In the Diamond Mind: Michael Wainwright

A conversation with Michael Wainwright, Managing Director at Boodles.

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Michael Wainwright, Managing Director at Boodles

When strolling down Bond Street, home to the world’s most important and impressive fine jewelry maisons, there is a pastel-pink flag that stands out amongst the crowd of impressive billowing flags that line the street. Relatively new to the area compared to some of its neighbors, the Boodles brand established its Bond Street presence in 2004, however, its founding dates back to 1798. Starting as a stand-alone family jewelry business in Liverpool under the name of Kirk & Co, this historic company has been selling jewels to British society for over two hundred and twenty years, with the business being passed down from generation to generation. The Natural Diamond Council had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Wainwright who is the Managing Director at Boodles as well as being the fifth generation in the family line.

What’s the story of your first diamond?

I can vividly remember the first diamond that I found truly striking. In 1996 I was sent on a business trip to the New York diamond district in Manhattan. We were walking down 47th street when we bumped into a trusted friend and colleague who worked with the jewelry dealer Thomas Faerber in Geneva, Switzerland. He was raving about this exceptional diamond-cut he had just seen in the office of a diamond dealer he knew called William Goldberg. Intrigued, I decided to go and see it for myself. That was the first time that I laid my eyes on an Ashoka-cut diamond. With its 62 facets, this coveted diamond is renowned for both its rarity and incomparable sparkle. It’s an incredibly difficult cut to find, as only less than two per cent of diamonds mined can be cut in this way. I knew then and there that we had stumbled on something incredibly special. We bought a few of them on the spot to bring back to London. As expected, our clients fell in love with them. Still today we have a very close relationship with the Goldberg family and we are the only people in the United Kingdom who stock Ashoka diamonds. We use them a lot in our designs.

Ashoka Diamond Ring. Photo courtesy of Boodles

What excites you most at the moment?

Without a doubt, the most exciting part of my job is seeing a new important diamond arrive at Boodles. It’s always an exciting event! Just recently we bought a 17-carat Ashoka diamond, which is practically unheard of. A rough must meet incredibly specific standards for an Ashoka diamond to be cut. The rough must be larger and longer than most. So anything over 7 to 8 carats is exceptionally rare. It will most likely be set into a ring.

Photo courtesy of Boodles

What are your intentions for the year ahead?

Communication. If there is one thing that I have learned over these last few difficult years is that there are so many creative ways we can communicate with our clients and make them feel special. We found that having a store wasn’t the only way of bringing our designs to our clients. With WhatsApp, social media, and the plethora of other forms of communication we have today, it’s important to master them all and make use of them. During the pandemic, we hand-delivered Fortnum & Mason picnic hampers to our most important clients. It was a fantastic way of showing that Boodles is all about family, friends, and relationships. Moving forward it is our priority to continue to build from this.

What is your greatest indulgence?

I am a man who loves a game of chance. At seven years old my father introduced me to the world of racehorses, and I have been hooked ever since. I adore national hunt racehorses and I own a share in three racehorses. I am a director at the Cheltenham racecourse and for the first time this year Boodles sponsored the Cheltenham Gold Cup, one of the biggest events in horse racing. I am thrilled that we have just committed to the next two years also.

What diamond destination is at the top of your list?

I am lucky enough to be able to say that I have just crossed my dream diamond destination from my bucket list. In February I went to visit the famous Cullinan Mine. Its association with the Crown Jewels makes it one of the most famous mines in the world. It was a very enlightening experience, and it makes you understand why natural diamonds are the prices that they are. In the mine, there is a huge expanse of conveyer belts and trucks that carry and crush Kimberlite ore. They crush sixteen thousand tons of Kimberlite a day. At the end of the day, from these tons, around a pint glass of diamonds or less is recovered, of which 80 per cent are assigned for industrial use. Seeing the entire process and business that is created for only a minuscule quantity each day was eye-opening. The process itself is widely impressive. Everything was so clean, organized and structured. I felt very safe. Our latest high jewelry collection, Peace of Mined, is composed mainly of diamonds sourced from the Cullinan Mine. With traceability becoming increasingly important to consumers, and rightly so, we love being able to tell the full story of each of these stones. From coming out of the ground in South Africa, to being bought by us, to going to London to be polished, to going to the GIA in New York, then coming back to the workshop in London to finally being made into a gorgeous piece of Boodles jewelry, the entire journey is completely traceable and only takes six months.

Photo courtesy of Boodles

What inspired you to pursue a career in jewelry?

Boodles is first and foremost a family jeweler, it’s my family business. I studied economics at Exeter and was on track to becoming a stockbroker. However, working in a family business is not like any other job. It’s discussed in the office and around the dinner table. Hearing my father and brother discuss the brand, their hopes of what it might become, and seeing them work collaboratively, is what inspired me to join them at Boodles. My brother and my father decided to give me the task of opening the London store, to give me my patch of the business.  In 1987 we opened in Brompton Road and that was the beginning of our presence in London.

What moment still blows your mind? 

I think the moment I realized that my children wanted to be a part of the Boodles business was one of my most mind-blowing moments. I have two children, who are twins. For the last 18 months, my daughter has been running our marketing department, and I must say working with her has been one of the greatest joys of my life. And now my son has told me that he intends to join us soon. Now that I am in the winter season of my career, knowing that I have inspired my two children to continue working in our family business brings me great comfort and happiness.

Photo courtesy of Boodles

What life lesson has been the hardest earned, and taught you the most?

Definitely patience, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s a cliché for a reason. I was not a patient young businessman. I remember when we decided to bring the business to London and when we rebranded as just Boodles and not Boodles & Dunthorne, I remember thinking “it’s fine it will take one to two years to establish ourselves” …in the end, it took us sixteen years. It just goes to show that you need to pace yourself and stay cautiously optimistic about business growth.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take professional advice and listen to it. This has helped me hugely to get on the path to building the brand that we have now got. In 1996, we employed the services of a branding company. They took us on our long but successful journey of becoming a brand, not just a successful county jeweler. We hired our first in-house designer, Rebecca Hawkins, who still today is our Head of Design. It’s listening to good advice that has allowed us to be a Bond Street jeweler for the last sixteen years.

Photo courtesy of Boodles

What’s next for diamonds?

In my opinion, natural diamonds will always be of exceptional value, and they will continue to be an aspirational product. What is next for diamonds more specifically at Boodles is that we are in the process of acquiring some fantastic natural pink diamonds, you will have to wait and see what we make with them.