Inside Graff: London’s ‘king of diamonds’
Step inside the workshop of one of the world’s most famous diamond merchants
In 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald described an enormous diamond unearthed in the northwestern United States. His novella, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, follows teenager John T. Unger as he befriends fellow boarding-school student Percy Washington, whose family owns a plot of Montana land encircling a single diamond as high as a mountain. Had it not been but a figment of Fitzgerald’s imagination, one can easily imagine a Graff jeweller polishing, cutting and setting the Washington family treasure.
At his London-headquartered business, Laurence Graff OBE has made record breaking diamonds a house speciality. Graff has worked with a number of rare gems including the Windsor Yellows, the Graff Sweethearts, a Maharajah’s antique 47.39ct canary-hued Star of Bombay and the Wittelsbach-Graff blue diamond (which previously adorned the Austrian and Bavarian crown jewels).
In April this year, Graff unveiled his latest coup. When it was first discovered in 2015, in Botswana’s Karowe mine, the Lesedi la Rona ranked as the third largest diamond ever found and the second highest for gem quality.
Graff purchased the Lesedi la Rona in 2017; with the ambitious goal of retaining a total of 300 carats. The company custom- built innovative scanners to investigate the stone, before cutting one single emerald-shaped diamond of 302.37 carats and66 satellite gems.
“We are focused on precious-precious,” says Anne-Eva Geffroy, design director for Graff, describing the brand’s choice of raw materials. “When you buy jewellery from us, you get the best of the best.”
Graff is a brand of superlatives and the house’s fairytale trajectory is equally awe-inspiring. Born in Stepney, London in 1938, Graff was raised in the East End by a Russian father and Romanian mother. His father made suits off the Commercial Road, while his mother ran a tobacconist and newsagents.
Leaving school at 15-years-old, Graff joined a Hatton Garden jeweller as an apprentice. After just three months, he was released from his apprenticeship, but unperturbed by this early setback, set out to carve his own path. He established his first business aged 17; in partnership with an experienced craftsman, Graff specialised in the repair of antique and heirloom jewellery, with a focus on Victorian finery.
When he acquired 33 small diamonds on advance from a specialised dealer, Graff had the inspired idea of setting all stones in one sparkling ring. Come the day of the sale, the piece realised a higher price than the combined revenue of 33 stones sold individually. Buoyed by his success, the young entrepreneur continued to trade up progressively.
Graff’s audacious approach to his craft, coupled with intuition and a passion for beautiful stones, paid off. He officially established his current business in 1960 and from the late ’60s onwards, expanded into global markets, personally travelling to faraway destinations in search of diamonds. To this day, the company is family-run; the team includes Laurence’s son François – who has been CEO since 1986 – and his nephew, operations director Elliott Graff.
Graff’s first shop opened in London in 1962 and has since been joined by a retail network of more than 60 shops around the world. There are storefronts in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, Shanghai and Moscow. Tiny Swiss ski resort Gstaad boasts two Graff boutiques.
Earlier this year, the company moved into new premises on Paris’ Rue Saint-Honoré, designed by architect Peter Marino. In London, the realm of the self-styled “King of Diamonds” stretches across several Mayfair addresses. Graff’s Old Bond Street boutique is joined by offices and design ateliers; the brand’s beating heart is a subterranean suite of master workshops.
“We were known as diamond dealers and we have now been recognised as a very creative house,” explains Geffroy, who joined Graff in 2010. Working from her top-floor studio with views over Mayfair, Geffroy and her small team of designers dream up fine jewellery creations that set famous stones in imaginative designs.
Previous collections have nodded to the fine arts, inspired by Graff’s personal collection, which includes works by Impressionist masters, such as Pablo Picasso, and contemporary big-hitters such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Laurence Graff green-lights each of Geffroy’s new creations, which are first presented to the founder as pencil sketches before each approved piece is artfully rendered in detailed gouache drawings.
“Graff is a family business,” says Geffroy. “Family means they are outside your door, and they pop into the office often. It’s almost like you build the collection together.” Geffroy drafts roughly 200 designs per year. “We have a unique rhythm here,” she adds.
Graff’s London set-up employ as many as 70 labcoated artisans, completing a maximumof 350 pieces per year, and comprise a Goldsmith’s Company assaying and hallmarking offce. Stationed at wooden workbenches, Graff's expert team includes mounters, polishers and setters. It is here that Geffroy’s designs take shape. In the London manufacture, technical drawings and maquettes lead the way to real-life treasures. “In all our jewellery, nothing is at like a pancake,” says Geffroy.
“Everything has movement, up and downs, inclines. It’s vibration and life.”