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A gemologist on what it's really like to handle diamonds for a living

Posted by
Hannah Keegan
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“I get to play with all the jewellery I’ll never be able to afford.” 

Kate Flitcroft, 33, is head of jewellery at auction house Lyon & Turnbull. She lives in west London with her husband, Adrian, and her King Charles spaniel, Milton.

My alarm goes off…

At 7am. The first thing I do is review the to-do list I made the night before to see what is actually possible, then I’ll change into a skirt and blouse. For me, jewellery is the most exciting part of getting dressed. I wear a diamond solitaire necklace every day and mix and match my cocktail rings. I leave at 8am to cycle to work.

I’m responsible for…

The sales of jewellery that Lyon & Turnbull hold twice a year in London, everything from sourcing the pieces to actually selling them.

I got the job…

By stumbling on my passion. I was studying architecture when I visited a friend whose parents were art collectors. Their house felt like stepping into another world; it was as if every piece in the room was having a conversation with each other. Her dad showed me a Christie’s catalogue and my fate was sealed. I studied for a master’s in art history at Christie’s and took a job in their furniture department. Over 10 years, I worked my way up to associate director and silver specialist. I joined Lyon & Turnbull last year because I wanted to branch out into jewellery.

Assessing stones for carat, cut and colour is an essential part of her job

My typical day…

Begins with looking through my emails while eating yogurt and granola. Then I’ll meet with a potential client, which is one of my favourite parts of the job. Someone might bring in their grandmother’s jewellery box and we’ll talk about the story behind each piece. Stories are a vital part of creating a sale at auction. I’ll examine for carat, cut and colour and use a UV light to look at diamond clusters; if they fluoresce a certain colour, I know they’re real. I stop for lunch at 1pm. I try to get out of the office as it helps with my headspace. I’ll eat a couscous salad I’ve made in Hyde Park. In the afternoon, I focus on putting the auction together. If it’s a historic item, something by Cartier or Van Cleef, I’ll go the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum to search for comparable pieces – French jewellery isn’t always marked with a date. I also have to arrange putting the catalogue together, styling and photographing each piece. I’ll take auctions for other departments or charities a few times a week, too. I finish at 6pm.

My most memorable moment… 

Was becoming an auctioneer at Christie’s. It’s a really tough process. We started as a class of 40 and each week people were voted out in front of everyone. By the end, there were four of us left.

She never knows exactly what items clients will bring in for auction

The worst part of my job…

Is setting up the jewellery displays every morning during an auction. It takes such a long time because they go into a vault each night.

The best part of my job…

Is getting to play with all the jewellery I’ll never be able to afford.

After work…

I go to the gym and listen to a podcast like How I Built This. At home, I’ll make chicken and vegetables for dinner then take my dog Milton for a walk. Sometimes, we meet up with his friends in the park – it’s one of the most joyful parts of the day. I journal before bed, then am asleep by 10.30pm.

Images: Gemma Day

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Hannah Keegan

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