Best of British Q&A: Stephen Webster

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Brit jeweller on global trading and the next tranche of talent.

The January issue of Professional Jeweller was all about celebrating British jewellery talent and looking at what UK companies can do to take their jewels global. Here Stephen Webster, creative director at his own brand and Garrard, as well as a curator of London Fashion Week jewellery initiative Rock Vaults, gives insight into his successes abroad and which designers he believes will follow in his footsteps.

Professional Jeweller: Yours is a British jewellery brand that has enjoyed international success. What is the extent of your international operations and what are your plans for international growth?
Stephen Webster: We have been very lucky to have a great international following. I spent years living in Canada and then in California and it was there that I started to create my own designs. In contrast to Britain at the time, Americans were very open to more bold and colourful jewellery that mine shaped out to be. For many years, most of everything we made was sold in the US. In the past 10 years we have also expanded into the ex-Soviet territories, we were probably one of the first independent brands to break through there. We currently split our sales 40% USA, 40% ex-USSR and 20% ROW [rest of the world]. We currently have seven standalone boutiques and over 200 points of sale internationally. With every luxury brand, we are looking at future expansion into Asia but we are not in a rush. It has a huge potential but needs to be approached very carefully.

PJ: Have you found some international markets more difficult than others to operate in?
SW: Every market has its own challenges so we work very closely with our local partners who help us to make the right decisions.

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PJ: What does a British jewellery brand need to succeed abroad?
SW: Something unique, great craftsmanship, a story, a bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.

PJ: What and when was your first step into trading internationally and how did it come about? Did you receive any help, funding or guidance?
SW: When I came back to London from California in the late 1980s, 95% of everything I was making was going back to Santa Barbara and I knew my jewellery was right for the American clientele so I started exhibiting at US trade shows. It took us couple of years and I was known as that ‘English dude in the purple suit underneath the escalator’, but then things just exploded. I did take a loan from the DTI but the main guidance I had was from my friends telling me to believe in myself.

PJ: There is a lot of jewellery talent in the UK, but times are tough. How can the path be smoothed for them?
SW: I curate the Rock Vault and am lucky enough to see firsthand that there is a lot of amazing emerging young talent in the UK. I’m sure they will each find their way but the economy is not helping. Thus, by creating a platform such as the Rock Vault we really hope to help these guys to realise their full potential. I know how hard it is to build your own business.

PJ: Who do you think the next British jewellery designers capable of taking the leap to international stars are?
SW: I am in a fortunate position as the curator of Rock Vault as I have a lot of external and internal information on the next generation of jewellers. All members of RV have the potential to achieve global success, some are obviously are closer than others. The two who are a gnat’s whisker away are Tomasz [Donocik] and Hannah [Martin]. The foundations are laid, the next three to five years for them will be crucial in establishing themselves in the markets they have entered as designers, next as proper businesses. Behind them the next round are close on their tails. The key is originality, creativity and drive. All of them have that.

 

 

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