By the age of 41, he had transformed his family chain of stores into the largest jewelry group in the world, with more than 2,500 stores.
With success came the traps of wealth including a private jet, a helicopter, a chauffeured Bentley, and a luxury home in London’s upscale Mayfair.
But weeks later, her world collapsed in what has been dubbed the biggest corporate blunder in history.
In a now infamous speech to 6,000 of the great and good of the British business community at the Royal Albert Hall in London, he jokingly called one of his products “utter crap.”
To make matters worse, he joked that a set of 99p earrings sold was “cheaper than an M&S shrimp sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last that long.”
Looking back at the event from 30 years ago this month, he admits, “It was stupid to say.”
His ill-advised comments would have gone unnoticed without the Daily Mirror, which heard his speech and splashed the headline “You 22-karat Mugs” the next day.
“It was the Daily Mirror, completely the Daily Mirror,” he says.
“Without the Daily Mirror, this story would never have happened”, adding again: “I only blame myself. ”
It was on April 23 that the businessman gave his speech for the Institute of Directors.
The invitation was a recognition, a mark of respect for his incredible accomplishments in building the Ratners Empire.
Not that he’s always been a success.
Admitted to school “disaster”, he was kicked out of a school, “spent all day in a paris store” while in another and left at 15 to do unglamorous jobs in the company. his father, a chain of 25 jewelry stores.
But life changed dramatically when he was 34 and his father had a brain hemorrhage, triggering a crisis within the company that eventually saw him take over.
He set out to overhaul the business which, like most jewelers of the day, was seen as stifling and intimidating for young buyers.
His stroke of genius came when he spotted a rival selling discount jewelry, with queues on the street.
He copied the idea and it turned out to be an immediate success.
In a bold move, he bought his rival H Samuel, who at the time was three times his size.
Everything he touched turned to gold, and he ended up controlling 50% of the UK jewelry market, capturing Ernest Jones and Watches of Switzerland.
An expansion into the United States has been equally successful.
In fact, his 1991 speech wasn’t the first time he joked that a product was “total crap.”
Four years earlier, he had said the same to a Financial Times reporter when taking her on a tour of H Samuel’s newly purchased warehouse in Birmingham, when she asked how a £ 4.95 decanter of sherry, six glasses and a tray were so cheap.
In his speech at Albert Hall, he joked: “People say to me, ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ And I say because it’s shit ”, to the bursts of laughter from the audience.
Next came her gag earrings.
“People say it’s cheaper than a Marks & Spencer shrimp sandwich,” he told the crowd. “But I have to say the sandwich will probably outlast the earrings. ”
Timing is everything, and in 1991 Britain was in a very different place.
“It was at a time when we were in a deep recession and people couldn’t pay their electricity bills, so a lot of people’s sense of humor had gone out the window,” says Mr. Ratner.
“I shouldn’t have said it.
He continues: “I get it today on Twitter. People say I looked down on my clients, which I didn’t.
“Or that I said it behind their back, which sucks because it was at Albert Hall and it was televised, or I said it about all my jewelry, which I did not do.
“In fact, in this speech, I said that we sell high quality jewelry.”
However, the damage was done.
Instead of lining up in front of stores, customers demanded their money and sales plummeted.
In an unsuccessful attempt to contain the crisis, the company ran ads with celebrities, including footballer Paul Gascoigne, endorsing its products.
It was not enough and Mr. Ratner was eventually fired from his own business.
“I lost all my money, every penny because the stocks went down to 2p,” he said.
“I lost my house, my children had to leave school. I paid a very high price for this joke.
“I was in deep and terrible difficulties.
“I watched Countdown in bed for seven years, I had given up.
“I read that I was unemployable.
“I was suffering from depression.”
It wasn’t until Mr Ratner’s wife Moira threatened to deport him that life began to change.
He opened a health club in Henley, Oxfordshire with no money, sold it for almost £ 4million and is now involved in an online jewelry business.
Until the pandemic struck, Mr Ratner also made a living giving speeches – between 50 and 100 a year – about what had happened to him, which he said “enjoys more than leading Ratners”. He also supervises others.
The irony is that the jewelry chains Mr. Ratner put together are still around, as many retailers from his heyday fell to the wall.
Mr. Ratner is refreshingly honest about what happened to him.
He will not “celebrate” the anniversary of next month’s speech.
But he adds; “I am much happier.
“Someone asked me if I regretted what I said, and I said it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever been asked, of course I do.
“But they said, you love your life now, you enjoy things more, you ride a bike everyday, you are healthier.
“So, I said, I withdraw my comment. ”
He adds: “There is no point in being bitter and there is always an advantage.
“There is a silver lining in everything, and my life has turned out to be good.”