Finding a completely original gift idea isn’t always the easiest task, something of which John Negrepontis, founder of Bullion and Wine, is all too aware. When John started giving silver coins to his friends along with a bottle of their favourite spirits or wine for special occasions, he realised he was onto something, and decided to turn his generous and unique gift into a business that is now rapidly growing, as more and more people are catching on to the idea of personalised items that last a lifetime.
Bullion and Wine makes entirely unique, custom-built pieces out of a selection of Australian materials. Inside the box houses silver or gold bullion, arranged to each customer’s liking, and a bottle of their preferred wine or spirit. Simple, yes, but a great gift idea that’s been gaining popularity, given its originality and longevity.
We caught up with John to talk about how his idea came about, how much work goes into the boxes, and some of the best projects he’s worked on to date.
Why bullion and wine in the same box? Where did this idea start?
From two fiftieth birthdays initially. Over five years ago. I had begun giving close friends a silver coin and their most favourite spirit or wine. I gave bullion because it was my way of showing the level of respect and regard I had for them. When I gave the bullion I could see in their eyes real appreciation of what was given. Why? My guess is that we have all grown up knowing that past civilisations used gold and silver as a money and as a store of wealth.
From those two experiences the idea began–why not combine the two into something that becomes a real quality artefact? The Bullion Box.
Later on I crashed out career-wise, and was at a very low ebb. A dear friend of mine, who over the past 8 years had gone from bankruptcy to building a multi-million dollar business, and who now had cancer, said to me “For F$%K’s SAKE, don’t go and get yet another job you’ll hate – take something you love doing and make something of it!”
I couldn’t argue, since he had done the same himself. So the “Bullion Box” that had been floating in my head became a reality.
I was able to present the first prototype to him two weeks before he died.
Owning bullion is a very old fashioned thing–do you think it’s making a comeback?
In Eastern & Middle Eastern cultures bullion “never left the building”. The Chinese at both the governmental and personal levels are voracious in its accumulation to this very day. Same with India. Dubai is a central hub of gold trade. I’ve been to the Gold Souk (Market) there, that’s an amazing site, shop after shop with gold on display.
In Western cultures it died off to the fringes when Nixon moved the US Dollar off the gold standard. Based on my own personal observations, bullion is held by a slowly growing minority in western cultures, as insurance and preservation of wealth.
Tell us a little bit about the presentation boxes (how they’re made, the materials used, and the lining).
The boxes are hand made by artisans who really love what they do and the materials they use. Cliché? Yes. But very true. The artisans I have asked to create my boxes are very protective of how their work and skills are used. One of them grilled me for half an hour before he agreed to do any work. That was a good lesson in learning to respect the art and science of what they do.
The guys I have used are spread all over Victoria. I make a point to meet them, pay them on time and especially to give them artistic freedom. I meet everyone who has a hand in the boxes–I like to show that I am genuine person with genuine intentions. Each one is unique. One is an ex-patent lawyer, another an ex-offshore power boat racer, another used to drive huge coal hauling trucks, etc, etc.
I provide the budget, bottle(s), coin(s), sterling silver plate(s), glassware, artwork for logos, personal details of the recipient, a general brief of the occasion and some ideas on presentation. They then give me their interpretation of the brief, and a few days (or weeks) later they create this amazing unique amalgam of fine objects.
As for materials, we can use basic pine for budget projects, but whenever possible we use Australian hardwoods such as Huon Pine, Victorian Red Rivergum, Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle, Tasmanian Fiddleback Blackwood, Blackbutt, Tasmanian Celery Top Pine, and so on. I don’t profess to know all the species. I leave it to these guys and their interpretation of my brief and I’m never disappointed.
For linings, velvet and suede are used in key areas for appearance and function.
Each brief comprises three simple elements: Use a precious metal, only use Australian products and people, and each element of the box must be beautiful and useful alone and all together. The box is not a wrapper to be thrown away.
Thus long after the wine or whisky has been drunk, the precious metals are in your safe or on display, hopefully the box has become a personal keepsake or heirloom.
Who has been your clientele, primarily?
Our clientele has been very mixed so far, from a CEO thanking his best clients by presenting a box with the logo of the client’s business, to a Board of Directors thanking the CEO of a company they bought out: one road construction company had bought out another. The board of the buying company commissioned me to create a “thank you” box. Given the receiving CEO was a Tasmanian, the box was made of Tasmanian hardwoods.
We also had one amazing project, a business owner thanking his 20 year client. This box featured a dozen personalised ½ ounce silver coins with the coat of arms of his Italian home city on one side, and his surname on the other, presented on a velvet-lined tray and stored within the inner box. We thought by just leaving the last name on the coins he could hand them out to relatives in the future. The inner box had a 10 X 13cm sterling silver plate with the coat of arms of the city on it, and beneath the lid a sterling silver plate with his name on it.
It also housed a fine cognac.
The recipient was a self-made millionaire; a very tough, no-nonsense guy, but he teared up after receiving this. Personally it was my most fulfilling project.
Who is Bullion & Wine for?
If you want to give something that has had some real thought put into it, that reflects your personal knowledge and regard for the recipient, that will last a long time and perhaps even become an heirloom, then that’s who Bullion and Wine is for.
Parents/relatives buying for a new born, for a birthday, for a milestone, for a thank you, or for yourself.
Its not just wood we use. On the radar I have carbon fibre inserts, magnets and LEDs also.
Either way you will be getting something unique given the nature of the material used and because of the recipient’s distinctiveness.