There is a timelessness about jewellery, not least because it is so often given as a token of undying love. Heirloom pieces are handed down from generation to generation – and so too are the skills of the artisans who create them. The story of Charles Greig Jewellers is the story of five generations of a family, a nascent city and an ocean liner.
Charles Greig left home in 1894, waving farewell to the sparkling granite skyline of the handsome Scottish city of Aberdeen. He sailed south to make his fortune in another city which, at the time, stood on far less solid foundations. Johannesburg was a shantytown gripped by gold and diamond fever. Charles Greig arrived exactly on time: a shortage of mining clocks meant that his skills were immediately in demand.
In stark contrast, Johannesburg was a shantytown gripped by the promise of future prosperity. With no architecture yet to speak of, it was the world’s richest goldfield-attracting prospectors from near and far. When the 25-year-old Greig disembarked to Cape Town (aptly, from the RSM Scot), he too headed north to the diggings to make his fortune.
Charles Hector Greig
The only surviving heir to the business was born – like his father – in Aberdeen, as his mother was fearful of losing another child in infancy. Young Charles Hector returned to Africa bearing the hopes of his entire family.
‘Charles Hector was a quintessential old-fashioned gentleman, with lovely manners. Everyone remembers him as a wonderful dancer at the country club where the colonial set partied on Saturday nights – and all the ladies adored him for the twinkle in his eye.’
The only son of Charles Hector and Elsa, David Greig travelled to Switzerland to learn the secrets of horology and gemmology, before returning to join the family firm. His international experience meant that he was ideally placed to bring the glamour and style of the ‘50s to a South Africa that – at the time – seemed like a backwater.
David Greig inherited Charles Hector’s great sense of humour. Just as importantly, he and his wife, sculptor Italia Burton, had four sons, ensuring the continuity of the family business, now based at prestigious new premises in Commissioner Street.
Christopher, Donald and Richard Greig
The fourth generation to manage the family firm of Charles Greig Jewellers, each of the three brothers has diverged slightly in their interests, but remain bound together by their shared history and a shared commitment to beauty, innovation and customer service.
Donald Greig’s daughter, Tammy, is the first member of the fifth generation of the family to enter the business – and, in a refreshing development – the first woman to join it since Elsa Grey flew the length of Africa over 70 years ago.
Tammy was born with gold dust in her veins; in addition, she has been imbued with the knowledge and emotion needed to be a professional jeweller from an early age. No-one could have predicted, back in 1884, that the name of Charles Greig would one day be known throughout South Africa; foreseeing a glowing future for the business is a much easier task now that this latest generation is bringing its own energy and ideas to this venerable institution.