Jeweller and watch repairer Pantelis reflects on his time in Australia and Greece

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By Kathy Karageorgiou.

Mr Pantelis, 76 years of age, is a craftsman – a jeweller and watch repairer. He continues to work in the small shop he opened in the late 1970s in a working-class Athenian suburb, following living and working in Australia.

Panteli.
Panteli.
Panteli.
Panteli.

A mild-mannered gentleman, Mr Pantelis runs his jewellery and watch repair store with grace and finesse, imbuing his loyal customers with a sense of assurance and trust. 

“I’ve sent jewellery items to Australia over the years too,” he says.

The ‘years’ he refers to are many, as Mr Pantelis has been a jeweller since his early teens.

Panteli.
Panteli.
Panteli.
Panteli.

Of his time in Australia in the early 1970s, he says: “I worked for a Jewish jeweller on Collins St in the heart of Melbourne. He was a total professional. But I initially learned my trade when I was 14, from Barba (Mr or Uncle) Yiannis who had a jewellery shop in central Athens.”

Panteli.
Panteli.

Mr Pantelis hails from a village near Agrinio and relates to me how, when he was 14, Barba Yiannis, a once local man who had become a jeweller in Athens, came back to the village for summer holidays.

“I pleaded with him to take me on as an apprentice as I came from a poor family of eight children. Everyday we’d have to walk an hour and back to get to primary school. I didn’t go to high school because it was further away. I had no future in my village as all I could hope for was becoming a goat herder, and I wanted more,” he explains.

Barba Yiannis agreed to take Mr Pantelis on and show him the trade.

“So I ended up in Athens in 1961, and, as I heard the Greeks in Australia say, ‘with one suitcase’.  I slept on the floor of the shop for 2 years, but I didn’t mind as I was young then,” he exclaims chuckling. 

“Luckily, I made a friend who worked in a shop nearby, and he offered me temporary accommodation with him and his mother. They were poor but generous and as it was summer, I slept in their small yard under the grape vine.” 

Panteli.
Panteli.

Mr Pantelis explains that he was “a fashionable young man” in the 1970s who wore his hair long. This made him clash with his boss Barba Yiannis, who was a strict Jehovah’s Witness, and so he left this first job.

He then went to work in Athens for another jeweller and watchmaker from Constantinople who was “a true craftsman and a Kyrios (gentleman).”

“I was paid well, so I managed to rent an apartment and also buy specialised jewellery equipment eventually becoming self-employed and working with a supplier,” Mr Pantelis says.

“But that deal went awry so, as my brother and sister were in Australia, I decided to go there with my wife who was at the time four months pregnant to our daughter.”

Working hard in his profession in Australia and further upgrading his skills, he tells me that he saved a lot of money there, as he lived with his sister and didn’t pay rent. He adds that he had a quiet life in Australia during his three years there, mixing only with Greeks.

Panteli.
Panteli.

“My world was limited and I didn’t learn English. Australia was a nice country, but it didn’t fulfil me, though it did fill me up with meat,” he says laughing.

“Yet I chose to return to Greece, where I opened this shop I’ve had since 1976.”

Mr Pantelis’ watch repair and jewellery store is a labour of love.

“I don’t have to work at this stage of my life, but I like what I do and enjoy mixing with customers,” he says.

When Mr Pantelis is not working, he travels: “I’ve been to Israel many times, including stints at St Gerasimos Orthodox Monastery there, for peace and reflection.” 

He and his wife have also been to many European countries. 

Panteli.
Panteli.

He then surprises me by stating: “I also went back to Australia in 2008. It was supposed to be for a month, but I returned to Greece after 10 days, as I saw what I wanted to see – my sister (unfortunately, my brother passed away) and her daughter’s wedding, and the sights of Melbourne again.” 

“I plan on perhaps visiting my other sister who lives in New York, but she’s very old and it’ll sadden me,” he adds.

Panteli.
Panteli.

“Like the watches I sell and repair; everything in good time. Life usually takes you where it wants. And speaking of time… times have changed. People in days gone by had more goodness, were kinder, even though we were all poor. Now there’s jealousy and competition, something which I hope will change towards the better in time.”

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