High Roller: Joanna once valued a pink diamond at £6million.
Antiques Roadshow expert Joanna Hardy has never forgotten the time she was asked to value one of the world’s rarest diamonds.
But the 62-year-old jewelry specialist (and self-confessed motor enthusiast) tells Donna Ferguson that she prefers to buy contemporary jewelry and spend her money on motorcycles and classic cars rather than expensive antiques.
She lives in London with her Australian husband Craig, 56, and their red fox Labrador, Merlot. They have two children, Scott, 25, and Chloe, 23.
What did your parents teach you about money?
That money can only be achieved with hard work. My father was a self-made man and a tough taskmaster. He owned a gas station and also rented and repaired jukeboxes. I used to work as a petrol pump attendant for him and raise money for the jukeboxes in London clubs and pubs. As a bonus, they gave me the singles when they came off the charts.
My mother was a yoga teacher and, in true 70s style, she used to wear matching leotards and tights. My parents came out of nowhere and my father would never spend money frivolously.
He would get very angry if my mother spoke on the phone for too long and if we went out to eat it would be to the golf club or the local pub. But we were definitely comfortable.
My younger sister and I attended Bedales, a private school, and I am grateful we did, because they viewed the arts in the same way as academic subjects. That was my saving grace.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, when I was in my 20s and working full time at Hatton Garden as a sales assistant, whilst also working in a burger restaurant at the weekends. He shared a house with three other people in Clapton Pond, east London, and we would put 50p in the electricity meter.
It was difficult, but my father thought I should fend for myself; He felt that he had received a good education and the rest was up to me. I took a course in the afternoons, where I learned to be a gemologist.
A year later, that landed me what I consider my first proper job, at De Beers, valuing and grading rough diamonds.
What is the most expensive jewel you have ever valued?
A pink diamond. When he was in his twenties, he was a diamond specialist at an auction house. A lady came in with a large ruby and said that she wanted to sell it to divide the family fortune.
I looked at it and saw that it was synthetic. I sat her down in a quiet room, gave her a glass of water and said, “I’m so sorry, it’s only worth £50, if that.”
At auction, we sold a rare pink diamond for £6 million, breaking a world record at the time. It was incredible
She replied, “Oh, I know, I was just testing you.” She then packed her bags and left. A week later, she returned with two large diamonds. I said they were worth £50,000 each.
She said, “Okay, okay” and left again. And I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ Then I received a phone call from her, inviting me to afternoon tea at Brown’s in Mayfair. When I got there, she told me that she wanted me to see her vaults in Geneva.
I went without having any idea why I was going. And there she showed me this real ruby ring, a pair of fantastic 1925 Cartier art deco earrings with emeralds, a beautiful ruby and diamond bracelet, and this Cartier-set single-stone diamond ring, which was the size of the nail of my thumb. And it was bright pink like cotton candy.
I had never seen a pink diamond before in my life. They are extremely rare. Still, to this day, it is the best diamond I have seen color-wise. It turned out that the lady was an Indian princess.
Her diamond, which had been in that vault for about 50 years, was a pink similar to the Williamson pink on the queen’s Cartier flower brooch. At auction, we sold it for £6 million, breaking a world record for pink diamonds at the time. It was incredible.
Star quality: Joanna shows off her expertise on BBC Antiques Roadshow
What was the best year of your financial life?
The best year was 2009 when I left Sotheby’s and started working for myself. It was incredibly scary – I had been at Sotheby’s for 14 years.
But some jewelry owners feel more comfortable going to an independent appraiser who isn’t tied to an auction house, so financially, it worked out in the end. And I got the freedom to choose the projects I want to work on.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought for fun?
My mimosa yellow Triumph Stag, which I bought for around £4,000 in 2006. It’s a classic car. When I worked at the gas pump, a very handsome guy drove one with the top down and I thought it looked cool.
What is your biggest money mistake?
When I was in my twenties, I was a polished diamond dealer living in Antwerp. I was purchasing a package of diamonds for a customer and made a mistake with the currency.
I paid them in pounds when I should have paid them in dollars. It was a huge mistake worth several thousand pounds. So I didn’t receive my bonus that month. And I never made that mistake again.
Best money decision you’ve ever made?
Buy my motorcycle. I’m a bit of a petrolhead and have a Honda CB 500. It’s very cheap to run (one tank of fuel lasts forever) and I don’t have to worry about subway or train strikes.
I don’t like being restricted or told what I can and can’t do. When I ride it, I feel like I’m beating the system.
Freedom: Joanna Hardy tours London on a Honda CB 500 motorcycle similar to this one (file image)
Do you save for a pension or invest in the stock market?
Not anymore. She used to save for a pension when she was at Sotheby’s. I started contributing in 1995, when I was 34 years old. I also had a rental apartment that I originally bought in 1984 to live in.
Until recently I saw that property as my pension. But I have already sold it. I save in Isas, but I don’t invest in the stock market. My father always told me, ‘Never invest in anything you don’t understand.’
Do you have any property?
Yes, I own my home: a four-bedroom detached house in London, which I bought 20 years ago. I imagine it has gone up in value.
If you were Chancellor, what would be the first thing you would do?
It’s so important for young people to be able to express themselves creatively, and in this digital age, I think there’s a special satisfaction that comes from making something yourself, something tangible.
Therefore, I would allocate more funds to education so that every school has art facilities where people can learn skills and crafts.
Do you donate money to charities?
Since 2004 I have been a free member of the livery company Goldsmiths’ Company, which supports the Goldsmiths’ Centre, the UK’s leading charity for the professional training of goldsmiths.
I trained as a goldsmith and wasn’t very good at it, so I can really appreciate the skill that goes into making a piece of gold jewellery.
I donate to the company’s charitable fund, the 1327 fund, and give an enormous amount of time and energy to help the company achieve its goals. Every year a goldsmith’s fair is held where 170 artisans sell items containing silver or gold made by themselves. The craftsmanship is magnificent.
I always buy a contemporary piece of jewelery there and I love wearing it, especially at the Antiques Roadshow.
What is your number one financial priority?
Passing on my work ethic to my children, who are in their early 20s, so they have independence and purpose. If you can earn your own money by working hard, you are free.
- Joanna will be a guest speaker at the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for Disabled People’s Autumn Ladies’ Luncheon on October 19. See qef.org.uk/events/ladies-autumn-lunch-2023/
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