On January 1st, 1994, David Morris became chief executive of precious metal dealers
Morris & Watson. For the company, which began trading over 90 years ago, the event is particularly important because David is the third generation of his family to take up this position, succeeding his father Lew who joined the business in 1950.
Lew’s father, Joe (JJ) Morris began trading in precious metals in Australia in 1928. He travelled extensively around the country, even crossing the desert to Perth from Sydney which was an arduous journey in those days. This was around the time of the great depression and JJ recognised the opportunities available as people turned jewellery into cash. Gold jewellery was more commonly worn at that time, particularly by men. A good pocket watch and chain could contain 3oz. (93.3grams) of 18 carat gold.
As well as jewellery manufacturing, precious metals were used extensively in industrial applications and in professions such as dentistry and photography. JJ developed a great rapport with his customers. Lew remembers how JJ would often not leave a jeweller’s premises until he received a lemel (jeweller’s bench scraps) We’re a little more subtle in our approach now, he says. Clients recall JJ’s great sense of humour.
To Peter Worth of Worth & Douglas he was a comedian while manufacturing jeweller Brian Whiteacre thinks he could have outdone Charlie Chaplin in his day. But behind JJ’s joviality were memories of more serious times in his past. At the age of 16 he had joined the merchant navy and during World War I. JJ was aboard Destro when it was sunk off the Scottish Coast and the Amberton when it was sunk off the African coast in 1917. Soon after this incident he joined the Royal Navy and then the Royal Australian Navy when he migrated to Australia in 1922.
During World War II, he was seconded to the US Small Ships flotilla and was torpedoed for the third time off Jervis Bay. Not surprisingly, few of his mates were keen to serve with him after that, laughs Lew. In 1950 Lew joined JJ in Sydney and the business became J J Morris & Son. Recognising prospective opportunities in New Zealand Lew decided to travel around this country in 1954 to evaluate potential business.
His research was favourable and in 1956 Morris & Watson, was formed with Murray Watson who had married Lew’s sister Sylvia.
Both Sylvia and Murray remained actively involved until Murray’s retirement in 1992. It was Sylvia who assisted Lew in locating the Neilson Street premises of Morris & Watson.
She even helped to dig the foundations of the original 800 square foot building which has since been expanded to occupy three adjoining sites covering 30,000 square feet.
It was Lew Morris’s vision which led the company to develop from a door-to-door trading operation into a modern, precious metal refinery. Morris & Watson was the first company to provide a refining service for lemels and sweeps (floor scraps) in New Zealand. At first only two staff were employed but over the years this has gradually increased until now the company employs 120 over three countries.
The Neilson Street offices include a fully computerised administration centre, a large, well-equipped laboratory and assay facility, fabricating/alloying and casting department, Chain manufacturing division and the refinery.
David Morris, who joined the company in 1983, has been involved in all the different aspects of the business so that he is well equipped in his role as chief executive.
Some of David’s early memories, like Lew’s before him, are of running through the sweep bags as a child.