Business of dreams
Parkhouse’s Michael Laing talks diamonds, beauty, and family influence with Laura Cartledge.
Michael Laing is not just a prestigious jeweller, he has to be one of the coolest grandfathers around.
The chairman of Parkhouse, which was originally founded in Southampton in 1794, has dedicated his career to creating beautiful pieces.
His love of diamonds is clear as he describes them in ways that others might use for a person – so it seems fitting his granddaughters have influenced a bespoke collection.
“Inspiration has to come from somewhere to have a truth to it,” he explains. “It’s not just drawn because you have seen something like it before.”
They include the ‘Sienna’, which boasts a secret diamond to convey ‘her creativity, imagination and infectious laughter’ and the ‘Esme’ collection which has an ‘inquisitive nature, gracefulness and perfectionism’.
Then there is Anna…
“She spends her life dressed up,” he smiles. “And is always telling me off for calling her Anna when today she is Rapunzel.”
So what do they think of having a collection featuring their names?
“I think they are quite proud,” replies Michael, “and it is a story that will go down to their grandchildren.”
The longevity of diamonds, with each believed to be three-and-a-half million years old, means Michael sees the work they do as ‘just part of their story’.
“A diamond is the oldest thing you will ever own – it gets in the hands of man to realise that beauty,” he says, “and diamonds are one of the few things you can buy which will keep its value.”
Of course the value is not just financial either, as the giving and receiving of such pieces go hand in hand with special occasions.
“The connection with love is so strong,” agrees Michael, “it gives us great pleasure when we are selling engagement rings to people whose parents bought theirs from here.
“We get told about how they are going to propose, how they are going to surprise them and asked how they could make it better,” he adds.
“I remember when I first came into the retail side. I was in the workshop but came down to help in the shop one Christmas, and I loved working with customers. We are in the business of realising dreams.”
These dreams may come in different shapes and sizes, but the foundations are the same.
While technology means the facets of stones can be measured via computer Michael still checks each by eye.
“You can have two diamonds that are the same on paper but you look at the stones and one will be beautiful and the other colour will be flat,” he reveals. “This means, while in a well lit room they will both sparkle, in a room lit by candlelight only one will talk to you.
“That is the importance of looking at the diamonds and it is a skill handed down through the generations. I sit down with my sons as my dad did with me,” adds Michael. “One of the things which sets the business apart is the heritage. We aren’t just jewellers who are here today and gone tomorrow.
“When the Parkhouse business started and opened a shop in the high street in Southampton it was a quite amazing time with the threat of Napoleon wars, going into the early 19th century and the time of Jane Eyre,” he explains. “They would have been mending pocket watches and doing handles for walking sticks.
“It was quite a different profile – the jewellery industry evolves to the requirements of the time.”
One thing that has not changed however is ‘the drive to do better’.
“I am a bit of a perfectionist,” Michael admits. “I go round the world and I have to say if I think there could be a better diamond around the corner I will keep looking.
“However there is a notion of perfection, which can get boring,” he explains. “When I open a packet of 20 or so stones I move them around and see which ones are talking to me – those are the ones I pursue.
“If you looked at a model in the beauty sense, the nose must be this size, the eyes this far apart – it doesn’t work. Things can be beautiful but not attractive,” he smiles.
“No two diamonds are the same. The top is like windows sucking in the light and all of the bottom is like mirrors, the angles of these make the difference.”
Michael says the diamond industry places real importance on having the right contacts. In fact from ensuring each stone has good provenance to the design process – which has always been his passion – Michael explains the whole jewellery process is one of collaboration.
“The head designers and I will debate styles,” he reveals. “It is great fun but everyone ends up at the same point, we all like it in the end.”
To find out more about Parkhouse, 96 Above Bar, Southampton, visit www.parkhousethejeweller.com or call 02380 226 653.