Spotlight On... Laurence Graff; Founder and chairman of Graff Diamonds

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The Independent Online

Ah, the diamonds tycoon floating shares in Asia?

He was, until late on Wednesday night when he shelved the float. It was a blow, as he was trying to sell shares valuing the business at $1bn on the Hong Kong exchange.

Does the King of Bling now have money worries?

Ahem, hardly. He and his family would have pocketed about $650m, it's true, but he'll still be one of Britain's richest men.

Why did he pull the float?

"Shelved," not "pulled". The official reason is "consistently declining markets". That means investors were wary of paying the price he was asking. It was the fourth major Asian float to be scrapped this week as share prices tumbled. And Tiffany's recent sales warning didn't help.

Is he 'from money'?

Quite the opposite. His mother ran a tobacconist and his father was a tailor on the Commercial Road in east London. Laurence's first job was cleaning lavatories when he left school at 14.

From cleaning toilets to selling diamonds. How?

He got a job in a jewellers in Hatton Garden, before getting sacked at 16. Then he learnt to repair rings and make small jewellery pieces at another place, which went bust. He opened Hatton Garden's first retail shop in 1962. But that fell foul of the mid-Sixties recession.

Blimey, then what?

He took a suitcase of rings to Malaysia, winning contracts which he supplied by mail order when he returned to London.

Still sounds small fry...

It was, until he got his break: meeting the Sultan of Brunei in a department store in Singapore. Mr Graff was pitching to the store but shifted his attentions to the Sultan. It was the beginning of a long and lucrative relationship which saw him make billions sourcing rare stones to make into pieces for the Sultan's wives. To this day, half of his revenues come from fewer than two dozen customers.

Precarious?

Arguably so. The float was partly aimed at diversifying towards getting more clients from China. Ah well, as we've seen, Graff always has a Plan B...

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