Inspired by owning a jewellery shop, amazing colleagues and mentors, Ian Dunbar wanted to offer his customers more than the average jewellers – a valuation service that was second to none.
Ian tells us about his career journey from starting out working in the jewellery business, owning his own shop to then becoming a respected and expert jewellery valuer, offering a professional but personal service.
What inspired or motivated you to become involved in jewellery valuation
The “what” that inspired me was actually a “who”, in fact several “whos”, the first was a guy called Patrick Mallory, a Director of EP Mallory & Son of Bath, My first Jewellery Boss. For the best part of 15 years he talked to me, instilling his love of jewellery, silver, craftsmanship & most importantly detail into me and it’s amazing even now, 30 & 40 years later how much of what he taught me then comes back to help me now.
The second was another Bath man, Brian Norman, now sadly missed, one of the founders of the National Association of Goldsmiths Registered Valuer Scheme over 25 years ago, a passionate detail man and a quiet expert but with a strong ethical & detail streak. I sat next to him at many a Registered Valuer Conference & found him to be incredibly generous with his knowledge and passion. There have been and still are, many pretenders to his throne, however only Brian Dunn, also now sadly missed, and the creator of the Original Professional Jewellers Valuation Diploma course was his equal.
Whilst I ran my own jewellery shop in Frome, Somerset, I had begun to realise that the service side of the business was an incredibly important part. Just selling jewellery was no longer enough, one had to offer other services, such as watch repairs, engraving, repairs alterations and also valuations. The quality of valuations I had seen was quite frankly appalling and, having worked briefly for The Pru in the 1980s, I also knew this created problems in claims handling. Michael Norman & David Wilkins, another missing star, were working on a system to correct this problem.
When I came up to Cannock in 1996 to set up a valuation business for Goldsmiths, I wanted to embrace this system and insisted on all Valuers being Registered and working to the strict guidelines of the Registered Valuer Scheme. I still adhere to the code today in my own business.
Tell us about a day in the life of a Jewellery Valuer
There is no typical day, every one is a new challenge, and an example might be a trip to Leicester to value 50/60 pieces of Indian jewellery followed by a second call to see typical 1960/70s items that have just been inherited. I love some of the fantastic workmanship in Indian items for example to The Jurro (a Belt Piece) in this picture.
Later that day, I was asked to examine a diamond purchased in Dubai to confirm clarity, colour & weight as the only documentation was from the seller. The stone turned out to be laser drilled & clarity enhanced, which the client then told me had been disclosed, which was at least honest of the seller, but the client was testing me. Finally that day, visited a client at their office to see an 18ct gold signet ring, bought off EBay for over £260 which the client thought “looked & smelt funny”. He was right, total & complete fake, all metal ring, common up here in the Midlands, often being sold at boot fairs and at the side of the road by Eastern Europeans “for the price of a gallon of petrol”. I had to write a report for him so he could get a refund from PayPal.
What are the advantages of working for yourself?
The advantage of working for myself is that I can set my own hours, my wife was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and the treatment involves regular trips to Derby Royal Infirmary (a quick plug here for the great staff there by the way). I don’t have to justify to some jobsworth middle manager when I am not working, I just work around it. If I want a cup of coffee or tea or just a break with Mrs D, I just take it, less stress and zero hassle.
It also allows me to format my product my way. Valuations are not cheap; the client is just getting some paper and paying sometimes hundreds of pounds for it. I want to produce a quality document and service so that they know they are getting a great product, great service and not some production line item as the big boys in the field produce. The client never needs to lose sight of their items, other than while it’s in the cleaner, and even then they can see the cleaner & know their precious item is safe. Some companies who are my competitors charge the same or similar to myself but the client loses sight of their jewellery for up to three weeks, in my eyes that is unacceptable and unnecessary, very few people send me jewellery, they either come to my office and we talk it through there or I visit them and we value the pieces at their home or office. If I worked for a large company, they could charge up to £140 extra just for this visit, before the valuation is even started.
What are the disadvantages of working for yourself?
The disadvantages are mostly that I am a small company, many jewellers seem to like the impersonality of large production Line valuations, meaning that with few exceptions, I get mostly private clients and not commercial business, however there are some independents that prefer my service to the massive waiting list and impersonality of the Big Boys.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge so far in my first full year of full time trading was building up credibility and a customer base, whilst the business is almost 10 years old; it has operated as very much a free consultation business for most of that time.
What are your greatest achievements?
I was probably most pleased when during the start-up phase of turning my little consultation business into a full time job, that the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV) asked me to join them. The AIJV is a worldwide organisation of similar independents, not linked to large companies or that have any retail businesses at all. It was an honour to be asked and a great acknowledgement that my efforts over the previous several years had not gone unnoticed.
How do you ensure worklife balance?
Due to the situation described above, I have no difficulty with ensuring a work/life balance, My wife is the most important person in my immediate life and I would do anything to ensure her well-being, this includes assisting her with fundraising Facebook page - Poodles in the Pink and ensuring that I am available to take her to her regular (and sometimes irregular) treatments.
What would be the ultimate goal for your business?
JES was originally envisaged as being my retirement business, it did come a few years earlier than I expected so I have no great ambitions, other than to be respected and remembered as one of the honest ethical ones. I do not want JES to become one of the production line valuation mills, I want to keep it personal. Our simple statement is “We Value What You Value” and I never want that to change or the external perception of what I do to start appearing impersonal. Neither do I ever want to lose sight of the purpose behind what I do, to ensure that in the event of catastrophic loss the client is compensated to the full, seamlessly and without any other stress. I have worked with Valuers (in Valuation Mills) that seem to have lost this vision and I can see several problems storing up for the future in the event of loss where insurance Companies begin to question the extreme values put on items, for example items from TV & Internet buying sites.
Who are your customers?
The profile of my clients varies enormously, from people inheriting items from older generations that they simply want to know & understand, to professional people buying in unfamiliar markets (such as Dubai) needing to know that they haven’t been ripped off. I have Solicitors needing probate valuations, Shops needing an independent assessment to reassure their clients, Loss adjusters needing expert opinion on claims and Private Clients simply needing Insurance Cover for their precious items. I get a few clients in these straightened times needing advice on selling items and offer advice on private or public sales to them.
What advice would you give to someone starting a business?
My advice to anyone starting their own business is “Don’t complicate it, keep your idea simple & clear and focus on the essentials” Ensure you have strong support in family or friends and most of all keep it ethical and transparent.
Name one thing that you could not live without in your business
I couldn’t do this job at all without the support of my wife, I could be a valuer, but could not run my own business without her.
What is your favourite or most popular product/service?
The most popular product is The Valuation for Insurance, it comprises probably 70%/80% of my sales.
What is your ultimate goal - and has this changed from when you started?
My ultimate goal as I said before is to be remembered as one of the Good Guys, I don’t need to drive a Mercedes and definitely will never drive a BMW, but I want my clients to know that they got a great service and most importantly personal attention. This goal has never wavered.
Does the internet help you in spreading the word about your business?
The internet is a great tool, my website- jewelleryvaluer.com scores highly on Google search and I have a Facebook page and also Twitter. I advertise on Freeindex, and have the great number of 007 with Tradesbook .
How big a role does Social Media play in your business?
I believe Social media plays a very important role these days and this will only get bigger, with the advance of Smart phones which are near computer power now.
Ian offers expert, independent advice for the ultimate peace of mind – from making a professional purchase, insurance cover, probate valuations, independent assessments to selling items, Ian can offer you his expertise and an extensive range of services. You can contact Ian via his Profile or his Website.