Michael Hill is a global jewellery powerhouse, raking in $576 million in total revenue in 2018.

Michael Hill may spend A$25m on staff underpayments

But according to its founder, it all "happened by accident".

When he left school, Michael Hill had big dreams of becoming a classical concert violinist, but as he explains, it "didn't really work out".


"My parents and uncle demanded I give up this folly and get a real job," the New Zealander said at a recent celebration marking the brand's 40th anniversary, reports News.com.au.

So the young man reluctantly joined his family's jewellery store in Whangarei in New Zealand as a watchmaker before moving into a sales role he "didn't want to do either".

But he had a knack for it, and he even met his future wife Christine Roe in the store.

Then, in October 1977, disaster struck when the "beautiful home" the couple had spent four years building was destroyed in a fire.

"We went to the pictures one night and we came out and heard our home was on fire … that night I lost everything, and I have the most incredible memory of it pouring with rain as I rushed up to the house … I remember standing there watching it (burn)," he said.

Sir Michael Hill started Michael Hill in Australia with a 'crazy advert'. Photo / News Corp Australia
Sir Michael Hill started Michael Hill in Australia with a 'crazy advert'. Photo / News Corp Australia

While the fire was devastating, it was a wake-up call that changed Sir Michael's life forever.

"It made me realise I had not faced up to my uncle who was always a bully who kept me down," he said.

Sir Michael originally tried to buy the business from his uncle, who refused to sell.


So he opened his own store, and within 18 months it was making more than the family business.

He did things differently — with very simple window displays that were changed weekly, a blackboard out the front with a "teaser" message on it, and staff working behind a U-shaped counter — but it wasn't until he made his TV debut that things really started to explode.

"It just took off like a complete tidal wave — it was quite extraordinary," Sir Michael said.

"I started out saying 'Hello. Michael Hill' (on television ads) then I eventually refined that by saying 'Hello. Michael Hill. Jeweller'," he joked.

"We've all heard that and it became quite a catchphrase."

"Gold gold silver silver chain chain sale sale" became a bona fide catchphrase. Photo / Supplied

Then, in 1987, he floated Michael Hill Jeweller on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, raising enough capital to expand in his home country and also to break into the Aussie market, which he did via four stores in Brisbane later that year.

And again, TV ads were one of the keys to his success Down Under.

"I had this crazy advert when I started in Australia (that went) 'Hello. Michael Hill. Jeweller' and 'gold gold silver silver chain chain sale sale'," he said.

"It went ballistic."

The ad was so iconic Sir Michael said he remembered school buses of children spotting him on the street and repeating the catchphrase back to him in public.

But while the ads cemented Michael Hill as a leading jewellery giant in Australia and New Zealand, Sir Michael's daughter Emma — who is now the company's chair — said living through her father's TV fame had been awkward in her younger years.

"I was a teenager when dad did those ads, and it was a bit embarrassing for a teenager, your dad becoming a household name … it was crazy," she said.

Today, Michael Hill has more than 300 stores across Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and Sir Michael's goal of making jewellery accessible to everyone has been realised.

"Everybody deserves to wear quality jewellery and feel special wearing it, along with feeling welcomed when they go shopping," he said.