Studio Visit | Julie Foster, Head of Fine Jewels & Timepieces, Leonard Joel

Can you please tell us about how you started out in your career and what has brought you to where you are now?

As a young child, I used to play with a bowl of tumbled gemstones my parents had.  I’d lay them out in order of my favourites and I remember a piece of transparent agate that I was captivated by. I’ve always been fascinated by gems and have throughout my life been drawn to stop and stare into jewellery store windows.  I discovered the 2 year Gemmology course and whilst studying started working with Leonard Joel back in 2005.  I’ve subsequently studied diamond grading, diamond technology and am a registered NCJV jewellery valuer.   

Can you tell us what you love most about your job?

I love that we are exposed to so many unique and wonderful jewellery items and we are forever learning. No week is ever the same at Leonard Joel and we’re always presented with items we need to research or place under my microscope or test to identify. It is also extremely satisfying to assist a client with an item when viewing and then to see and share in their excitement when they win the item at auction.  

What does a typical week look like in the Leonard Joel Jewellery room?

Always busy, as we have a Jewellery auction every week as well as four major sales a year, but we’re quite methodical in our routine.  Generally, we’re consulting with clients (at the moment it’s virtually via Facetime/Zoom etc) on Mondays and Fridays.  On Tuesdays we lay out and lot our auction in readiness for viewing on Wednesday, and then every Thursday we auction the pieces within our weekly Jewellery Salon. We’re constantly inspecting items under our loupes and my microscope and using various equipment I have to identify items.  

Tell us what kind of pieces are you most interested in? Do you collect anything in particular?

My interests are broad, however I’m always drawn to quirky, unusual or rare items.  I have a few pieces that are gemmologically special, perhaps because of the inclusions they may encapsulate or a visual phenomenon such as a colour change property.   I’m also fascinated by coloured diamonds.   I have to say, I love it all!

What advice and tips would you give to people looking to buy jewellery at auction?

Firstly, that it is a fabulous way to buy jewellery!  People can buy wonderful items at affordable prices.  Our team are all gemmologists and can work through any queries our clients have on the quality of gems and the condition of items, to instil the confidence to purchase.  (We guarantee our catalogue descriptions.)

You must have seen some incredible pieces during your career! What is the most memorable piece that has come through the jewellery room since you’ve been there?

One very memorable piece of jewellery was a diamond pendant consigned by a very humble farmer.  The pendant had been passed down through his family and had a note in it reading ‘Disraeli Diamond’.  The pendant was in a fitted box by Streeter & Co (Diamond Merchant and Goldsmith to the Royal Family). Disraeli was known to share a passion for diamonds with Queen Victoria and an association with Streeter & Co.   Many hours of research were put into the item with all indications that Benjamin Disraeli had possibly once owned the pendant and gifted it to the farmer’s relatives as a wedding anniversary gift.  The diamond weighed just over 12 carats and was basically the natural octahedral form which had been faceted to retain the octahedral shape.

How has covid affected your work?

Leonard Joel has had to adapt to an online presence only throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown restrictions which have been enforced in this period.   We’ve successfully managed to work with and assist our clients in becoming familiar and comfortable in the online bidding process as well as the virtual viewing of items and virtual valuation of jewellery items.  Our team has worked tirelessly to provide additional information in our catalogue descriptions and to provide our clients with additional images and information, again to provide confidence in bidding on an item that they have not yet viewed in person. We have continued to operate our Thursday Jewellery Salon auctions remotely with great success and recently conducted the September Fine Jewellery auction with a very pleasing sales result.

Anything coming up that you’d like to tell us about?

November Fine Jewels and Timepieces is scheduled for 30 November 2020.  We’ll have a wonderful offering of jewellery yet again, including a section from a single owner.  It will be an exciting collection of jewels, just in time for Christmas.