As part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 local authorities were invited to submit bids for their towns to take on city status in a process overseen by the deputy prime minister’s office.
Beating off 22 hopeful towns, Chelmsford received the ‘civic honours’ accolade alongside Perth in Perthshire and St Asaph in Denbighshire. Home to Essex County cricket team and Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford was recognised as one of the fast-growing towns in the South East of England.
Before gaining city status Chelmsford had a cathedral, a crown court, a university and a prison. It was also the county town of Essex.
While the change in status was purely honorific and conferred no additional powers, functions or funding, it did prove that there is something special about Chelmsford, which is now the youngest city in England and the only one in Essex. Located in the London commuter belt, approximately 32 miles northeast of Charing Cross, Chelmsford’s population consists of a large number of City and Docklands commuters, attracted by the 30–35 minute journey from Central London via the Great Eastern Main Line.
The main challenge for the high street? Jostling for the commute belt pound.
Being so close to London means locals who commute to the capital have a higher disposable income, but it also means when residents in and around the area are planning a shopping spree, Chelmsford has to fight to keep consumers from hopping on a train and spending money in the likes of Oxford Street.
Chelmsford High Street
Chelmsford’s high street is a slightly unusual one, in the sense that it consists of not one, not two, but three shopping areas within close proximity.
Furthest away from the station you have Meadows shopping centre, which is located by a river. While when it first opened it might have been the heart of Chelmsford’s high street, it is now in quite a sorry state, with lots of empty units and during Professional Jeweller’s visit, the least amount of footfall.
Housing stores such as the Card Factory, Boots and Superdrug, the only jeweller inside Meadows shopping centre is Warren James. On the high street nearby just a short walk away, the other side of the river, resides two independent jewellery retailers Lance James and Lovedays. While neither wanted to participate in the cityscape, we did pop by to have a look. Lance James is a very modern independent jeweller, with a light and contemporary feel and its fashion jewellery brands placed centre stage in the front window.
Lovedays is the stark contrast. Having been long established in the city on the corner of Baddow road, the jewellery store has quite an old feel to it and specialises in offering consumers something special. Pieces in the window include traditional designs and silver goods at competitive prices.
Moving further along the high street towards the next shopping centre you pass Swarovski, Charles Fish, Fraser Hart and Ernest Jones in prime positions surrounded by the likes of Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Boots.
In fact, all four jewellers are located a stone’s throw away from each other, and all enjoy a place near the entrance of the other two shopping areas, which are almost opposite each other.
High Chelmer shopping centre is the older of the two and upon visiting it was a lot busier than Meadows, and offered a greater variety of stores including fashion chains River Island, Primark and Miss Selfridges. In terms of jewellery retailers, Ernest Jones and Pandora can be found inside.
Across the road Bond Street has been welcomed as the latest and more upmarket addition to the high street.
After 15 years in the making, Chelmsford’s £150m Bond Street shopping complex finally opened to the public in late September last year.
The new Bond Street retail and leisure development, which is completely outdoors and pedestrianised, opened with 17 shops and seven restaurants, all anchored by a 120,000 sq ft John Lewis department store.
It is said that the Bond Street development increased Chelmsford’s city centre by about a quarter, and offers a luxury section off the main high street for locals and tourists alike to explore.
While meeting the city’s jewellery retailers, many commented on how Bond Street has been great for business.
Pandora’s operations manager, Garth Coverdale, remarks: “The new Bond Street development will keep shoppers staying locally rather than losing them to London or large shopping centres that are also close by.”
“The investment into the town, boosting it to ‘city’ status has helped businesses attract customers who would normally focus their weekend shopping in the likes of Westfield and Oxford Street,” echoes Charles Fish store manager Cathy Mealing. “It [Bond Street] also has a less urban feel than other shopping areas and a gentler pace than high impact shopping malls.”
For Goldsmiths, the development presented an opportunity for the jewellery retailer to move into the Bond Street shopping district and open its largest show room in the UK.
The new space features a large dedicated Rolex area, as well as two other branded sections to showcase its Omega and Breitling watches.
On the jewellery front, Mappin & Webb’s elite jewellery line and the brand’s By Appointment bespoke bridal service is available in the Chelmsford boutique, alongside the store’s exclusive collaboration with Jenny Packham.
At the moment Goldsmiths is the only jewellery retailer in Chelmsford’s Bond Street shopping area.
Independent jewellery retailer, Krafft Jewellers, which is located just off the high street on the road leading to the station, has benefited from visitors travelling to the city to shop in the new John Lewis store.
“I’ve seen an increase in people coming in from out of town, and because we are near the rail station, we get the footfall of people coming down,” explains Krafft Jewellers director, Danny Stapleton. “We’ve had customers coming in asking the best place to park to come into John Lewis, so they are people who have never been to Chelmsford before. So there are definitely more people coming in from out of town.”
He adds: “We’ve had a few people moan and say we don’t need it, but I think it is a great thing for Chelmsford. Generally it has been good for us.”
Chelmsford City Council senior communications officer, Laura Ketley, told Professional Jeweller that since its opening footfall has increased in the area, and this has over-spilled into the rest of the high street.
She remarked that so far businesses have been performing above expectations. “Some of the new Bond Street retailers have been taking money well in advance of their targets, outperforming other branches considered to be in more desirable locations,” Ketley explains.
While there are still empty units in Bond Street, the locals are hopeful these will be filled by prestigious brands.
As a whole, the majority of jewellers Professional Jeweller visited seemed very positive about business in the city, and confident in the belief that things are only going to get better.
Jewellers in the City
Chelmsford boasts of a variety of jewellers, many of which have been trading in the city for a long time.
Krafft Jewellers, which was one of the busiest on the day of visiting, has been based in Chelmsford for over 40 years. Currently run by Danny Stapleton, who joined the family business in 1987, Krafft specialises in traditional new and pre-owned jewellery, alongside a competitive repairs service.
“It’s a typical, traditional local business,” explains Stapleton. “We are not in the high street, we are just off the beaten track, but that sort of has its good points and bad points. If we provide a good enough service then people come up, and we also benefit from the fact that we have been here for a long time. Any sort of local business, if they are trust worthy and good at what they do, people will come in.”
He continues: “I think people like local business, it’s something a bit different and they trust it a bit more. You don’t get that by luck though, it’s by hard work. You’ve got to look after your customers, especially now with social media, if you don’t listen to someone it’s not just a case of them not coming back, but you can put things online now.”
Krafft Jewellers prides itself in looking after its customers, no matter how large or small the purchase. It provides quick turnarounds for repairs, and offers a unique selection of antique jewellery in the city, which is one of the store’s bestselling categories.
Over at COO Jewellers, located on the high street a couple of minutes walk away from Krafft, the focus is on its bespoke jewellery service.
COO Jewellers opened its doors three years ago and aside from Chelmsford, it also has a place in Hatton Garden for consumers to visit.
“We’ve got a store in Hatton Garden and there is a perfect rail link from Hatton Garden to Chelmsford, so if we need anything we can get it here within an hour,” shares the store manager, discussing the reason for its Essex presence. “So it’s like having Hatton Garden dropped into Chelmsford. All the choice and values you can get in Hatton Garden are available here.”
COO Jewellers is a family run business and while it does sell ready-made pieces, which can be purchased at the Chelmsford branch, most customers come into the store to create something different — whether that’s a completely unusual design, or asking for different gemstones on a piece in the window that has caught their eye.
The manager explains: “We do repairs, bespoke and re-modelling. A lady just walked in for instance wanting a rose gold nose stud for her daughter but couldn’t find one anywhere — but we can make it.” 95% of COO Jewellers business is bespoke commissions, unlike other jewellers in the city, which, if anything, only offer bespoke as side to other things. COO Jewellers has positioned itself as the bespoke jeweller on the high street, giving it a unique selling appoint to stand out from the competition.
“People get what they want. You can say you like this wedding band but with sapphires, that’s fine we will make it. You can say you like this channel set band but have tiny fingers, that’s ok, we will cast it in your size. It’s pretty much the answer is yes, what do you want?”
Like Krafft Jewellers, COO Jewellers also offers a quick turnaround on repairs and is known for this by locals in the city.
Elsewhere, almost on a diagonal from COO Jewellers, independent jewellery retailer Charles Fish offers a combination of branded goods, pre-owned jewellery and in-house designed bridal jewellery and engagement rings.
Charles Fish has been established on Chelmsford’s high street for 20 years, originally under the name Fish brothers before rebranding to its current name in 2015. With the rebrand the Chelmsford store has a much more modern feel, moving away from traditional colours in favour of a grey palette and open plan.
Store manager Cathy Mealing shares: “Charles Fish has always attracted a real assortment of customers. We’ve always been on the high street and have always offered traditional services alongside our modern brands so it works well at appealing to all demographics.”
Charles Fish is the only stockist of Links of London in the city and as such does really well with the brand. Olivia Burton and Thomas Sabo also sell very well for the boutique, alongside high end pre-owned watches which Mealing says attracts customers from afar.
As an independent jeweller stocking branded jewellery competition for Charles Fish includes Lance James and the multiples such as Fraser Hart and Goldsmiths. In 2006 Charles Fish swapped its small Swarovski concession for a concept store, which is now located next door and underwent a major refit in 2015 as well. This, and the store’s prime location and sparkling customer service, gives Charles Fish an edge over others in the city.
Discussing the store’s approach to customer service, Mealing says: “Customers can rest assured in the knowledge that we will provide a quick and efficient service when needed, but at the same time can also offer a more personal and relaxed shopping experience to satisfy individual tastes.”
Jewellers in Chelmsford are in a great position because the City Council only has it eyes on making it better.
Not only has Bond Street still got some units to fill and business to pull in, High Chelmers is also being regenerated and the high street is welcoming new restaurants this year.
In terms of development, Chelmsford City Council is working on a new local plan, which will shape future growth and development in Chelmsford until 2036.
While the Council will continue to develop the city over the next year, the new local plan will be adopted in 2018 and will make sure that the right types of developments are built in the right places.
Chelmsford Pandora’s operation manager concludes: “They are really moving forward with its development within the city. Making vast improvements to its shopping and restaurants mix. This will in term improve footfall and the consumer experience.”
In five short years Chelmsford has proved its worth for city status and it will be interesting to see how it progresses over the next five, and what, if any, new jewellers will join its diverse and attractive offering.