Nicola Cerrone speaks at AFR Retail Summit
Posted on: 11/3/2017 9:08 AM
The jewellery made in Nicola Cerrone's inner-west Sydney workshop has adorned Barbra Streisand, Claudia Schiffer and Celine Dion, and such global distinction could be Australia's if it supports a "renaissance" in artisanship.
"Australia is the best country in the world, and we can make things that are beautiful and unique," said the 68-year-old, who founded his eponymous jewellery house in a Leichhardt terrace in 1974.
"Artisans are so important to a country, look at the Renaissance. What value do we place on cheap, manufactured products made by people on low wages, where there's no attachment, no romance, no love? To me that is worth zero in the long run."
One of Mr Cerrone's proudest moments was when his workshop began using Australian gems in its pieces, notably pink diamonds from Rio Tinto's Argyle mine in the Pilbara.
"Australia was wasting its resources, sending them off cheap and buying them back expensive. I remember thinking, my parents would not be proud if I keep doing this," he said.
Handmade, high-quality jewellery was one aspect of how Mr Cerrone had built his brand, which supports 60 staff and four boutiques in Sydney and Melbourne, and sells worldwide.
He encouraged retailers to enter industry awards wherever possible, as a means of proving their bona fides to customers. After years of trying, Mr Cerrone won the De Beers Diamonds International Award in 1998 for a piece called Elizabethan Ruff, set with 559 round brilliant-cut diamonds.
"That is like the Oscars of the jewellery industry, so my brand became international from that moment on," Mr Cerrone said.
"In the long run it is really your customers that make you famous."
Mr Cerrone wants to restore funding for apprenticeships but is not seeking a major re-expansion of Australia's recently shrunk skilled visa program.
"The more exclusive you are in terms of immigration, the better you are," said Mr Cerrone, whose farm labourer parents emigrated with him to Australia from the village of Lanciano, Italy, in 1964.
The "master" of Mr Cerrone's subsequent jewellery apprenticeship was also an immigrant – a German jew – but the jeweller was unapologetic about his call for tight border controls.
"Don't be like Europe and just let everybody in, look where it's gotten them," he said.