The inspirational journey of Rethinker John Whitaker

“There’s something intrinsically amazing about a gem stone that’s been created 500 miles below the earth, years’ later it’s shot to the surface in a volcanic eruption. People then discover these gems and for them it would seem as though these stones were from the gods. I think people want generations in front of them to carry and understand what it actually means to be in their place – to be in love and to start a family,” says John Whitaker of Whitakers Jewellers.

John Whitaker is a fourth generation jeweller and a decade into running the family’s legacy, Whitakers Jewellers. John believes he is truly blessed to be a part of the world of jewellery and the Whitakers legacy. Today John’s vision, purpose and passion are what you could describe in diamond terms as flawless. “I fell in love with jewellery, and being a part of my clients’ special occasions and moments,” Whitaker said. “The excitement I get from my clients is infectious.” For John, the jewellery trade is a combination of the love stories people share, the relationships he forms and the beautiful pieces he creates.

Founded in 1903, John’s great grandfather, Reginald Wilfred Whitaker, established the family business in Muswellbrook and Maitland with his three sons. After many years and expansions to new locations, the business was passed onto John Whitaker Snr who later, in 1965, opened the family jewellers at the ‘new’ Kotara Fair. “My father knew how to market jewellery; he was the only innovative jeweller at that time.” With a strong focus on maintaining the Whitakers legacy, John began training as a salesperson for his father in 1987 – he soon realised his passion for the jewellery industry. “I fell in love with jewellery, and being a part of my clients’ special occasions and moments,” says John.

As John was completing his traineeship, and well on his way to his chosen career path, his father pulled him aside. “My father, in his wisdom, said to me, ‘you’ll need to know more than I do to make it. In the future, what I know now won’t be enough to be successful,’” John recalls. “How right he was.” Guided by his father’s passion for the industry, John decided to attend GIA, Gemmological Institute of America, the world’s leading and most highly regarded jewellery industry training and career foundation.

John describes his experience at GIA as “absolutely amazing. I was transported into the world of diamonds and gems to a degree that I had not expected. The chance to grade and identify the widest variety of gemstones made a huge impression, but the thing that made the biggest impact on me was how my view of the global industry completely changed. I realised how much more there was for me to achieve after having my eyes well – and truly opened.”

After his father’s retirement, John and his wife Leonie opened up their Darby Street boutique retailing high end jewellery in 2006. To John, it was like that amazing gem stone coming to the surface for people to appreciate and carry forward for future generations.  Yet John’s hard work, passion and love for jewellery was about to be tested when just two years after opening in Darby Street, the Global Financial Crisis hit. It was here where John and Leonie had to be agile in their business approach. After careful consideration they decided to explore the bridal ring market; however, there was one significant issue. John explains that “to put all the rings on display in gold and diamond it would have been financially burdening. We needed to find a way to get a better return on investment.”

A unique manufacturing partnership with a Melbourne firm solved this problem and became the catalyst for an innovative business model that was to be the first of its kind. The rings displayed in Whitakers Jewellers are custom-made replicas. They are for display purposes and made from silver and the more affordable but beguiling diamond substitute, cubic zirconia. This business model designed by John and Leonie Whitaker is ground-breaking – most jewellers buy the rings directly from manufacturers. At Whitakers, customers can choose a ring they like and Whitakers will customise a concept design by both hand and computer generation. John explains, “we create a complete computer rendering, a 3D hologram and then physically print a resin model to be cast. Whitakers are the first and only jewellers to be using this model in Australia. We give clients the chance to try it on their hand, see what it feels like, then they’ll say ‘I love it but can we change this or that’.’’

Bespoke bridal and customised jewellery comprises most of Whitakers business, but they also remake and redesign rings and have an exclusive boutique collection of bridal rings, coloured stones and fine jewellery.

John’s vision and mission for Whitakers is to create an experience: this is at the heart of the service delivered by John and the Whitakers team. John says of his team, “it’s part of their DNA – to care whole-heartedly about the people you work with. Clients come in as strangers and leave feeling a part of our world and our brand. and that truly is, the Whitakers experience.”

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