellery and can recall with clarity his attending a Jewellery show in one of London's hotels as a turning point. Entirely self taught, a self-directed apprenticeship followed and it wasn't long before John was offered a space on Barrett Street in the then relatively new Antique Supermarket: The brainchild of the now legendary Bennie Gray from which Gray's Market in Mayfair takes its name.

Fast establishing a reputation for exceptional pieces, John's list of clients grew and repeat business during the early years enabled him to increase the rate at which he bought and sold and in turn ensured he could further refine and develop his eye for which he is now widely known, an eye it seems which never seems to close.

Examining the pieces on display at his stand one afternoon, John hands me an exceptional pendant: "I love to buy. I never really switch off. We were in Paris at the time on holiday, I saw it and I just had to buy it. It's one of my favourite pieces. To see frosted crystal from this period in this condition is very, very rare."

Learned, patient, unpretentious, honest, humorous and genuine, John Joseph is a true gentleman. Our numerous meetings over the course of a period of two weeks have been not unlike a little tour of pleasures and John continues to confidently and competently blur the lines between business and pleasure as he follows his passion and in doing so inspires others to share in this noble and important industry.

His commitment to period Jewellery and the Jewellery trade at large covers some 300 years of design and is without question a fitting tribute to the patience, effort and time of craftsmen who are now long gone. Ironic perhaps, that the greatest treasure you're likely to find when visiting John Joseph Jewellery may not be found under glass, but rather stood opposite with a well used loupe in hand.

You may find John Joseph exhibiting at London's Olympia, LAPADA & BADA fairs and at his permanent stand 345-346 at Gray's in Mayfair.

Browse John Joseph Jewellery