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An Interview with Olly Gerrish

olly-gerrish

Where did your love of antique jewellery come from?

Olly and friend en route to Turkey and beyond, early 1970s

Olly and friend en route to Turkey and beyond, early 1970s

Aged 18 I went overland through Turkey to India. In those days it cost £70 to get from London to Delhi by public transport! In Turkey itinerant traders were digging up Roman bronze jewellery; bangles, rings, armlets which I bought. In India we went to Ajmer where I went to numerous gem shops and was dazzled by the range of beautiful stones. This trip was the start of a lifetime working with jewellery. On returning to England I started to look at jewellery and began to appreciate the makers’ work around these stones. As a result I have always tried to invest in fine stones together with high quality workmanship.
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How would you describe your experience of dealing in Portobello Market in the 70s and 80s?

It was completely manic and incredibly exciting. Pieces of jewellery would pass in and out of one’s hands within minutes, there were dealers from all over the world who came over regularly to restock. London was the hub for antique jewellery as so much was produced in Birmingham in the 19th century. The Victorians loved their jewellery; it was fashionable to wear whole parures as ornamentation.

Olly and her then boyfriend (now husband) Nick, at their first stall under the Westway on the Portobello Road, early 1970s

Olly and her then boyfriend (now husband) Nick, at their first stall under the Westway on the Portobello Road, early 1970s

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Portobello Market in the 1970s

Portobello Market in the 1970s – tiring stuff!

How has the antique jewellery trade evolved since you started out?

It never stops changing and you have to be prepared to change with it. Fashions have inevitably changed. I have always bought Edwardian jewellery which in my mind is timeless. Quality jewellery is harder to come by and prices reflect the scarcity. We continue to buy what we have always bought; fine quality, timeless pieces.

What led you to establish an e-commerce site for antique jewellery?

My son (and now business partner) Matt who suggested it to me; thank god for a web savvy son! I had no idea what we had let ourselves in for as it has taken a lot of elbow grease to establish but I have enjoyed the process, it has been an interesting learning curve. Nothing stays the same and I am ever ready to adapt.

Version 1 of the AJC website, early 2009

Version 1 of the AJC website, early 2009

Which is your favourite period for antique jewellery?

I always go back to Edwardian jewellery for its fine quality. The designs were clean, well made and pretty. I sold to an Austrian dealer who was fond of the Edwardian period and he taught me what to look for. I became hooked as a result.

Olly and Nick on a buying trip to Vienna

Olly and Nick on a buying trip to Vienna

Without mentioning names, describe your most memorable customer

Our Austrian dealer friend asked us to stay in Vienna and took us to supper at a well known heurigen (tavern). He cautioned me not to react when I was introduced to the owner. We arrived and my dealer friend was swept up into the arms of an enormous lady! Arranged across her expensive bosom were an abundance of heart lockets and pendants which it transpired she had bought from my friend over the years with the profits from the pub! I had been supplying these to him thinking they would end up individually hung around young girls necks! It was a jaw dropping moment, for one second in my life I became a supreme actress as I could not reveal my involvement in her incredible heart collection.

Would you do it all again?

I would, I don’t have any regrets. The people are fascinating. The bit I hated was when we had our stock taken in 1990 (Olly had her entire stock stolen from her shop overnight – the robbers had drilled through the wall). It was highly stressful but it made me realize how amazing the trade is when you are down. People gathered round to support us which was fantastic.

Summarize the antique jewellery company in five words

A fun and fascinating experience!

View Olly’s picks in the AJC collection
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What are your memories of the antique jewellery trade in the 1970s and 1980s? Share your stories with the community below, they would love to hear!