Jewellery provocateur on a controversial year in business.
Nicholas James owner Nick Fitch was recently unveiled as a Tresor Paris Trendsetter in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. He takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about collaborating on a diamond-set shoe brand, launching a revolutionery new website and, of course, those controversial soverigns.
Professional Jeweller: What have been your highlights of the year?
Nick Fitch: Highlights of the year have been plentiful actually. On a professional note I have enjoyed working with a bunch of diverse and aspirational people recently. These projects bring with them a sense of purpose and a desire to establish what it is that I find exciting after many years in the jewellery world. It has been a fantastic year for exposure for the company and we have now established the Nicholas James brand further by taking it to a wider audience in ways that might not have been expected.
PJ: You have moved out of London this year. How are you coping?
NF: Moving out of central London with my family and getting on a train to work has been interesting, but I now see the benefits of living out of town and like the fact I can now distinguish a beech tree from an oak! I actually enjoy commuting – it’s a bit like bolting on an extra couple of hours of ‘you’ time onto the day which can be surprisingly productive, even in a carriage full of bodies.
PJ: How do you deal with challenges in your business life?
NF: I am constantly hit by challenges but it is for this reason that I have become involved in so many different projects this year. If it weren’t for the challenges it would be very dull! Overcoming them is a combination of being pragmatic, dogmatic and refusing to be beaten by a good idea that won’t immediately translate into a working idea.
PJ: You raised a fair bit of controversy with your Soverign rings. Did you expect there to be that much fuss around the launch? Did you mean to be so provocative?
NF: Yes, they caused a small stir with a small group of people but the thread was widely read so they have achieved a certain infamy in the trade. I was surprised for being accused of glamourising Jack The Ripper when he and his grisly world were such perfect subject matter for bringing the lowly Sovereign Rings back up to the top of the jewellery food chain. Yes, I meant to be provocative, but not controversial. The funny thing is, I have, at a relatively mature stage in my career, learnt that there’s no such thing as bad press. I still don’t see them as controversial and since they have been on display in the shop long enough to judge I can safely say that the rings are most popular with professional women of all ages, particularly the ring named Slag. It causes a response and immediate impact on my customers who totally understand and enjoy seeing me be more creative than they might be used to. The initial fuss has long been replaced by a desire to do more of this unexpected work. Our social media presence went through the roof when The Sovs launched. I also had a lot of supporters who were pleased to see the darker side of Mr Engagement Ring!
PJ: You’ve been extending your creativity to a whole range of non-jewellery projects – bikes, chopsticks, puddings, etc – can you tell us a bit about why you’ve been doing this, is it brand extension or personal passion? And will you be taking this further?
NF: It is not abject brand extension although this clearly is a bonus of collaborations, but rather a personal freeing of the spirit. After 20 plus years in the trade and reaching certain professional goals, it has been extremely important not to stagnate and flex the grey matter – it reinvigorates by taking you out of your comfort zone and forcing you to think outside of the box.
I will certainly be on the lookout for more of these opportunities because of these reasons. It brings you back to the day job better, more focused and with creative juices flowing.
PJ: Which was your favourite of the projects?
NF: The Brogue Bicycle was probably the greatest project of the year because it was the first time I have worked with someone who is more anal than me – I thought that was impossible! Simon Harcourt, who had developed the bike idea and wanted to show off his leather skills, was very taken with my suggestion of diamond embellishment and we went on to spend many hours locked in vigorous conversations on detail and execution of fine work – areas that can be lacking in some parts of both our trades. It was great to meet my match in that way and I do love the end result. The bicycle is very special in the flesh as all the hours of work can be clearly seen and even non-bike enthusiasts are smitten on first sight. It grabbed a load of media attention too, with a full page in The London Evening Standard and a slot on Channel Four’s prime time Sunday Brunch lifestyle show.
PJ: What inspires you as a designer at the moment?
NF: I have been caught up in all things British this year. The Tweed Run with the Brogue bike was like going back in time and I found it stimulating that people go to extraordinary efforts to stand out from the crowd these days. This leads on to a desire to design jewellery that individualises people and sets them apart. A more character defined basis for design excites me – trying to capture the person in the design. I find my customers a great source of inspiration as they are now ready to free fall with you on the whole design journey and that usual sense of conservatism with bespoke jewellery is being very quickly eroded. I like that. The Diamond Jubilee and Olympics have again bought this sense of being British to the fore and defining that in design is challenging and exciting.
PJ: How would you describe your approach to work?
NF: Unbalanced and unplanned as much as possible! I try running the Nicholas James brand and shop with a commercial edge and business mind as this allows me to play with the more unconventional and, dare I say, perhaps less profitable side of things, such as design projects that may never even be made with a view to selling. I can see me ending my career surrounded by a collection of weird and wonderful jewellery and items but it will all tell a story and give the children something to fight over!
PJ: How do you manage your work-life balance and how do you relax off the job?
NF: I am terrible at relaxing. I don’t know how to do it. My young sons are probably my escape valve in so much as I am forced to a playground mentality and that is relaxing in it’s simplicity. Children are a great leveller. I used to work out four times a week which was excellent for relaxing but now don’t seem to have the time. I am a very light sleeper, bordering on insomniac, but it is at three o’clock in the morning that I will be thinking about jewellery.
PJ: What are your plans for the next year?
NF: I am currently working with a fast up-and-coming shoe designer and we plan to launch a luxury shoe range if our ideas are transferable from concept to reality. It is not just about plonking some diamonds onto a shoe – it is more about the diamonds being an intrinsic part of the structure and design. We are also launching a cutting-edge new website taking advantage of all the latest web technologies and will test the transactional side of the business online too. This will take a great deal of my time because as I said to our website developers, I want the new site to be unlike any jewellery websites out there. We have now fixed on a concept and if we can pull it off, I would like to think we will be able to steal the digital crown, for a week or so at least! As ever we will continue to improve on and increase our commercial jewellery brand and I’m sure a few things are waiting around the corner that I don’t even know about yet.