Jeweller Craig Rosendorff has always done things his own way, which is probably why he’s prospered during his 50 years in the business.
SURROUNDED by millions of dollars worth of precious metals and gemstones at his jewellery store and manufacturing workshop, Craig Rosendorff would be excused if he were protective or even guarded about his business.
Refreshingly, he’s anything but, openly detailing the challenges faced and successes experienced in building a luxury diamond jewellery brand.
Mr Rosendorff, who has been making fine diamonds and jewels for Perth’s elite for almost 50 years, a trade he passionately refers to as his “hobby” rather than his work, is as bright and colourful a character as the lustre shimmering in the most expensive pieces that decorate his upmarket Hay Street Mall showroom.
Among these pieces are $106,000 Rolex watches, $30,000 diamond-encrusted skull necklaces, and a plethora of engagement rings for young couples, which he regards as his specialty.
But the jovial jeweller lost the sparkle in his eye briefly one Tuesday afternoon in May 1981 when an armed thief thrust a gun in his face and demanded he empty the vault.
“These guys came in, put a Magnum .44 to my head, made us lie down on the floor and put our hands behind our heads and then made us clean out the safes,” he says.
“I would’ve tackled them, as that was my mentality, but there was about eight customers in the store so I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t take the risk.”
Mr Rosendorff bounced back after losing $270,000 (the state’s biggest robbery at the time), despite repeated settlement delays on the part of his insurer, Lloyds of London.
He now has a former police detective in charge of security.
Since that time Mr Rosendorff has twice moved location, leaving Barrack Street in November 1981 (due to security concerns after the robbery) to set up shop near Trinity Arcade in the Hay Street Mall, before shifting to its current location on the western side of the arcade.
Mr Rosendorff says the company is now turning over tens of millions of dollars a year across its Hay Street and Booragoon Garden City stores thanks to substantial growth over the last decade.
“Business has probably grown by five times in the last 10 years,” he says.
“A customer has commissioned me to source a suite of rubies for $3 million with no time frame as these need to be perfectly matched, so it’ll take a few years.”
However managing that growth has proven difficult.
“My biggest failure is not having a business background,” Mr Rosendorff told WA Business News.
“How did I mange growth? I flew by the seat of my pants and made things up on the run and made mistakes along the way, but now we are much more planned.”
This from a man who didn’t finish school; in fact, he didn’t even finish his junior certificate, after being asked to leave Hale School at age 15.
“I think I had ADHD because I never passed an exam,” he says jokingly.
“The principal wrote to my father and said ‘this kid’s a dropkick, he’d better go out into the workforce’, so my father asked ‘what are you going to do?”
Landing a position with the National Australia Bank (or National Bank as it was known in those days) as a postage clerk in 1963 soon led to more interesting work after blitzing a bank school exam, which surprised him even more than his superiors.
However, a part-time job flogging wind-up clocks on Barrack Street in Ruby Wise’s ‘The Moderne Gifte Shoppe’ soon led to him establishing a name for selling jewellery, and in particular diamonds.
Thanks to a merchant banker friend, Mr Rosendorff secured funding to buy the gift store business for about $100,000 in April 1973.
“I immediately set about getting rid of gifts and doing more jewellery,” he says.
“I even did my own TV ads saying ‘See Craig Rosendorff at the Moderne Gifte Shoppe.’”
“Then, in 1978, I changed the name to Rosendorff.”
Despite his passion for diamond jewellery, and a talent for working with figures (as illustrated during his time with the bank), Mr Rosendorff found it very difficult to conduct business when faced with “guerrilla tactics” from suppliers.
“When I started with this I had many obstacles placed in front of me and they actually made me stronger as it forced me to go outside Australia to source (diamonds),” he says.
“In the early days, some of the major companies in this town would say to suppliers, ‘if you supply Rosendorff then you won’t supply us’, so they used to tell me they couldn’t supply me.
“That became illegal after a number of years but it was too late by then as they’d forced me to go find better ways of doing things.
“In the trade you weren’t allowed to do what I did and go directly to the source, but that’s why I’m here today.
“Now I source mainly out of Antwerp and New York with the world’s leading diamond cutters and together we purchase rough diamonds and then they’re cut and polished in the major diamond centres across the world.”
Mr Rosendorff says the greatest challenge for the business remains financing, thanks to the jewellery business “eating money”, but succession plans are already in place.
The recent appointment of his friend of 18 years, Philippe Poix (formerly of Cartier) as his right-hand man will lead the company through future expansion plans in Claremont locally, and the eastern states, most likely Sydney.
“Philippe is coming in now to take the company to the next stage on the sales side of it so I have more time free to make and run the manufacturing,” Mr Rosendorff says.
“But I’m not going anywhere.”
Do you have a mantra or quote you live by?
I suppose I've always said if you realise what your capabilities are like, instead of looking and thinking 'I'd rather be doing this as it looks much easier', do what you do and do it well, be the best you can.
How important are your staff to your business?
Career staff are very important. You get a lot of brand name companies, like Tiffany (& Co.) and there's no family, it's a store in New York and a company on the stock exchange got hold of it and marketed it worldwide. When you deal with Rosendorff you're dealing with the founders.
What are the main challenges in your business?
Finance, always finance. The jewellery business eats money. All we have is cash, diamond is cash, gold is cash. We always have to find more money. The other challenge is working with the wrong people and being too trusting.
Describe the impact of technology on your business?
We don't really have much technology as far as jewellery manufacturing goes. Certainly there are improved techniques but the design is based in my head - I'm not a good sketcher or a good writer, so I tell them what I want, they bring me back a sketch or prototype and I tell them if I like it or not.