Professional Jeweller travelled to Birmingham Jewellery Quarter to meet the Deakin & Francis team, tour the workshop, reminisce about the company’s past and discuss plans for the future…
Deakin & Francis may be celebrating 230 years in the trade this year, but the company certainly does not feel like it’s getting any older as the seventh generation successfully leads the way through the 21st century.
With that said, a visit to Deakin & Francis’ HQ will show anyone that brothers, creative director James Deakin and managing director Henry Deakin, hold very firmly to the company’s roots. The team still use old methods to create modern jewels and there is something about the mix of the old and the new that seems to sum up where Deakin & Francis sit in the market today.
Over the last 230 years, the company has never veered away from the high standards of craftsmanship it was built on when it was first founded in 1786. Nor has it shied away from moving with the times and forefronting innovative designs.
It’s inspiring to see the company staying true to its original values, even seven generations down the line. It’s also impressive that it has remained in the family all of this time.
“Most of my shirts growing up were cufflink shirts,” jokes managing director Henry Deakin when we ask him how he came to work for the family business.
Henry explains: “Dad was really keen for us not to be in it, there was no pressure. James came in first, he must have been here about five years before I joined, and then as soon as we said we would be interested, Dad was delighted. He was massively relieved and kind of let us get on with it.”
James joined the business in 1998, with Henry joining after him in 2002. When they eventually took over the company their father made sure they didn’t feel the pressure of the history behind them.
“He did say to us just before we took it over — if it doesn’t work for you, don’t work for it. Which, when you’re taking over as a seventh generation, it is such a nice thing to say,” shares Henry. “It’s amazing how much the company has changed. Dad comes in once a year now because his dentist is around the corner and he sort of potters in and he doesn’t recognise the place.”
The Deakin brothers are renowned for creative designs and original ideas, always making sure they stay ahead of the curve and as they are not ones to let the opportunity for celebration pass, Henry and James have been making sure the company’s 230th year is one to remember.
Kicking off the anniversary year, Deakin & Francis have enjoyed a great start to 2016. At Basel, the company achieved double than the year before, and the new look book and Fundamentals collection have been greatly received. James Deakin remarks: “As our 230th anniversary year, we wanted to make it a year to remember and so far it’s doing pretty well.
“We have managed to get quite a few achievements under our belt. The launch of the new Fundamentals collection has been fantastic and we have learnt all about new tolerances, new materials and movements. We have also created and launched a stunning new look book showcasing our core collection, which has been distributed worldwide and has received some amazing feedback.”
The Fundamentals collection launched in stores around the second week of March and accounted for 10% of the March turnover. The big department stores even saw sales triple because of the new range, which offers a more accessible price point.
Split into five categories, the Fundamentals collection offers pieces that have been designed to keep the wearer entertained — with an array of hidden surprises. From a sleek, smooth spinning top pair of cufflinks, to a pair of shotguns featuring repelling magnets that open at the barrels, this range really pushes the boundaries and invites new consumers to easily buy into the brand, with prices starting from £75.
“The new Fundamentals collection has been brilliant for us,” explains Henry. “Our retail price point before was about £250 for a pair of cufflinks, and you’ve seen what goes into it, it’s justified work. Suddenly now with an opening retail of £75 the market is so much bigger.”
In addition, Deakin & Francis has also taken on global agents for the first time this year. The company has so far taken on agents in Austria, Germany, Canada, Dallas, Japan and Hong Kong, with the brothers’ cousin Tom remaining the UK agent.
“Before James and I would go every single day and it was really quite hard work because we were travelling the whole time. It meant that instead of working on the company, we were working in the company permanently doing things and you don’t really drive it forward, but now with having the look book out there and the guys on the road, the orders have just come in,” Henry comments.
For Deakin & Francis though, the anniversary year has only just begun as Henry and James have much more up their sleeves for the latter half of 2016. Big plans include the launch of the Capsule collection and the very first Deakin & Francis store.
When Professional Jeweller met with Henry and James they revealed a Deakin & Francis London store was currently on the cards. “We’ve found a shop in Mayfair and we’ve got an offer going on at the moment,” Henry shares. “It is a three storey shop. One floor will be used as shop floor, another will be meeting rooms and one will be an office. So like a London HQ.”
Henry explains that London will provide the perfect location for meeting clients who have travelled in from abroad, as well as offer a place to showcase Deakin & Francis’ wide collection of cufflinks.
“It’s been 230 years in the making,” Henry continues. “It will be brilliant and actually the department stores have asked us to do it, because it creates brand awareness for them and our independent retailers, who were a bit worried about it, now actually think it is fantastic because if a customer comes in and says ‘have you got a diamond dress set? I’m looking to spend £30,000’, they will have one within 10mins. It will be a fun new challenge.”
Deakin & Francis will also mark this milestone year with a Capsule cufflinks collection. To tie in with the heritage, the Capsule range will feature five different designs, all crafted to look like old coins. Each Capsule cufflink coin will showcase a different image, which links back to Deakin & Francis, or Birmingham. For example, one piece includes a crest and another the Deakin & Francis Birmingham Jewellery Quarter building.
In addition, other anniversary plans include refreshing the company’s website, supporting retailers with new stylish showcases and points of sale, attending more trade shows and opening up a show room in New York City.
All of the above, from the new look book to opening up a store, does not only mark Deakin & Francis’ 230 year heritage, but it also solidifies the company as a brand — something which Henry admits is a new way of looking at the business. “I remember about four or five years ago someone referred to us as a brand and we were like ‘huh, what you talking about? We are not a brand. We are just a good story’,” Henry explains. “But, actually, as time goes on Deakin & Francis has become a brand. And that’s what we will be selling going forward.”
Talking about the Deakin & Francis brand Henry comments: “I think the whole company is quite tongue and cheek. If you saw the amount of gin and vodka we served from our Basel stand, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
One thing Henry notes the company does take seriously though is cufflinks, as he adds: “Lots of companies will have a cufflinks collection, whether that’s brands or manufacturers, but nobody takes cufflinks quite as seriously as we do. The brand is growing stronger and stronger and the recognition we are getting is great. Companies are coming to us to do co-branding, whereas before we’ve always had to try and convince companies we should do something together. It’s great.”
Before leaving Henry and James in peace for the rest of the afternoon, Professional Jeweller ask both Henry and James where they see the company being in another seven generations time. For Henry, he hopes to grow the retail side and wants to see the brand become bigger and “a bit more of a men’s lifestyle brand”.
James agrees as he states: “We are so proud to be celebrating our 230th anniversary. In another 230 years I would hope Deakin & Francis is still making fine, quality pieces for discerning men and women who appreciate a better product with integrity — but most importantly still having fun!”