Ben Nicholls explains what it takes to be a good jeweller.
"Patience is the big thing," he says.
"Fine motor skills and very good eyesight, because you will struggle if you can't see it.
"I tell my daughter Eva 'if you can stare at the head of a pin for 10 hours a day, you've got a job'."
Fast approaching 20 years in the job, the 38-year-old wasn't always convinced he wanted to continue the family tradition into a fifth generation.
Offered a job at Launceston Precision Jewellers by his parents, Nicholls initially opted to work in retail and as a labourer before agreeing to join the business in 2002.
It was then that skills inherited from his grandfather - diamond-setter and jeweller Graham Piper - came to the fore as Nicholls learned his trade under former LPJ jeweller Graeme Frankcomb.
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"When I was about 12 or 13 I used to go upstairs and work with my grandfather in Christmas holidays," Nicholls said.
"I'd earn my lunch money and I'd start cleaning up his signet ring castings and more basic jewellery and after a while I got proficient at that.
"My grandmother edged him on to give me some customer work and then we started dabbling in making jewellery - mainly for my Mum for mothers' day."
LPJ still boasts subtle links back to Nicholls' great-great grandfather, UK watchmaker John Edward Piper.
The Centreway Arcade store stands several blocks from the Charles Street site where Piper set up shop in 1882, but retains several key items that have been passed down onto Nicholls' work station.
"I'm still using some of the original tools - I've got a few still left of my great-great-grandfather's," Nicholls said.
"And I'm still using my grandfather's and great-grandfather's tools - they were built properly in those days so they're hard to wear out no matter how much you mistreat them."
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
The first half of 2020 has been tough on many businesses.
Nicholls closed his doors for a week and a half during the height of the pandemic before returning for half days. The store completed its fourth week of full business hours on Friday and is as busy as ever.
"We've filled our job boxes," Nicholls said
"I emptied them over COVID and had nothing customer-wise to do and I filled them in the first two weeks back and we've got more work now than we had beforehand.
"It's nice to see after the big interruption that business has had, Tasmanians who maybe normally shop online have verbally said they are making a concerted effort to shop locally.
"They probably don't realise how much of a difference that can make. It means that small businesses especially can say 'ok, with that we can now go and shop ourselves with these other Tasmanian companies' whereas otherwise that would be a luxury purchase for us.
"Every business has an idea of 'I'd like to do this, I'd like to do that', but you've got to have the collateral to do it. More people shopping locally means you can do it.
"The money does go round more in the state and from a manufacturing point of view, I've said it for years, Australia needs to build itself to be a manufacturing country again and not rely on others."
Nicholls enjoys letting customers behind the curtain of what goes into making or repairing their piece.
Videos, progress shots and before and after comparisons on the LPJ Facebook page provide fascinating insight into how a piece is transformed from start to finish.
"Often we'll get a customer involved part-way through the make or mid-repair and say 'come and have a look, come and have a fitting'.
"Often the jewellery looks pretty average at that stage - it's not polished, it's not in its best condition - and we'll say 'this is how its going to look, this is where it's at in the process'.
"A lot of our customers like that because they get to see what happens behind the scenes.
"We've got a customer at the moment who wants progress shots. The job's not that intricate, it could look very simple to someone who hasn't seen what's gone into the actual job.
"But I've basically photographed it from a block of metal and in the next couple of days I'll show him the finished goods so that he can show the recipient 'this is what went into this piece', because they've got a keen eye for that sort of thing and they're interested in what goes into making something.
"It helps our customers get a bit more appreciation what goes into the product and why the price has a human being element to it, not a Chinese machine element to it, because there's a big price difference between a human doing a job and mass production."
That "human element" allows for each piece to be different from the next.
This week the former East Launceston Primary and Kings Meadows High student has been working on a ring depicting an iconic Tasmanian landscape, in the past it's been a one-inch trumpet made from solid gold or a Tasmanian fine timber picture frame with solid sterling silver fittings.
"We get the privilege of working with some stunning gemstones and because everything is pretty much a prototype one-off each time we make it ... it might be a classic or standard design, but there'll be ways that you tweak it so that it's individual to that person," Nicholls said.
"We're doing one at the moment and it's a black zirconium wedding band.
"I have the mountain range of Cradle Mountain and the surrounding hills cut out of pink gold and I'll be putting some diamonds in the lake and then hand-engraving over the top.
"So the sky will be the black zirconium and the pink will be the mountain range and that's for a guy's wedding ring - I'll never make another one of those again, so it'll be a really cool ring."
The toughest job of all came last year when Nicholls set about creating an engagement ring for his now-wife Megan Booth.
"Family and friend jobs are always the hardest ones - maybe [you put] pressure on yourself," he said.
"It was a job I thought about for a few weeks and then about a week out from when I thought she might receive it I thought 'I probably should get around to making that'.
"So I [used] a couple of things out of stock and loose gemstones and bits and pieces and no-one noticed they were gone until afterwards. It was a nice ring with some sapphires and diamonds."
It's far too early to tell whether the family business will be passed down another generation to daughter Eva, but Nicholls says the signs are promising.
"Funnily enough she turned nine this week and she comes in and has always tinkered with the tools," he said.
"She has her own little sets of tools she can tinker with and great ideas of things she can make and very quickly realises it's not that easy, but I've had her polishing things and drilling holes and she likes to use the pliers.
"She wants to make herself some earrings - all I have to do is supply the gemstones and the wire and all the rest that she wants.
"I think she's got a sciencey eye - she's very keen to see how things work, why they work that way and more importantly, does it give her something to wear.
"So it'll be a mix of fashion and how does it work side of things.
"Time will tell - I think she might do bits and pieces.
"The patience, that's the thing."
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