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Alan Linney :Jewel in the crown

PROFILE- Alan Linney :Jewel in the crown

ONE of the best-known names in jewellery would not have even got a start in the business were it not for the high marks required to enter a tertiary course in architecture.

For that was the dream of Alan Linney, the owner and creative director of Linneys, one of Western Australia's most prestigious jewellers.

As a 15-year-old, Mr Linney left school with an unbridled passion for everything in and around the ocean, in particular, a thirst for surfing.

But it was a simple proposition from his watchmaker father, Bernie, which led him down this bejewelled career path.

"My father was a watchmaker and he said 'would you like to be a jeweller?'," Mr Linney says.

"And I asked 'what does a jeweller do?'"

Despite his initial ignorance about the business, Mr Linney grew fond of the classic trade during his six-year apprenticeship, which started in 1966 at a manufacturing jeweller opposite the Perth Town Hall in Hay Street.

"I took to it and enjoyed it and loved producing things and learning; that was where it started," he says.

"I'd always worked with my hands a bit, taking things apart and building things ... my hand skills led down that path."

During his apprenticeship, Mr Linney quickly learned that he preferred designing expressive, multimedia pieces rather than simply mass-producing traditional items for sale.

This preference developed into the form and style for which Linneys is now renowned.

"I guess the manufactured side was starting to bore me a bit, making the same ring over and over, and it didn't allow you to express yourself," Mr Linney says.

"So I thought there must be more experimental things I could do; having walked on the beach quite a bit I picked up driftwood and bones and thought I could incorporate this into jewellery.

"Jewellery is body adornment so it doesn't have to be a precious diamond, it can be any piece."

Mr Linney fondly remembers his first exhibition in Broome, in 1979 with Broome store partner and marine biologist, Bill Reed, showing pieces to the likes of Alan Bond and Kerry Stokes.

But the best part was selling a piece to Lord Alistair McAlpine for his then wife, Romeley.

"One of the highlights was when she (Romeley) wanted to buy one of my pieces of jewellery and I was chuffed as anything, as she lived in London," he says.

"I had made something from the leg-rope of my surfboard and a big collar, quite a chunky piece and for her to buy it was fantastic."

Mr Linney met Mr Reed in Perth in the late 1970s when the latter was searching for a designer to make some jewellery out of a collection of loose Broome pearls, which soon became the signature jewel in the crown for Linneys.

"The initial marketing was Argyle diamonds, Broome pearls and Kalgoorlie gold - that was in the early 1980s and that became a household name," Mr Linney says.

From there the brand and the business grew into the multi-million dollar operation of today, with four stores in WA and a largely unknown joint venture store in the Seychelles, not far from Mauritius.

But early on in his career he faced challenges from his peers due to his individual style.

"I was definitely going against the grain in the early days, especially from some of the other guys around that I'd been learning from, they were really sneering," he said.

"I noticed they copied me after a few years."

Challenges continued during the 35-year history of Linneys, and while Mr Linney remains hands-on with his business, he brought in former Argyle Diamonds manager sales and marketing, David Fardon, as chief executive about five years ago to help with the day-to-day operations.

And the generational connection to the business continues, with Mr Linney's children involved, even though this was not a part of the plan.

"I never had a desire for my family to be in the business," Mr Linney says.

"I started the business, and I never had any expectations of them coming into the business, as I felt they could do their own thing if they wanted to.

"Now they've decided to apply for a job here and I'm very excited about them being involved."

His youngest boy, Justin, has just finished BA and will be pursuing the jewellery design side of things, while an older son Troy currently works in the recently opened Linneys store in King Street.

Another son, Nathan, started with the company about four years ago and runs the pearl department, while daughter Tanya is a model and an artist in Sydney.

While Tanya isn't directly involved with the company, she did go to school with and worked alongside one of the very recognisable local faces of Linneys, Melissa George.

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