15 September 2019
Graeme Thompson laces his interesting personal story with anecdotes about watches and jewelry.  Photo: HKEJ
Graeme Thompson laces his interesting personal story with anecdotes about watches and jewelry. Photo: HKEJ

Stuck on diamonds and ladies’ watches? Take it from this man

When Graeme Thompson tells you that diamonds are a relatively new phenomenon, you just have to believe him.

Or when he explains the origins of the lady’s wristwatch which even some horologists know little about.

Thompson, 36, didn’t get this body of knowledge about a highly specialized field by going to university.

In fact, he skipped college and went to work for a bank after high school and got a head start on his classmates.

But he went further afield by taking up gemology, which explains how he ended up being a jewelry director and auctioneer in Bonhams.

“University degrees aren’t useless but I simply didn’t want to be part of the crowd,” he said.

“I think I was first among my friends to land a full-time job.” 

Born in South Africa to Scottish parents, Thompson inherited his father’s rebellious streak.

The elder Thompson quit school early and traveled the world.

That inspired his young son to skirt the traditional path to employment — a college degree — and start a career in banking at 18.

Thompson said people with no college degrees should compensate for it with experience.

He became a voracious reader and pursued knowledge in certain unconventional subjects with a passion.

His long years with the Royal Bank of Scotland also helped.

Thompson sometimes peppers his personal story with anecdotes about jewelry and watches.

He once jumped to the rescue of a French jeweler’s descendant when she got stuck on a reporter’s question about the origins of ladies’ watches and what Cartier had to do with it.

The jeweler’s relative let Thompson finish her sentence.

Thompson likes to talk diamonds, not least because they’re often misunderstood.

In Japan, for instance, no one cared about them in the 1960s. Only 6 percent of Japanese couples chose a diamond engagement ring.

But the gemstone exploded in the 1990s thanks to clever marketing (who hasn’t heard of the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever?).

The global diamond industry has grown 70 percent in that time.

Thompson sees potential in other gems such as topaz, peridot tourmaline and rubellite tourmaline as alternatives to rubies, sapphires and emeralds whose prices have been rising and whose availability is shrinking. 

As an auctioneer, Thompson has re-rated many valuables through extensive research.

He and his team once recovered a natural pearl long thought to be cultured pearl.

They even came across a real ruby ring whose owner thought it was worthless.

“For some people, it is a matter of life,” Thompson said.

Which is why he and his team treat every assessment professionally and confidentially. The service is free.

Thompson has been exposed to a whole range of customer choices — large gems for mainlanders, colorful stones for Taiwanese and antique or art deco jewelry for Hong Kong buyers.

“It’s so much fun and challenging, too,” Thompson said.

He is proud to mention another achievement — being able to use chopsticks with a certain level of proficiency.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 4.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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About 70 percent of Graeme Thompson’s customers are female. The rest are men looking to buy a gift for their fair ladies. Photo: HKEJ

Instead of buying his wife a diamond engagement ring, Graeme Thompson chose a Kashmir sapphire. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal