We recently sat down for a chat with John Lee, owner of Jems of Remuera, to talk about his inspirations and vision for the shop and to understand why he chose to call it Jems and not Gems.
The dictionary definition of gems is “a precious or semi-precious stone, especially when cut and polished or engraved”.
The dictionary definition of jems is, well, there isn’t one. It’s not a word.
But if you ask John Lee, owner/operator of Jems of Remuera, why he chose to call his shop Jems and not Gems, his answer makes perfect sense. “Gems are just stones. Whereas [the name] Jems encompasses that, and so much more – it means the best, the finest, pride, jewels, masterpiece, the crème de la crème”.
Your range of products is quite eclectic – a mix of jewellery, antique and new items, home décor and furniture. What is the concept behind Jems?
With the changing times and imports from China giving people more selection, we wanted to create a picture in people’s minds of how old and new can mix together, and how homes of today can look amazing with just one or two special pieces mixed in with contemporary furnishings. And with Jems, we’ve created an environment, or a “showroom”, to do just that.
Where do you source the items you sell?
I do a weekly auction run flying up and down the country, as well as visiting trade fairs, antique fairs and markets. I travel internationally too, and have ‘scouts’ based overseas. We also buy privately from people who bring items into the store.
There must be some interesting stories behind some of the estate pieces…
Absolutely, and that’s one of the things we love about buying privately. There is often a significant history behind the pieces and we get to find out who wore the piece, where it was worn, who bought it for them. One diamond necklace was worn by a Governor General’s wife to official engagements, and for a time we had a huge following of clients who liked to buy ‘mourning jewellery’ from the Georgian period, around the 1790s, complete with locks of the deceased’s hair tucked in behind the enamel.
Say we want a piece of jewellery made for us. What do we have to do?
First you’d come in and see us, tell us what you want. We’d then get you back for a second visit to meet with our jeweller, who would come up with a CAD design (which is basically a 3D image) and then if needed we’d have a wax mould of the piece made up. We source all gems, diamonds, coloured stones and pearls.
How did you get into this line of business, and what inspires you to keep going?
I was inspired by a trip to Europe, where everywhere throughout France a strong sense of heritage and an eye for detail was apparent. I wanted to come home and create a concept here in Auckland which reflected this. So I went back to France, hired a van and started at the outskirts of Paris scouring antiques fairs and flea markets, buying up interesting decorative pieces of jewellery and furnishings. Myself and a partner then opened Now & Again Antiques in Manukau Rd, way back in 1995. I stay inspired because I love buying and selling beautiful pieces, and increasing our ever-evolving range. I’m probably most passionate about jewellery – it is an emotional purchase, so it really connects you with people. It’s romantic and makes people feel good … and there’s just something about the feel of jewellery and gems!
Why did you choose to open your shop in Remuera?
Back in 1995 when I owned Now & Again Antiques in Manukau Road, a very good friend of ours who owned an antique shop was about to retire, and he suggested we come to Remuera and build on his clientele. A move we’ve never regretted to this day!
What do you love about being in Remuera?
The people. The locals are very supportive of our business, and we nurture and support our relationships with them to the point that people become like family. We’ve made so many lifelong friends! And we’re now finding that as parents become older and families grow, we’re getting a new client base in their children. It really is a ‘family’ business.
You obviously don’t do all this on your own…
No, we have a fantastic team here at Jems including myself, my sister DA, our head girl Deanna and Claire and Catherine. We also work with two amazing jewellers, and this allows us to commission exquisite pieces based on a client’s brief.
We suggest you pop into Jems and let John and the team charm you with their pearls of wisdom and intricate knowledge of the items available instore.
Jems of Remuera, 346 Remuera Road, Remuera, Auckland
Phone: 09 522 8553 www.jemsofremuera.co.nz
Photography by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson