A few days ago, I was having lunch with an old acquaintance. A very nice man whom I hadn’t seen for several years and who knew me as a young apprentice, freshly arrived in Paris in the early 2000s. As is often the case in the neighbourhood where I work, people know each other. Sometimes they even know each other without having met, which means: “I’ve heard about you. I didn’t know you knew my friend who is a jeweller in this workshop “Ah, but I don’t know him, well I know him by sight, but I’ve never spoken to him, but I know his brother, I worked with him years ago… He was a nice guy, always smiling and knew how to work. I liked working with him.” “In any case, he knows you and he thinks it’s great that you’re back in Paris.” … My working area, this little world.
Now I come back to my story. With D*, we settle down for lunch in a very pleasant bistro on Rue Cadet. And as usual, we quickly end up greeting mutual friends or not. We introduce ourselves to each other. Just to say and just to know who we are talking to. This is important, especially in our profession where we tend to keep quiet when we don’t know the person we are talking to. Everyone takes quick news and we start talking about the job, are the orders there, is such and such a workshop recruiting, here we are looking for a good hand to complete the special orders workshop and invariably, there end up being stories…
So D* tells me an anecdote which today makes him laugh a lot. Looking back,” he says, “I’ve learned to take things philosophically. You have to go back to the eighties, there was a lot of work, the workshops were running at full speed and the orders were piling up. “I was a young setter, I had been working for a few years for several houses and especially for the local area. There was good work and a lot of work. I worked all the time, at night, at weekends, my girlfriend was crazy (she wasn’t my wife yet, I made up for it by covering her with jewellery and I’m not exaggerating!). I knew the head of a famous workshop, in fact we played poker together sometimes and then we would run into each other in the neighbourhood. Anyway, he asked me if I was looking for customers, because the boss at his workshop wanted new outside servos to cope with the overload of orders. But, you see, he warns me, the boss is a first-rate demanding man, a magnifying glass junkie, a detail freak.”
I can see the rest of the story coming as our food arrives, I’m laughing but I’m a good audience because D* has that little old hand trick when he tells a story. You never know where the fiction begins, because like all stories, they have been told, embellished, distorted and exaggerated. But they are still pretty!
“So he suggests I come to the workshop one evening after work. He’ll talk to the boss and we’ll make an appointment. A few days later I show up there. I’ve been warned, no jokes, serious to the core and I come with my stalls. The boss, it seems, wants to see how I treat my equipment. It’s the first time I’ve been asked this, but this business is full of people with temperament, so I don’t take offence. I prepare my box, I protect my stalls so as not to chip them. I had even polished my shoes. That’s saying something! I guess I was a bit scared anyway.”
D* then serves me a glass of wine, he says jokingly that it won’t prevent me from doing my job well and anyway, that’s what it takes to get the end of the story… So be it!
“The boss is a stern man. He welcomes me without a smile, but shakes my hand anyway. In fact, he shakes my hand. He points to the desk and calls his first. I knew the man by reputation, quite a man. For the young man that I was, I was not doing very well. I couldn’t get two words out. He, on the other hand, attacked me, told me that he thought I was very young, that he had seen a lot of crimpers and that frankly it wasn’t that. My only positive point is that my apprenticeship master knew his father well. And my shops, which I show him and which he likes. He then takes out a ring setting made up of several elements which are for the moment separate from the body. It is platinum, a special and urgent order. It comes out of the polish, the upgrades are all threaded, the sticks too and it’s a very nice job. You don’t need to have studied to see it. I left school at sixteen anyway but I know a good piece when I see it. In all, I have 200 stones to set, mainly paving. I look at the piece and tell him that I have no problem with it. I offer to come back at the end of the week with the piece so that he can check it I fear the worst but I wait…
“I can assure you that I pampered this ring, I had my magnifying glass glued to my eye. I gave it a great finish so that the polisher wouldn’t complain. I’d even shown it to my old apprenticeship master who said it would suit him.” I get a little offended from the side of my plate, a polisher never grumbles I tell her, she suggests that we make things better. D* bursts out laughing and resumes her story.
“So I show up on a Friday afternoon. I unwrap the ring and the various pieces. I put them on the tray that C* has brought out for me and give them to her. The first of the workshop is there, it’s absolute silence as he looks at my work. After several minutes he puts the last piece down and says to me:
– Is this the best you can do? I think there are some things that need to be revised. I don’t like some of the grains, the fillets are not perfect.
I don’t know what to say, I look at him, I look at his first one. And then in the next half second, he takes out a hammer and smashes the ring. He then puts the hammer down beside him. I remain stupid, he crushed the ring but the stones too. I didn’t even have time to offer to review my work. The worst thing is that he doesn’t move and looks at me as if things were perfectly normal. I tell myself that he is a nutcase, that I would never work with such a sick person. No thank you, I want demanding clients but not that! He then gets up, opens the trunk and takes out a box. He turns to me and says:
– By the way, how much do I owe you for your work? Because a job always deserves a salary. You will give your voucher to the secretary. Welcome back.”
We laugh with D* because I can imagine the scene. In conclusion, D* explains to me that his work has been fully paid for. Finally he adds: “A few weeks later he called me, he had some work for me. He asked me to do better than the first time. He was one of my most loyal customers… A real nutcase but a great man. He passed away a few years ago. He had retired from his workshop a little after you had started your apprenticeship. You didn’t know him, you would have liked him I think.”
See you soon!