Aged 24 at the end of a Contiki tour in London, Lucy Fife from Goulburn was broke but full of dreams. As her friends headed home she begged her mother Cheryl for 2000 pounds for a six-month course on diamond grading with the Gemological Institute of America’s London Office. Lucy wanted to be with diamonds.
Over the next six months she slept on the floor of a friend’s tiny Greenwich flat, so fearful the landlord would catch her crashing there, she hid her travel bag in the attic. Her friend’s boyfriend climbed into the roof each time she needed something. Even a hairbrush.
Nevertheless, thanks to her mother, Lucy learned in the only world-recognised grading lab how to grade diamonds using their colour, weight and cutting potential.
“You would be under 100-times magnification, measuring with a tiny tool the angle and degrees of each facet (of a diamond) to determine how it would cut, and how well it will refract and reflect light,” she said.
Completing the course legitimised her skills and aspirations.
“I definitely wanted to stay in London and work,” Lucy said. “I put a deposit on an apartment in Shepherd’s Bush, like all Aussies wanting to live that UK-European dream. I gave it a go but it was Christmas, I had no money. I was young. It was cold. It was my first time in the Northern Hemisphere.”
She came home to Goulburn. Even more desperate to work for a high-end jeweller, she realised they probably would not hire an inexperienced person. She approached a former local jeweller Rob Hunt, offering to work in his Manuka store Briolette for free each Saturday. Rob agreed.
There Rob’s partner Di Thompson (now a bespoke jeweller in Braidwood) taught Lucy about client relationships, another crucial step in her journey. Soon after she was a full-time, paid employee.
One day walking through the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney with her boyfriend Lucy entered the upmarket Mondial Pink Diamond Atelier whose clientele includes the Sultan of Brunei. “I started chatting with Jacob Neuman (whose family owned the business). It came up that I loved jewellery so much,” Lucy said, bubbling with enthusiasm.
Challenging her, Jacob said: “Well, grade a diamond,” before disappearing out the back of the showroom and returning with an older man who had a colourless diamond and a pair of tweezers.
“Go on, grade it,” Jacob said, expecting to wrong-foot the effervescent young Lucy. She took his jeweller’s loupe (for magnification) and the tweezers, looked at the diamond and said, “Oh, it looks like an F – VS2,” pinpointing its clarity and colour grading.
“Yes,” Jacob said, astonished. “Do you want a job?”
She was soon working at Mondial’s where the Neuman’s friend John Glajz, a charming giant in the jewellery industry with substantial interests in the Argyle Mine and Hour Glass, called regularly.
“He made this little girl from Goulburn feel important,” Lucy said. “It’s kind of corny, but he made me believe in myself because he is self-made and grew his empire from nothing. He was a poor Jewish boy and made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted, or become whatever I wanted in the industry.”
From there she was offered a job managing Argyle pink diamond specialist Calleija in Martin Place, Sydney, where she helped some of the world’s richest people with her exceptional knowledge of diamonds and jewellery design.
Later, for family reasons she returned to live in Goulburn. Her long-term goal was to one day return to Sydney, but after starting her own venture, Lucy in the Sky, she began to feel older clients’ eagerness to buy from her was even stronger than their desire for jewellery.
“It is so generous,” Lucy said. “Obviously there is a bi-product, a beautiful piece of jewellery, but I just think they want me to succeed. They want to give and not to see me fail. That just blows my mind.
“Trust is a massive thing in the jewellery industry and gets a bad rap,” she said.
“I have two sapphires here, and one is $8000 and one is $20,000 and they look very similar. To the average person they would not know if they were getting ripped off. I will explain the difference.”
In the beginning of Lucy In The Sky she made her jewellery, now she outsources that work to four jewellers more skilled than her. She is a gemologist, jewellery valuer and diamond technologist.
“I like more the gemological side and the product I make now is higher quality than I am capable of making myself, so I will outsource that.”
Typical of her commissions is one from a Canberra mother of four daughters. For their 21st birthdays Lucy created stunning solid gold signet rings with colours representing their middle names – aquamarine, purple, rose and indigo.
Each of the ‘Sisters Signets’ design matches a half-crescent moon of graduated-size gemstones in each colour with hand-engraved French script initials of the girls’ names and a secret message under each plate. For the mother, a special ring was made of all four colours. Complicated and very specific, the assignment nonetheless allowed Lucy to show how much lifelong quality means to her in exquisite jewellery.