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Hamilton & Inches is an independent jewellery retailer stepped in history, but recent announcements from the company reveal it has no plans to stay stuck in the past.
With a new chief executive officer at the helm, Hamilton & Inches has set its sights on ambitious growth – namely to double turnover to £20m over the next five years – as it looks to keep its title as a destination luxury jeweller for generations to come.
New boss, Victoria Houghton, has taken over from Stephen Paterson, who stepped down after 40 years as chief executive officer, and will lead the company into a new era, whilst holding onto the heritage that sets Hamilton & Inches apart.
Houghton has an impressive track record as a retail and business leader, which includes initiating negotiations to take on the country-wide franchise for Next in Romania and firmly establishing it with four profitable stores in Bucharest. She also held the role of fashion and accessories buyer at Next plc, River Island and M&S, and completed a stint overseas in Bangkok, Thailand, working in product development, mainly in silver jewellery. The new Hamilton & Inches CEO says this is where her love of gemology started.
Last year Houghton joined the Edinburgh-based independent jeweller’s board, where she learnt about all areas of the company, and now she is ready to use her business, creative buying, and strategic management expertise to ensure it has a sparkling future. Here, PJ editor, Stacey Hailes, finds out more…
You’ve have an amazing career working with respectable national chains, what’s it been like moving to an independent jewellery retail business?
I feel that it is not hugely different, in that I have been working with different retailers across different platforms – Burberry, Next, Marks & Spencer – so they’ve all proved really excellent grounding, and then I’ve got the experience of the buying, sourcing, product development, cost negotiation, and the whole sort of retail set up and management, so the whole 360 experience. And for the past 12 years I set up and managed a Next franchise in Bucharest, Romania, where they’ve got four stores. So although that’s part of a very large company, it is managed completely independently. So therefore, I don’t see the move to an independent retail business that different. I think the biggest difference is the different amount of suppliers because obviously I’m used to working with one brand, whereas this is dealing with a wide selection of suppliers, but it is great, it is really exciting and there is quite a diverse mix.
Has anything about the jewellery industry taken you by surprise so far?
I wouldn’t say by surprise at all. I think the industry is fast changing and fast growing, and the retail landscape is changing quickly. The jewellery industry has changed a lot in the last three to five years, and there’s a great opportunity for Hamilton & Inches to grow its local and global client base over the next five years. I’m really in awe of the skill and the craft found in the industry. It is such a privilege to work with Hamilton & Inches — we have our showroom on the ground floor level and our workshop above us, which is a very unique experience, and it is a real opportunity to actually see the craftsman working day-to-day.
You were on the Hamilton & Inches board for a year before being appointed chief exec, could you tell us a bit more about your role on the board and how this prepared you for taking the reins?
Well it was a great opportunity to get an insight into the business. So I had an opportunity to analyse and spend time in every department, which gave me a really good grounding within the business. So therefore I built up a foundation and I can now build on the legacy of the business, and then be able to input improved systems, marketing and PR, and invest in the staff, and really give Hamilton & Inches an excellent future.
Houghton spent a year on the retailer’s board getting to know all areas of the business.
Hamilton & Inches has ambitious plans for the next five years, could you go into a bit more detail about the firm’s five-year strategy?
There’s quite a few things that I am working on, but there’s a few priorities too. I am going to introduce a more contemporary feel to the brand. So whilst preserving the rich heritage of Hamilton & Inches, there’s an opportunity to make the brand more current and appeal to a wider demographic. We are going to be investing in the existing team that we have on board, but also appointing new craftsman and sales staff within the business. We are also looking to develop a new fine jewellery collection and introduce Scottish gold, which we share the exclusivity for. We also want to further develop the bespoke design service that we can offer within the Edinburgh workshop. We already have our own Hamilton & Inches watch offering but we are looking to develop that further too, and we are also looking to strengthen our partnerships with Patek Philippe and Rolex, which are very key to the business. Lastly, we’ve just put in planning permission to develop and refurbish and renovate the showroom on George Street. We have an amazing showroom, which is beautiful and really awe-inspiring for customers, we have had people say it is the best showroom, but it does need further investment. So we have just put in planning for that and we will be implementing a much more experiential retail experience — so something much more welcoming to the customer, which I feel is very important. And then alongside our robust sales plans, we are investing in the marketing and PR, which will all complement the five year growth strategy.
What’s the first steps you will be taking to achieve this in the next six months?
The first things I have been looking at is the growth strategy for the next five years — so to work out which are the areas to focus on and which are the priorities to tackle first, and then alongside that develop a sales, marketing, and a PR strategy to complement that. I understand that you can’t just do one thing independent from the other. It is about a whole 360 programme. The renovations, as I just mentioned, that’s been a real priority – so putting in for planning permissions – and then looking to rejuvenate the new product collections over the next 12 months. So Scottish gold and bridal jewellery, and we are looking to review the silver collection. There’s lots of things to get stuck into.
What’s the vision for the look and feel of the store?
Right now you cannot see out of the store from within, which means people cannot see into the store from outside. We are aware that makes us a little bit intimidating and unapproachable, and we recognise that in today’s luxury world, we need to be accessible. The way we are addressing that is by going to a curved glass frontage that will allow everybody to see into this beautiful store space. We are also looking at repositioning the brand and our typography that takes us back to an earlier design from the 1980s. Everything about the changes is designed to make us more accessible to a wider demographic. In terms of the way we lay out the store, the front will be much more of a jewellery space, which will include a big launch later this year for Scottish gold jewellery. That jewellery area will lead into our crystal and silver, and then from there into the watch area where we have Patek Philippe and Rolex areas and we will also present our own Hamilton & Inches watch brand that we launched last year.
The new boss plans to add a contemporary touch to the historic store.
In your opinion, what type of experience is today’s luxury jewellery shopper looking for and how can Hamilton & Inches deliver this?
Buying a piece of jewellery or a watch often becomes quite an emotional purchase. You don’t tend to wear it as a fashion item — it is something you might be wearing for the next 10-30 years; something you see as a future heirloom that you would pass on to your children, so I think it is very important to make it a truly enjoyable and memorable experience. To enhance that we are introducing two private viewing rooms within the showroom, so if people do want a bespoke piece made, or a little bit more privacy, we will be able to offer that service. We also want to make the showroom more approachable and inclusive. So although it is high-end products, we want to make people feel welcome and not intimidated to walk around the store. We will achieve this by introducing a more contemporary feel and hosting smaller events in-store. We want to create more of a Hamilton & Inches family so people feel we are an approachable store that they feel a connection with.
How do you think H&I can attract the next generation?
We want to appeal to a more wider demographic. We are very grateful and don’t want to alienate the current customers, but we do know that Generation Z and the millennials are going to represent 55% of global spending by 2025, so it is important to make sure that we do appeal to those customers too. With this in mind we have acknowledged that we need to update and invest in our website and along with that ensure it is mobile friendly. Everybody uses their phones these days, so it is important to be mobile friendly. We also understand that we need to be strong on our social media and we recognise the importance of promoting sustainability and explaining where our gemstones come from. People want to buy into the heritage of Patek Philippe and Rolex, and that’s a strength we have too. People appreciate tradition and heritage, and I feel that is going to be more appealing for the newer generations coming through, so we need to draw on that, but make sure it appealing in a current way.
Do you think any drastic changes need to be made to achieve the goal of £20m turnover in five years?
No, I really don’t see it as a huge revolution, I see it as a much needed evolution of the Hamilton & Inches brand, which I think it really exciting. I think repositioning the brand is a real key focus. And the fact that we have the Royal Warrant, we have the in-store workshop and craftsman, I think it is all really, really important, we just need to grow that and build on the amazing foundation we have.
How has business been for H&I so far this year?
We are doing really, really well. I am pleased to say we are actually up 37% on sales across the whole business this year. I think what’s key is to ensure there is a clear blue water between us and the high street. We don’t see ourselves as a high street store, we want to become a luxury destination in Edinburgh and wider Scotland.
That’s fantastic to hear you are up in a year many have found challenging so far.
I think it is really encouraging because it means the small steps and changes that have already been implemented this year are starting to show that they are working.
What do you think the main challenges will be for Hamilton & Inches going forward?
I think it will be attracting and retaining the footfall within the store. Customs of shopping do change and they are changing, so we need to keep giving people a reason to come in store, and that is what we are trying to address with the new shop-fit. We don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit, or other uncertainties, but it is basically making sure people enjoy their shopping experience with us. We also have excellent aftercare services, so we have watch technicians, valuation service, and a repairs team all within the same building, so I think it gives endorsement to the brand, to know if you buy your jewellery or watch from us, you can also come back to use for the repairs. That in itself is also creating customer loyalty, and a reason to buy from us, rather than buying from someone else, or dare I say it, online.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your first year as chief executive officer at Hamilton & Inches?
Well I hope we continue on the positive trend of sales and in line with that the increase in profit. I hope to be able to look back and see that as an achievement within the first year, and I hope to see progression on the new store frontage and the new store refurbishment, but it is very much down to the planning permission. I am also looking forward to the launch of a new collection, as we are already seeing improved sales within the jewellery sector where we have adapted pieces or introduced new pieces of jewellery. And then I also want to see growth of the more global and regional demographic of customer. The priority is to grow the regional customer first, and we are already seeing an increase in the local, regional customer, buying our watches, which is really great, and then along with that Edinburgh is the second most visited tourist city outside of London, so there is still more opportunity on that side of the business.
Online jewellery marketplace, JewelStreet, is hosting a unique one-week pop-up shop at Westgate Oxford from Monday July 22 to Sunday July 28, 2019.
The event will feature handcrafted rings, necklaces, earrings and more from 28 independent designers, including Alison Fern Jewellery, Allumer and BUFF Jewellery.
A recent survey found unique, quality jewellery is what brings 66% of JewelStreet shoppers to the site.
To match this demand for individualistic pieces, the pop-up event will feature live jewellery demonstrations from several of the featured designers. Here customers can ‘meet the maker’, see how their jewellery is made, and commission personalised pieces.
The week will also feature daily jewellery giveaways and a ‘what do gemstones taste like?’ cocktail evening at Oxford’s The Alchemist bar and restaurant on the Friday evening. Here a few lucky pop-up shoppers can choose from a limited edition menu of gemstone-inspired cocktails as they acquaint themselves with the JewelStreet brand.
Senior marketing executive of JewelStreet, Vivianne Leung, comments: “Consumers are fed up with wearing the same mass-produced jewellery as everyone else. This pop-up shop is a fantastic opportunity to discover and commission unique, handcrafted pieces from the world’s best independent designers – enabling men and women to embrace their individuality.
“This event also showcases the shared values of the JewelStreet community. We are so much more than an online marketplace. We are a platform to champion the stories, diversity and authenticity of our talented designers and valued shoppers.”
The pop-up shop runs from Monday July 22 to Sunday July 28, 2019, on the lower ground floor at Westgate Oxford.
With excellent weather and the start of the sale season signaling the arrival of summer, online retail sales rose by 8.5% year-on-year in June, reveals the latest IMRG Capgemini eRetail Sales Index.
After a disappointing May, which saw online sales suffer their worst growth on record (1.9%), June’s results represent the strongest growth so far this year, and are well ahead of the 3-month, 6-month and 12-month rolling averages (respectively -0.5%, +5.4%, +6.9%).
In terms of standout category, clothing recorded the highest growth so far this year with a rise of 15.7%. This was buoyed by good results in both menswear, which saw its strongest performance of 2019 at +31.2%, and womenswear, which reversed last month’s negative growth to achieve an increase of 3.3% increase versus 2018.
Accessories and footwear did not fare as well, however, with accessories sales declining to their lowest ever June growth (-7.4%) and footwear also falling by -8.8%.
While further category analysis highlighted positive performances for health & beauty (+20.4%) and home and garden (+9.8), elsewhere the results continued the negative trend for electricals (-23.0%), and Gifts (-23.4%).
Strategy and insight director at IMRG, Andy Mulcahy, says: “The trading environment for online retail in the first half of the year has been tough; for the previous three months (March-May), growth was just +2.2%. June then can be interpreted as a bounce-back, particularly given it was building on strong growth of 16.1% in June 2018. However, the discounting has been heavy so the margins achieved may not be high – online clothing sales were up +15.7%, but the average basket value for clothing was down -25%. That doesn’t suggest shopper confidence is very high.
“It is the summer sales period now, so end-of-season sales campaigns are in full swing. The key now for retailers is whether they can come out of discounting and maintain a reasonable level of sales growth before we get too close to the Black Friday period. Otherwise we may be in for another difficult peak where the rates of discount are wider and deeper than many retailers would like.”
Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement, Capgemini, adds: “June had a positive sales performance this month, reporting highest YOY growth this year, however it is to be considered with a note of caution; consumer confidence is down 25% vs last year, and the overall performance is masked by weaker comparable in June 2018 and higher discounting activity, indicated by higher conversion rates and lower basket values.
“The change of tune in June was also not enough to counter the overall quarter performance, and Q2 reported even slower growth than Q1, albeit up against a big Q2 2018.”
One look at Tatty Devine’s jewellery will tell you that this is no ordinary brand, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the founding duo are far from ordinary as well.
At the heart of the brand, which celebrates 20 years in business this summer, is a couple of women who knew they wanted to do something creative with their lives, and pulled out all of the stops to make sure their dreams became a reality.
The Tatty Devine story is nothing short of extraordinary, as is evident by the fact the Crafts Council has teamed up with the brand to put on a two-year travelling exhibition about its history and heritage.
From selling bangles made out of leather samples at Portobello Market, to employing 35 people and running two successful bricks and mortar stores, alongside an online business, Vine and Wolfenden have come a long way since meeting at art school, and can look back at 20 years of fond memories, whilst keep their eyes firmly on the future.
Camden Market to Covent Garden
Vine and Wolfenden met at Chelsea Art School where they both studied fine art in the same year.
The duo forged a close friendship when Wolfenden’s roof fell in and she had to call upon Vine to shelter in her spare room.
From there, they became housemates and later on found out they had a strong working chemistry when they started serving tables at the V&A restaurant.
“It was there we realised we could run things together,” shares Vine, with Wolfenden adding: “We found very quickly that we could look at each other and know what needed to happen. We had a really similar work ethic and we both had ambition.”
Putting their theory to the test, Vine and Wolfenden teamed up to put on a graduation party.
Wolfenden explains: “We realised no one was doing a graduation party so we decided to organise one. But, we didn’t just hire a bar, we hired a venue on Regent Street, and did all the negotiations on the price, designed tickets, sold tickets and got a real buzz from making something happen.”
“It was the power of coming together, and together we could make things happen,” adds Vine.
After art school, the friends started trading from a market stall in east London in the summer and developed a signature style that saw them lauded in Vogue and stocked in Harvey Nichols and Whistles before the year was up.
“One night coming home from college I found all these bin bags filled with leather samples on the street and really that’s kind of what started Tatty Devine,” Vine reveals. “We cut the leather samples into strips, made them into cuffs and took a selection of every colour cuff imaginable to a market stall in Camden. Everyone thought we were mad.”
The Tatty Devine founders then started selling their jewellery at Portobello Market and Spitalfields during the weekend, whilst holding down part-time jobs in the week. Wolfenden recalls: “In the first week we did £100, then £200, and we would always split it in three ways; a third for Harriet, a third for me, a third for Tatty, and we built up a bit of cash.”
“It all happened really quickly. We graduated in June 1999, then started doing market stalls in the July, and by December we had orders from Whistles and Harvey Nichols. We also had our pieces featured in the millennium issue of Vogue and had got into London Fashion Week.”
Realising they couldn’t sell cuffs on a market stall for £10, whilst the same pieces were sold in the likes of Whistles for £30, they quit the markets, and worked from their bedrooms to fulfil orders from big clients for most the year 2000, before moving into a premises on Brick Lane.
“In the early days we were working from my bedroom and we had this big order come through, so we had to train the boys I lived with to sew because we had no team and no workers, so we just got all of our friends round and asked them to muck in,” Vine reminisces.
“When we got our studio we didn’t get a standard studio space, we got an old shop and it looked like a shop even though we didn’t open it as one. We just painted it white and put the jewellery on display and people came in and bought pieces — it was amazing. As we didn’t have much stuff we also used the space to host exhibitions because all of our friends were creatives. So once a month we would open the doors and everyone would come to a private view and it was kind of like a real social network — we just made so many friends and it became a little bit renowned.”
20 years on and the brand is still pioneering attention-grabbing laser cut jewellery.
By this time the jewellery had got more experimental, with pieces being made from objects the friends found, such as cake decorations and plectrums. It was during a research trip to New York in 2001 that they discovered laser-cut acrylic and fell in love.
“It was one of the most exciting moments of our lives because there was all these little shapes cut out of plastic,” shares Wolfenden. “We bought all these shapes and took them to LFW, and they got such an amazing reception.”
In turn, they found themselves ordering so much from New York that they had to find a local supplier. It then got to the point where they were spending so much on laser cutting, the supplier suggested they invested in their own machine — so they got a bank loan and purchased one. This gave them a creative freedom to push the boundaries. Something they continue to do.
“Laser cutting ticked all the boxes. We could make something crazy, we could make something massive, and we could only make a couple of pieces if we wanted to, and it was plastic and shiny,” shares Vine.
20 years on and the brand is still pioneering attention-grabbing laser cut jewellery, with all their pieces made by hand in the UK.
Tatty Devine has two stores in London, one in Brick Lane, and another in Monmouth Street, alongside a studio in Kent. It also has a strong online following, with the company being quick to embrace digital platforms such as social media to bolster business and build brand awareness.
Jewellery wise, whilst staying true to the aesthetic it has become famous for, Tatty Devine has also become more political, collaborating with charities to raise awareness of causes close to the founders’ hearts.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary the Crafts Council is putting on a touring exhibition titled: ‘Misshapes: the making of Tatty Devine’, which will showcase the creativity and innovation, alongside the glamour and humour that has been the making of this successful British brand.
The exhibition will be the first-of-its-kind about the design duo, showcasing the story of the brand and defining moments and jewellery pieces over the last two decades in business.
The exhibition will start in London tomorrow and tour the country over two years.
The anniversary will also see the publication of a new book dedicated to the pairs’ story and creativity, and a special jewellery collection, re-imagining some of Tatty Devine’s best-loved pieces from the 5,000 strong archive.
One thing that stands out in the brand story is that having a real social network and a growing community has been paramount to the success of Tatty Devine.
Along the way, friends, family and acquaintances have helped take the business to the next level in one way or another. Whether that be housemates helping to fulfil big orders in the early days, or the duo creating a business with a family feel where everyone takes ownership of the brand and its success, real relationships with real people have got Tatty Devine to where it is today.
Its little wonder the brand gained a loyal following pretty quickly and that it continues to gain new fans-turn-family members every step of the way. By having a community feel people don’t just purchase Tatty Devine, they become part of a family firm that continues to go from strength-to-strength.
Looking ahead the founders would like to see Tatty Devine sold all over the world, and to maintain the level of business that gives them the creative freedom they have worked so hard for.
Independent jeweller David M Robinson as launched the inaugural DMR Jewellery Design Awards, in celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary.
Launched in collaboration with the team behind the Educate Awards, the competition follows two years of DMR’s sponsorship of the award for ‘Outstanding Arts in a Primary School’ at the Educate Awards.
As DMR commits to sponsor the award for a third consecutive year, the DMR Jewellery Design Awards will be launched at schools across the North West of England, the region in which the independent jeweller’s story began.
Founded by a skilled craftsman in a small Liverpool workshop, DMR understand the importance of supporting creative education, encouraging young people to engage with creative subjects in school.
“This inaugural DMR Jewellery Design Award is something that we have wanted to launch for a while, and our 50th anniversary provided the perfect year in which to do this,” says managing director at DMR, John Robinson. “As a business borne out of the creativity of one young man, this is our opportunity to support the next generation of creatives.”
Schools are invited to design a necklace inspired by the theme of ‘family’. As an independent family business, this is a value that runs right through the heart of David M Robinson.
The competition will be split across two categories, awarding a prize to the winning primary and secondary schools.
Selected by a panel of judges including DMR’s managing director, John Robinson and Educate Awards founder, Kim O’Brien, the winners will each be awarded £1000 to be spent on creative education within their school. The schools will also have the chance to see their design crafted and exhibited in DMR’s Liverpool window.
Kim O’Brien, founder of the Educate Awards, comments: “I am thrilled to be part of this exciting competition DMR is launching to primary and secondary schools in the region. What better way to celebrate this milestone than working with brilliant young minds from schools across the North West.”
Retailers selling products online could face ‘major disruption’ as strict new rules on internet sales could see a third of transactions fail to complete, an MP has warned.
Anti-theft measures being introduced by the EU in September will mean that consumers will have to use their smartphones to complete purchases over £27.
It could mean that people without a mobile phone, including many elderly people, or those who have poor signal in rural areas, will have to use other means to complete a transaction.
Retail groups have warned that ‘strong customer authentication’ could frustrate consumers and prevent transactions going through, causing disruption for businesses.
Watchdogs have said the confusion could lead to abandoned purchases, decline of valid transactions and poor customer experiences.
It is thought that three quarters of small online retailers are unprepared for the new measures and do not have the correct software in place.
MP Chuka Umunna said the new rules are a “ticking time bomb for online retail which is on track to cause major disruption”.
Urging the government to address the issue he says: “The British Retail Consortium estimates that 75% of retailers are unaware that this is coming into effect in September and the same is the case with the consumers.
Business minister Kelly Tolhurst said the new measures are designed to battle rising fraud cases in the EU. She said the Financial Conduct Authority is working with the industry and providers to make sure the internet is a safer place to trade.
The Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office held a major international conference last week at the Goldsmiths’ Hall.
A highly diverse range of talks were delivered during the first Jewellery Materials Congress by 18 international speakers. Subjects covered academic research, visions of the industry, and artisan and industrial materials manufacture.
The Jewellery Materials Congress’ objective was to support the jewellery and silverware community by providing a collaborative, non-commercial forum to share knowledge and foster technological and operational innovation in materials development. It was the largest jewellery technology conference held in the UK and the largest specialising in jewellery materials in the world.
Attendee Brian Hill, consultant to the Goldsmiths’ Craft And Design Council, shares: “The internationalism, breath and calibre of speakers brought together by the Assay Office was impressive and delivered an informative and inspiring culture of like-minded people who clearly were further charged with enthusiasm and energy from being part of an excellent two days at Goldsmiths’ Hall.”
Attendees including tutors, students, academics and those working in the industry benefited from hearing the latest developments from experts from all around the world. Perennial topics in the trade were explored: ethical issues, 3D printing, tarnish resistant silver alloys, and allergies, plus the history of jewellery making metals.
Deputy warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, Dr Robert Organ, says: “The Santa Fe Symposium in the USA is in its 33rd successful year – it has driven innovation and shaped much thought and progress in the industry. I am proud to have had their support of our Congress as we share an enlightened view on the importance of education, training, new technology and sharing of information through networking. By running this Congress alongside funding, via a gift from the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity, a number of PhD studentships in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, we intend to bolster the UK’s place at the cutting edge of new technology.”