A Brief History
Want to know how our family business went from the early days to where we are today? Then read on to learn about a journey of 21 years (and counting), which has made The Jewellers Guild into a thriving company.
For me (Mark), it began in 1987, when I was born the youngest of three children. Matthew, Sarah and I lived with our parents in a cosy house in the quiet suburbs of Hampshire.
Our Dad, Keith, worked as a store manager at Ratner’s Jewellers, a leading retail jewellery store owned by Gerald Ratner during the 80s and 90s. Many readers will know the story of that business, but if you don’t, I’ll just say for now that it closed in 1993.
By the early 90s, our dad had worked up to the position of an Area Manager for the company. He would soon realise this was a blessing and a curse.
In a speech given by Gerald on the 23rd April 1991 to the Institute of Directors at the Royal Albert Hall, he remarked:
"We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, "How can you sell this for such a low price?", "I say because it's total crap.""
Unsurprisingly, after that blunder, the company's value dropped by £500 million. In a bid to save the company Gerald hired a chairman to replace him, but in 1992 the new leader dismissed him as the boss.
By 1993, the group had renamed themselves Signet Group, and Ratner’s was no more. Signet Group rebranded many of the Ratner’s stores into what is still known as H Samuel, and closed 300 of the 2,500 Ratner’s stores.
Shortly after Gerald ‘doing a Ratner’, (as the new phrase was coined), we found ourselves relocating to Morpeth, Northumberland. Dad had secured a new role as Northern Regional Manager for Goldsmiths. For the whole family, this was a big adjustment, but we all eventually settled in our new home.
It was at this time that dad decided to purchase a newsagents in Morpeth’s Market Square. We didn’t realise it at the time, but this would become a first taste in retail for my brother, sister and I as well as a first taste of working in a family business, something that would repeat itself some years later.
Dad fell straight into his new role with Goldsmiths but after some years of service, he became disenchanted with the company and eventually resigned from his position.
Having the newsagent’s helped keep him occupied during this transition into his next business opportunity. And in 2001, he finally decided to open his own jewellers in Morpeth.
A cobbler’s in the ‘old’ Sanderson Arcade had just closed. The rent was very affordable, offering a fantastic opportunity for dad to open the first of what would be several stores.
He didn’t have a great deal of money to start up and didn’t want to borrow from the bank, so took a £7,000 gamble on his credit card and hoped for the best.
Because of the lack of cash available, I remember that the shop fitting wasn’t extravagant – the fixtures and fittings were from that well-known, popular Swedish retailer IKEA.
One memory that really stands out is of Dad using chopping boards for display material rather than buying something custom-built! The shop was just about functional but it worked, and surprisingly looked like something ahead of its time.
To stock the shop with jewellery, he started with silver pieces. He bought a little and borrowed a little from suppliers who were willing to support him. This helped limit his overheads whilst the business found its feet. The business grew from strength to strength through his dedication and determination to succeed.
Subsequent stores were opened in Manor Walks, Cramlington and Princess Square, Newcastle. These were run respectively by my sister Sarah and my brother Matthew, who were to work alongside each other once again.
It was around this time that our workshop first opened too and we recruited Mark, who remains our Goldsmith all these years later, and it became our unique selling point.
With most handmade jewellery coming out of The Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham or Hatton Garden, London, there were only small pockets of jewellers making bespoke jewellery and we were one of them.
With a substantial run of growth in the business, the gamble to spend £7,000 on the first store in Sanderson Arcade looked to be paying off.
But in 2007, a bid from property development firm Dransfield to transform the old Sanderson Arcade was agreed. This multi-million-pound development cast uncertainty on the future of the Morpeth store.
The old Sanderson Arcade was to be demolished and a new one put in its place, so where would that leave the business? To be a part of the new development came at a hefty price.
The total overheads would be more than tenfold those of the current Morpeth store. The shop unit itself was a huge step up, not only in size but also in grandeur: the shop fit cost nearly £110,000 - a substantial investment.
Like previous decisions, our dad took the gamble and decided to go for it. The store was the first to open in the development and took pride of place at the main entrance. It elevated our business to a level never previously achieved, but only time would tell if this was the right decision.
In 2008, during my time at university, I followed the footsteps of my brother and sister and joined the jewellers part-time. I had no experience, but over time things clicked into place and after university, I decided to join the business full-time while I decided what I intended to do with my life.
In the years that followed, my sister left to pursue a job working for Etihad airlines, returning to the business after living in Dubai for two years. I left to pursue a job working selling MINIs, a job I would leave and later go back to and leave again (I’ll never live it down).
The Newcastle branch closed. Princess Square became a hub for drug users, and it posed a risk to the safety of staff and customers, so the decision was made for us to close the branch.
On my final return to the jewellers in 2018, the business no longer looked the same as it once did. It had matured, the team was the strongest we’d ever had, and the business was in good shape.
Dad was in discussions about retirement and a succession plan and then COVID struck and brought everything forward. We didn’t realise on reopening that he would no longer be working there and instead he would be pursuing his passion for fly fishing in his slightly premature retirement.
Our business was in a particularly vulnerable position during this time as we didn’t sell online. Like many other small businesses, we had to sit and wait until government guidelines allowed us to reopen.
Once we did, we went through a restart phase, probably like a lot of other companies. With Dad on hand to give support but no longer available to work in the stores, we needed to make some adjustments to our roles.
These now look quite different to what they used to, but so far, the changes have proved to be positive. Matt oversees things, I head up our marketing, Arron oversees the stores and Mark is pushing forward with the workshop.
We are on the cusp of opening a third store in Whitley Bay which marks a new inning of our passion for ongoing expansion. The business is expertly-run thanks to our team – you can find out more about them on the “Meet the Team” page.
It was through their hard work and dedication, and everyone pulling together, that meant that 2021-2022 was a record financial year for the business despite the hangover of COVID.
Our sister Sarah has gone on to launch her own online bridal business – Sarah Vuong Bridal Jewellery. She remains close with the jewellers, and in fact we stock her range of jewellery within the shops. She still works odd days here and there.
As for the future of the business, well, who knows? If we’re still about in the next 30 years, then I’d say we’ve made a success of it!