Imagine spending your day listening to the love stories of people from around the world – from the moment they laid eyes on each other to when they shared their first kiss and to where they first said those three little words.
For Mark Hussey, from Hallmark Jewellers in Titchfield, and Barbara Tipple in Southsea, this is their reality as they create unique gifts that tell a personal story.
Everything is said with precious metals and jewels and both jewellers agree there is nothing like a little thought at Valentine’s Day.
Mark says: ‘I am a big old softie and there is nothing better than hearing people’s love stories and then translating that into a piece of jewellery.
‘I think one of my favourites was a man who came in wanting something for his fiance to mark their engagement.
‘He told me they met in India so we made a necklace in the country’s shape and put a little diamond in the place where they got engaged which to them is very special.’
He laughs: ‘I truly think I have the best job.’
The 47-year-old tells me his mother’s love of jewellery was what inspired him to take a creative path in life.
He says: ‘I went to an academic school and I never really excelled in that but my mother loved jewellery and the way they were made really intrigued me.
‘I enjoyed working with metals as you could never go wrong with it. With wood if you cut off a piece and then realise it needs to be there then you’re stuck, but with metal you can just solder it back on.’
At the tender age of 16 Mark took his passion for the material to a weekend course, but says at first he was concerned he would not quite fit in.
He says: ‘I was the youngest in the room by far and I thought, “what am I doing here surrounded by people who are just finding something to do in their retirement?”
‘But the course leader took me under his wing and helped me. I made lots of jewellery which I would sell at car boots, then craft fairs, events and basically anywhere I could put a table.’
That course leader is now Mark’s business partner of 24 years and the pair have built up the business from its humble car boot beginnings.
Mark says: ‘I truly have the best team of designers and makers and we are really lucky to do what we do.
‘On Valentine’s Day we do see a spike in people wanting more jewellery and I think it’s because we often take each other for granted at other times in the year. So now, and also Christmas time, is when people want to do something for their other half and I think the thought is what people appreciate most.’
Although his usual designs include engagement rings, necklaces and bracelets, the-father-of-three has somewhat branched out and has appeared on TV twice thanks to his creations including Christmas crackers worth £150,000 and the world’s most expensive bauble at a cool £82,000.
He says: ‘As a small independent shop we want to show what we can do to a wider audience and making something with no expense spared is an exciting prospect.’
Another jeweller who is no stranger to the spotlight is Barbara Tipple who runs a shop in Southsea in her name.
The three-time winner of the De Beers Diamonds International prize got her wake-up call at 20 and has never looked back.
She says: ‘I went to Portsmouth Art College to do fine art and then I went to see an exhibition of jewellery at the V&A and it was like a light bulb moment.
‘I just knew that jewellery was what I wanted to do, and at 21 I got my first international award.’
The 68-year-old, who grew up in Gosport but now lives in Southsea, tells me how she loves travelling all over the world for her work. From selecting the prettiest rocks in the most exotic countries to designing for A-List stars, although she is keeping schtum on the names that top her customer list.
She says: ‘I have had the most amazing life and career. I get to do what I love for people that are trying to show love.
‘I get to see people at the highest points in their lives which is a real honour although we have had some share their lowest.
‘Listening to someone talk about their child that has died was truly heartbreaking and being trusted to craft something delicate and special to represent that is very humbling.’
Although most of her creations stick to a conservative budget up to the four figure range, some of her more affluent clients have enabled her to add some more carats to her normal five-a- day.
‘The most expensive one I designed was a million (pounds) because of the diamond and it was truly beautiful,’ says Barbara with a smile.
‘But I think in general it is not about how much people spend but the time they take to design it and pick metals and stones that mean something to that person.
‘I can spend more than two years with someone designing the engagement ring they want to give to their partner because they want it absolutely perfect. I think that goes to show why jewellery makes such a thoughtful gift.’
Barbara’s jewellery has bee n featured in the pages in Tatler and now some of her pieces will be exhibited at the V&A – where her dreams started all those years ago.
H er love for her craft also helped her to find love herself. Goldsmith David Ward is now her partner in love, life… and jewellery making.
She adds: ‘Making beautiful jewellery is a true delight and I love going to my job every day.’
Luxury on your doorstep…
For the ultimate Valentine’s present for the more discerning beau, try some locally-made luxury.
Why not treat your lovedone to a fabulous corset made by the 110-year-old family firm Vollers? The company, based in Copner, creates stunning pieces that are featured in films and exported to customers all over the world. They retail from £100 up to £500. Go to vollers-corsets.com.
Treat your other half to a classic car driving experience round the iconic Goodwood racing circuit, near Chichester. Choose from a selection of stunning 1950s and 1960s classic saloons and GTs followed by high tea. Go to goodwood.com. Forget about overpriced flowers, send your lover something they really want – a box of the finest handmade chocolates.
Michael Collins began making chocolates as a living, rather than a hobby, in 2013 with the opening of The Chocolate Lounge cafe, in Copnor. Despite its success, Michael decided to focus on making chocolates and launched Chocablock last year. Send your Valentine the Prestige Selection, which includes chocolates, truffles and moulded chocolates, in flavours such as passion fruit, lavender, rose and vanilla, for £30. Go to chocablockltd.com.
For the ultimate locally made bubbly look no further than Hambledon. The 50 acres of vineyards planted by businessman turned wine-maker Ian Kellet produces some of the finest sparkling wine in the world. To wow your sweetheart, splash out on a bottle of Premier Cuvée. Go to hambledonvineyard.co.uk.
Why do we celebrate St Valentine and who was he?
Although there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, the day may have taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus.
According to legend, the priest signed a letter ‘from your Valentine’ to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness.
Other accounts hold that it was St Valentine of Terni, a bishop, for whom the holiday was named, though it is possible the two saints were actually one person.
Another common legend states that St Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love.