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By Mike Peake
9 September 2019
The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to London-based silversmith Grant Macdonald.
When Grant Macdonald walked out of the Middle Eastern royal palace he says his shoes “hardly touched the carpet”.
He had just secured a giant order that would transform his business. And almost 40 years later, the memory still gives him goosebumps.
“It was an amazing feeling… just telling you this now gives me the greatest feeling of achievement, exactly as it did on that day in the early ’80s,” says the 71-year-old.
A silversmith who first set up his business in the 1960s, the UK’s economic downturn of the late 1970s had made him increasingly seek overseas commissions.
From 1979 he started to get some small orders from a country in the Gulf, which for confidentiality reasons he declines to name.
The Middle East remains the company’s largest market
A couple of years later, during one of his regular visits to the nation, Grant was asked if he would like to see the finest gift that its royal family gives out to visiting dignitaries – a ceremonial sword.
He said “yes”, and while he extolled its virtues out of politeness, he was not particularly impressed with the workmanship. So Grant suggested that he could perhaps make something even better.
Going back to his hotel room, he drew up a design on paper, and from that he was commissioned to make one example. The only problem was the cost of the materials, which could have wiped out his business. Undeterred, Grant took the gamble and bought all the gold, diamonds and rubies he needed, and he and his team set to work.
Thankfully the royal family liked the £50,000 sword (£190,000 at today’s prices) so much that they ordered 15 more.
“The workshop had put every ounce of skill into making that sample sword perfect, our reward was a massive order that set the company off in a different trajectory,” says Grant.
Making ceremonial swords for a royal family in the Middle East transformed the business
Today his multimillion pound annual turnover company – Grant Macdonald London – still gets much of its business from the Middle East, with Grant having flown to the region almost every month for more than 30 years. “The Middle East has been very good to us,” he says.
The business does, however, have a royal warrant from the Prince of Wales, who has bought commissions in the past.