Looking at David Morris today, surrounded by his bejewelled creations in the presidential suite of the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, it's hard to imagine him as a teenage drop-out with no real career aspirations. That was more than half a century ago, and it wasn't until a diamond cutter named Posh John took Morris under his wing that the boy's career took off.
Today, David Morris is one of the most renowned British jewellers in the world, having created pieces for clientele that includes the Sultan of Brunei and the Prince of Liechtenstein. Nevertheless, he's not too busy to pass on the wealth of knowledge to his son - just as Posh John did to him so many years ago.
"At 15, I'd just left school and really didn't know what to do or which career path to follow," the jeweller reminisces. "I enjoyed drawing and sketching, and one of the family suggested I become a diamond cutter, so off I went and I ended up as an apprentice diamond mounter and goldsmith with a tiny firm - there were just three of us when I joined the workshop."
The teenage Morris had only been there a few years when he met Posh John, a diamond setter from the floor below, so named for coming to work every day with a bowler hat and a rolled umbrella. "He said, 'You've got a good reputation as a craftsman, shall we go into partnership together?'" Morris says. "And the rest, as they say, is history."
The British jeweller was in Hong Kong last year for the brand's new spring collection and high jewellery launch. Since then, the company has opened a boutique in Abu Dhabi, adding to its impressive collection of stores worldwide, with boutiques reaching from Florida to Riyadh. "The jewellery industry has changed significantly since the 1960s … clients are far more mobile nowadays, something we have mirrored by opening stores in strategic locations such as our Dubai store, our Hong Kong store, and our new Abu Dhabi store, with more to come in Asia," Morris says.
"Why have we done this? Because we have clients who visit our London store on Monday, Dubai on Wednesday and stop off in our Peninsula Hong Kong store the following weekend."
Business is clearly flourishing, and it's no surprise given the company's steadfast eye on variable industry trends and consumer interests. "In the same way a particular handbag is this season's must-have, so it is with gemstones," Morris explains. A few years ago, for example, there was a surge in interest in conch pearls, and the company promptly started crafting pieces using the rare material. The jeweller has also started to pair the pearl with jade - the first time the brand has worked with this traditional Chinese stone - and last month launched a pair of earrings and a bracelet featuring these materials with diamonds.
The jeweller's beautiful and often extravagant creations are well known. Morris' friendships with actor Roger Moore and Maurice Binder, a film-title designer known for his extensive collaborations with the James Bond movies, mean that David Morris jewels have sparkled across numerous 007 productions over the decades. Oprah Winfrey, whom Morris describes as "lovely to work with", is also a fan, having chosen a pair of the brand's white gold and diamond chandelier earrings for an Oscars event. The jeweller has enjoyed the patronage of royals as well. "The sultan of Brunei and his wife are absolutely charming … it is always a privilege and a pleasure to interact with them," Morris says.
"[They have] excellent taste and an incredible knowledge of stones and jewellery."
In fact, it is likely the couple's appreciation of fine jewellery, and not their fame, that resonates most strongly with Morris. "For me, a beautiful piece is a beautiful piece no matter who it is adorning, and the enjoyment of the person wearing it is what gives me the most pleasure," he says. "Jewellery needs to be worn."
Morris explains that he sees jewellery pieces as living creations and that each chef d'oeuvre has its own story and history. "Jewellery has always fascinated humans, from a very early time," he says. "Humans have an innate desire to decorate themselves, and jewellery is the finest and most individual way to do this."
Unsurprisingly, he sees his work, from creating each beautiful piece to finding the right fit for each customer, as a meticulous and personalised process. "We know our customers' names, we know their tastes and we know if they prefer us to come to them at home, on holiday or in the store," he says. "This is why they come back to us and why they introduce us to their friends, and this is what brings me enormous pleasure because that is how I started out back as a young boy - it's a people business at the end of the day, and no amount of technology can change the fact that people want to conduct business with a real person."
Morris' deeply personal view of his work is enhanced by the fierce pride and joy he derives from knowing that his family is intricately involved in the company. "We're a family business … it makes me very proud to see the third generation coming through," he says, noting that his granddaughter Phoebe recently completed studies in New York at the Gemological Institute of America and is now integrated into the business, joining his son Jeremy.
Jeremy Morris took the reins in 2003, serving as managing director and principal designer of the company. Luckily for David Morris, he can take comfort in the fact that his son shares his tastes and vision for the company. "Jeremy and I share this appreciation for anything that is wonderfully made and styled - these are the truly timeless pieces and our aim is to create such pieces that our clients will want to hand down," he explains. "I have no regrets and look forward to seeing what Jeremy does next. It's wonderful to see him designing and creating beautiful things that have my name attached."
Goldsmith David Morris establishes David Morris Jewels
A brooch composed of a spray of marquise and brilliant-cut diamonds receives the ninth De Beers Diamonds International Award
A tapered bracelet of flexible diamond ribbons embellished with large round diamond snowflakes and marquise diamond stars receives the 10th De Beers Diamonds International Award
The government of Liechtenstein commissions David Morris to create a sapphire and diamond tiara, which is presented to Countess Marie Kinski and Crown Prince Hans Adam Liechtenstein on their July wedding day
Sarah Ferguson selects a David Morris Burmese ruby surrounded by 10 pear-shaped diamonds as her engagement ring from Prince Andrew, Duke of York
David Morris opens a boutique in The Peninsula, Hong Kong
David Morris opens a boutique in Abu Dhabi