It was the year that car-less days were introduced and MPs moved into the new Beehive. Future All Black Keven Mealamu's parents welcomed him into the world and Th' Dudes had the Number 1 single Be Mine Tonight.

And in 1979, Whangārei shoppers were about to be introduced to a new style of jewellery store – no longer were trophies and crystal glass filling austere shop windows.

Thanks to a creative and ambitious young jeweller chains, rings, bracelets and watches were being showcased in unique scenes; adventurous displays commanding attention from passing shoppers.

When the family home was destroyed in a fire the award-winning store manager saw it as an epiphany, a sign he had nothing to lose.

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Michael Hill, husband and father with a young family, forged ahead with his plans.

Jewellery entrepreneur Michael Hill was inducted into the Northern Advocate Business Hall of Fame at the 2009 Westpac Northland Business Excellence Awards.
Jewellery entrepreneur Michael Hill was inducted into the Northern Advocate Business Hall of Fame at the 2009 Westpac Northland Business Excellence Awards.

He stepped out from behind the cabinets at his uncle's jewellery shop, leased a grocer's shop down the road and together with his wife Christine planned a new jewellery store.

Christine, an art teacher, had a week to design the interior and exterior of the store, the catalogues and merchandising.

"When Christine and I opened that first store we had a vision to make fine jewellery accessible to everybody, not just the rich elite," Whangārei-born Hill says. "But we couldn't have imagined where the Michael Hill brand would be 40 years later."

In the beginning Christine Hill used her art skills used to draw graphics for catalogues and also designed jewellery.
In the beginning Christine Hill used her art skills used to draw graphics for catalogues and also designed jewellery.

Within a year Michael Hill Jeweller had opened a second store in Hastings, and a third in Lower Hutt was soon followed by Auckland's first store – in Takapuna. Three years after the 1979 launch, Michael Hill Jeweller was the fastest-growing jewellery brand in New Zealand.

Forty years on, the company now operates more than 300 stores in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

Countless couples have become engaged with a Michael Hill ring, said ''I do'' with the store's gold bands, bought their children precious pieces for 18ths and 21sts, and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary with a ruby ring or pendant.

The 22 carat ring Michael Hill Jeweller gave away in an international promotion in 2010.
The 22 carat ring Michael Hill Jeweller gave away in an international promotion in 2010.

As the jewellery chain has grown, so too have the numbers of people who see the iconic store as their destination for gifts.

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Pieces have been handed down through generations – and so too the business reins.

The Hills' daughter Emma is now chair of Michael Hill International, having started working part-time for the business in her early teens as a sales consultant.

"So much has happened in those 40 years," she said. "Over the past four decades our business has continually evolved.

"Would you believe back in the eighties my mother, who has a fine arts degree, hand-drew all the jewellery in our first catalogues?

Emma Hill at the opening of the company's Queen St, Auckland, flagship store in 2015.
Emma Hill at the opening of the company's Queen St, Auckland, flagship store in 2015.

"Today it's the Instagram era where our customers socialise their engagements and hashtag our latest designs. The family's creativity is now being expressed through the unique ranges we create.

"Whenever I see someone wearing a piece of Michael Hill Jewellery it makes me proud to think that my parents turned around the adversity of losing everything they had in a house fire to literally rising from the ashes to build an iconic brand that touches so many Kiwis' lives."