AT THE JOHN HARDY jewelry factory in Bali, it is daily practice for the executive staff to gather under the shade of a massive banyan tree for lunch. Someone will usually start the meal with a brief greeting or speech. On a recent Tuesday, more than 40 designers, executives, managers and guests paused, forkfuls of organic food halfway to their mouths, as company founder John Hardy stood up to read from a stack of old report cards that his mother had just sent from Canada. â€śListless, inattentive, distracted,â€ť he recited. â€śA daydreamer. Tries his best, but is too slow.â€ť Hardy flipped to the last card in the pile, dated June 22, 1967, and continued. â€śJohn has not been successful in completing his requirements to graduate. He will need to repeat 12th grade.â€ť Hardy laid his old report cards on the table and addressed his now silent audience. â€śAt that point in my life, I never would have imagined that I would one day be reading this shameful report to all you here in Bali. Remember, we are all on a journey, and we never know where we may end up. What's important is that we enjoy the ride.â€ť
That listless dreamer, who, it was once suggested, might be better suited for mechanics school, is now the visionary behind a $100 million-a-year design business that is also the largest luxury manufacturer in Bali. But Hardy's journey isn't just about growing his company; it's about reimagining a world that is as sensuous, luxurious and sustainable as his cult jewelry.
Like thousands of hippies looking for a way out of the rat race, Hardy washed up on the shores of Bali in the mid-'70s with little more than an art-college degree and a couple of hundred dollars. Designing jewelry quickly became a way to stave off the inevitable return home to Ottawa and a job at his father's general store. Every bracelet sold was another few days in paradise. Soon Hardy's unique silver designs became a marker for kindred souls traveling through Asia. â€śPeople saw others wearing my jewelry in the airport, and it was like a secret code,â€ť he says. â€śWithout speaking, they knew where the other had been.â€ť The code became a cult following and then, in 1989, became an order from Neiman Marcus, the premier retailer of luxury goods.
By then Hardy had met the love of his life, his muse and the woman who transformed his dreams into marketable realities. She hated him at first. â€śI was dating Jet Skiers at the time,â€ť Cynthia Hardy, a nonnative, says with a laugh. But she too was looking for something more meaningful in Bali and eventually fell under the spell of John's vision for a more perfect worldâ€”a world in which beauty and luxury could be a solution, not just a commodity. It is her ability to pluck the pearls from John's million-ideas-a-minute stream of consciousness and make them work that drives not just the engine of their relationship but also their empire.