Generation six and business is still sparkling

PARTRIDGE FAMILY: Three generations of Wellington jewellers, from left, Ray Partridge, Nikki Partridge and Grant Partridge.
PARTRIDGE FAMILY: Three generations of Wellington jewellers, from left, Ray Partridge, Nikki Partridge and Grant Partridge.

Having a business for the family to pass down through the ages is the hope of many entrepreneurs, but few New Zealand companies ever reach the feat achieved by Partridge Jewellers, now on its sixth generation.

When Nikki, the daughter of current managing director Grant, began working fulltime at the company's Lambton Quay headquarters this year, she was the sixth generation of the family to work in the jewellery business, which has been operating for more than a century in Wellington.

The business dates back to at least 1895 when Partridge Jewellers is known to have had a shop in Manners St. Since then it has operated retail stores and workshops around Wellington, now situated on the "golden mile" of Lambton Quay.

While Miss Partridge has worked part-time in the business since her teens, she is now designing bespoke items for the business, having completed a university degree from Massey and Unitech specialising in 3D design. Eventually she hopes to take over the business.

Her father, Grant, like his father before him, began with odd jobs in the workshop.

Few retailers – perhaps none – have been passed through so many sets of family hands, but even the Partridge story could have ended decades ago.

"I was never going to be a jeweller," said Ray, Grant's father, when asked the secret to continuing the business for so long.

Despite having worked part time as a boy in the company workshop, Ray in 1953 had been hired as an accountant for the New Zealand business of 20th Century Fox. Instead, his father, who could not manage both workshop and store, offered to match the starting salary he would have been given working for the film company, allowing the business to survive at least another two generations.

Ray is now retired.

Despite the age of the business there is no sign it is coasting.

Having opened two stores in Auckland, Grant Partridge has looked at opening a branch in Brisbane, and said a move to open a store in Christchurch or Queenstown was "a natural next step".

The company was also recently named as New Zealand's only Argyle Pink Diamonds Select Atelier.

The status, which required the business to pass strict anti-money laundering tests in Antwerp, Belgium, allows Partridge to put the extremely rare pink diamonds from the Argyle mine in Western Australia in front of its clients, who can then submit bids in a blind tender.

Last week Rio Tinto, owner of Argyle Pink Diamonds, brought millions of dollars worth of the gems to Wellington for private viewings at the Australian High Commission and Partridge's.