Given current events, you’d be forgiven for not immediately thinking ‘jewellery’ when talking about Leicester. The city has been going from strength-to-strength recently, most notably with the discovery of Richard III back in February 2013, and more recently, the monumental Premiership League win of Leicester City FC this year, against the odds of 5000 to one.
The city has many hidden surprises seeped in its 2,000 year history. For a start, it is where Sir David and the late Lord Richard Attenborough grew up, on the campus of the University College where their father was a lecturer. It is also where Gary Linekar began his career in the 80s, playing for the city’s home team.
This diverse city, spanning a vast 73km², boasts a varied selection of jewellers; from high street giants to hundred-year-old businesses, and fine diamond specialists to traditional Asian gold jewellers, the options are endless.
Whilst there is no distinct jewellery quarter, the stores themselves are gathered in clusters across the city’s expanse. The city’s core and Haymarket shopping centre are on the whole, the place to find a mixture of recognisable high street names and luxury independent jewellers.
The fine jeweller
Sitting pretty along Loseby Lane is luxury boutique, Lanes Fine Jewellery. Despite being a relatively recent addition to the city, it has already made its mark, both by offering specialist diamond services and by being the official Leicester City FC partners, which it undertook back in 2014.
Diamond consultant and bespoke jewellery designer at Lanes Fine Jewellery, Natalie Murden explained: “We’ve been here for about three years, although the history of the company is in Hatton Garden. Laura the manager, and Ercan Onguc the owner, worked there for about 20 years between them. They’ve got a lot of the raw manufacturing knowledge, which I think Leicester was missing: until we got here!”
“The butcher up the road has been doing some Rainieri sausages, so perhaps we could do some little sausage pendants! The win gives a feel-good factor generally across the board. I don’t think I’m going to be making £250k diamond rings on the off chance somebody will buy it though”
The aim of the game here is not necessarily the hard sell, as Murden explained. “We would normally spend about 45 minutes with a customer, educating them about diamonds. It’s not about being commercial and providing mass products. Everything we have in the window we’ve only got one of. We just give an example of what we can offer. Everything is bespoke and we can offer some really unusual and unique designs.”
General manager and diamond and fine jewellery specialist, Laura-Jayne Sames, added: “We have a wealth of experience, so we’re not so much a shop, we’re here to give customers advice. We advise rather than try to sell straight away. We can make you whatever you want, so we advise and work with customers and provide a bespoke service.”
Popular items are bespoke solitaire and eternity rings, which makes sense given the stores diamond credentials: Sames is a GIA-trained diamond grader.
Since the win, Leicester has been in a state of celebration, with the official parade having taken over the city on May 17. What impact has this had on sales for the jewellers? “The atmosphere has been electric,” said Murden. “Everyone has really got behind the team. It’s more of a city thing than just the football. It has brought everyone together and everyone’s really supportive. It has been really, really positive.”
Sames added: “It’s a bit too early to tell whether it will translate to sales just yet. I think once the boys have gone on their holidays it’ll sink in. The city’s too on fire at the moment to be worrying about buying anything. It’s pure euphoria at the moment!”
“What I’d really like to see is more and more younger people getting into the industry. It’s so diverse; you can go into retail, or jewellery-making, production, wholesale, marketing – there’s so many different avenues you can go into jewellery from”
In such a large city with plenty of jewellers, how does Lanes stay competitive? Murden responded: “The defining differences between us and all of the other jewellers in the city, are firstly, we’re manufacturing jewellers, and secondly, we have on-site diamond specialists, which is often something people want to travel to get.” Speaking of her profession, Sames shared: “I started in jewellery at 15. People tend to enter the industry and never leave! There’s always something thing to learn!”
The ring bearer
As news broke of Leicester City’s win, managing director of Lumbers Jewellery, Dominic Gommersall, soon reverted his attention back to the world of jewellery, in a rather unusual way. Store director Michelle Dilley, explained: “When Leicester were crowned champions, Dominic, who is a great one for ideas, said, ‘we should make a ring based on the Premiership trophy!”
The idea soon became both a reality and a news story, and by the time I arrived, the BBC had already been to admire the impressive result. “He used the Premier trophy as inspiration, and so the ring design contains a big crown at the top,” continued Dilley. “We wanted something to make it special, specifically for Leicester, so we put a line of blue sapphires in the under bezel. Once the idea was planned out, we sent it to our designers. They put together a CAD for us, and they made this absolutely stunning ring.”
Lumbers has already made waves in recent times, with the move from Market Street to a more prominent position. Of the relocation, Dilley commented: “We’ve been in this site just over six months. We moved because that end of town seemed to be dying off. Here we’re much more prominent and the store is fantastic. The customer response has been phenomenal. We’ve had a much higher footfall and our customers love it. We also regularly host events for around 100 people upstairs.”
The new store’s sophisticated interior is matched by the luxury brands available in store, although pinpointing precise bestsellers is difficult. “It varies from season-to-season. We sell a lot of solitaire diamond rings, and last Christmas we had a really big run of diamond tennis bracelets,” said Dilley.
With the future looking promising, what’s in store for the ring itself? “We’ve had a huge amount of interest. We’ve got one or two buyer leads coming through. Obviously there are a fair few people within the club itself that have had a few big bonuses!”
The gold specialist
Venturing out of the city centre, I was intrigued to explore Belgrave Road, an area known locally as the Golden Mile. Home to a stretch of authentic Indian restaurants and colourful sari shops, the road also hosts a number of jewellers catering predominantly for a South Asian demographic.
Sandeep Kanda first worked at his father’s jewellers, before opening his own store, Sunny Jewellers. “My dad has been in the business for 40 years. My brother and I both joined the business, and we took it in different directions and made it grow.”
While the vibrant atmosphere of the street has a distinctive community feel, Kanda is well aware that competition is still a factor to be considered. “I compete on stock. Plain gold is what I’ve found my clients want; they want value for money and value for gold. I visit a lot of wholesalers every month and see who’s got what and what’s available. It’s the only way you can keep ahead of the game and see what’s coming in.”
Given the traditional nature of the jewellery on offer, it could be assumed that trends remain static. On the contrary, Kanda explained: “There’s a lot of antique-inspired jewellery now. People don’t want the very yellow, bright gold anymore. They want it a bit more discreet. I personally think the big ‘bling’ stuff will go, and we’ll see much smaller, much more delicate pieces that people can wear more regularly.”
Customer’s buying trends vary, given that a substantial amount of jewellery sold is for gifting, as opposed to everyday self-purchasing. “There are always buying occasions, whether it’s someone’s birthday, a wedding or an engagement. The dowry’s mostly gone these days; cultures still do it, so it’s not completely gone, but it’s more given to daughters from their parents when they’re moving away, so they’ve always got something to rely on. It’s a good gift to give in our culture.”
“I do find it a bit bizarre, because you don’t know when you open the shop in the morning, who’s going to come through the door. It might be someone who wants to spend five pounds, or someone spending a few thousand pounds. That’s what makes it exciting”
Kanda has also noticed a growing appetite for bespoke jewellery. “We do a bit of white gold as well, and we do platinum engagement rings and diamonds. I try to do that mainly bespoke. I find not many people want to buy off the shelf anymore when it comes to engagement rings; they want to put their own twist on it, and we can offer that service.”
Kanda is welcoming of the Leicester City win, and holds hope for a positive knock-on effect. “Any publicity for Leicester is good publicity really. 10 years ago it was a much more popular destination to come to because there was nothing else similar in smaller towns. But I think everywhere you go now has a certain Asian-centric bazaar where there’s loads of jewellery shops and Indian shops, whereas before that Leicester was the only one. Now with Leicester City winning the premiership we’re hoping that will bring people back by putting us back on the map.”
The workshop retailer
A recurring theme amongst Leicester jewellers appearered to be its bespoke offering; almost every jeweller visited stressed this element of their business. With this knowledge in mind, I headed to Queens Road, a picturesque street adorned with independent boutiques and chic bars. Michael Grundy, proprietor of Michael Grundy Jewellers, has been in his current store for 16 years, which includes a workshop where his creations come to life.
“After I trained, I worked from a workshop, but I wasn’t selling that many pieces so I thought I’d open a shop,” explained Grundy. “Now, what we make we sell through here. We also sell a few other independent brands.”
Given Leicester’s popular bespoke market, who are Grundy’s typical customers? “Anyone that dares walk through the door! I suppose middle-aged is probably our biggest demographic. Some people come for remodeling; to change some of their jewellery they bought in the 80’s and bring it up-to-date. Anybody and everybody really.”
For Grundy, competition is not at the forefront of his mind. “People will have a look around and go for whatever they like the look of. There are quite a few jewellers in Leicester. I don’t really try to compete that much, it’s not a football match.”
As the subject came up, I’m curious as to whether the win has affected business. “I’m pleased the team have done well, although I’m not particularly an avid fan. I was talking to someone the other day and I think it was 1978 the last time I saw a Leicester match. Business-wise, we’re a jewellers, so, no it hasn’t really had an effect. If we were selling football shirts it might be different matter.
“The butcher up the road has been doing some Rainieri sausages, so perhaps we could do some little sausage pendants! The win gives a feel-good factor generally across the board. I don’t think I’m going to be making £250k diamond rings on the off chance somebody will buy it though.”
Since opening, an integral part of Michael Grundy Jewellers is the workshop, where the emphasis is on handmade craftsmanship. “We do use CAD, but the majority of pieces we make are handmade. It’s useful for some things, so it’s a bit of both; it’s quite good for certain jobs.”
To an outsider interested in jewellery, the wide selection of businesses leaves customers quite spoilt for choice. Despite so many jewellers trading in the city, it’s interesting that the retailers themselves do not necessarily recognise the city as a ‘hub’. “I’ve only traded in Leicester, and when I started there was always a joke that reps never visit Leicester. If you spoke to a rep he’d be in Coventry, or Northampton, Derby, or Nottingham; not Leicester. It didn’t used to be a jewellery hotspot. There used to be half a dozen jewellers, but now, especially since the Highcross shopping centre, it’s massive.”
This second foray into CityScapes continues to reap extreme rewards; along with meeting and engaging with retailers and sharing the trials and tribulations of running a jewellery business, Professional Jeweller continues to be filled with optimism for the future of the industry.
As Grundy summarises: “The fact that there are all of these jewellery shops in Leicester, and we’re all making a decent living out if it, says something. New jewellers open all of the time, like Lanes Fine Jewellery, for example. They have some very decent jewellery in there. The few people I’ve known to have closed have been more due to retirement. I’ve had people come down from Nottingham and Derby for jewellery, and I think ‘why are you coming down here?’ But they come for a specific thing that we offer.”
As with any industry, businesses will always face challenges and there will always be ups and downs. For Grundy, that’s just part of the excitement. “I do find it a bit bizarre, because you don’t know when you open the shop in the morning, who’s going to come through the door. It might be someone who wants to spend five pounds, or someone spending a few thousand pounds. That’s what makes it exciting.”
Q&A: Divyan Pabari, proprietor of Silk Diamonds
How long ago did you open the store?
We opened in July 2008. I was 24 at the time, and I’d come from a retail jewellery background, working for some of the multiple retailers. With getting my retail experience I moved on to work in the head offices and gained more experience in valuations and insurance valuations. From that point, I worked out how everything worked, from trade to retail, and the whole method of production, and that’s what has brought me here today.
Did you find it quite difficult setting up?
Yes and no. Definitely jewellery is one of those trades where you need to have the knowledge and experience together – one alone won’t work. It can be very hard when you’re that young. I think you just have to be confident, and you have to be enthusiastic about what you want to do. Determination is key, is what I’d say.
Is it less restricting to be a first generation jeweller?
When you’re starting out as a first generation independent jewellery shop, you can really be as adventurous and creative as you want with the styles that you offer. Buying patterns are sometimes quite fixed as you grow bigger and bigger. From the other side of it, you’re starting out and you’ve got to be careful with the amount of risk, as certain designs may or may not work.
What are your bestsellers?
We do really well with the wedding business. With Leicester what I find, having worked in other places in the Midlands, is that it tends to be very specific enquiries. People are willing to spend but they usually have a specific requirement on either the style or the quality. That’s where I think we have a little bit of an advantage being bespoke as we can really customise the jewellery. We’re also offering the best prices we can.
Will customers be more willing to spend as a result of the football win?
I think so. More and more people from outside of Leicester are visiting. We’ve had people coming in from France and elsewhere in Europe, and even places like China and New Zealand. The football has put Leicester on the map, which is great as there’s a lot to offer here.
What’s in like being a jeweller in Leicester?
For me it has definitely been a journey. We started off with four or six engagement rings in the window, and that was it. When you start out it’s a big commitment to put in that sort of investment. What has really helped for us is we get a really positive feedback from the service we provide. We’ve been able to invest profits back into stock, and we’ve built up more and more and offer more variety. What I’d really like to see is more and more younger people getting into the industry. It’s so diverse; you can go into retail, or jewellery-making, production, wholesale, marketing – there’s so many different avenues you can go into jewellery from. When young people come to me and ask about the industry, it’s always nice to see. I’m always very happy to talk to them about how they can get into jewellery.
Leicester fact sheet
- Population: 330,839
- Workforce growth: 31%
- Unemployment rate: 2.1%
- Active businesses: 37,860
- City fact: BBC Radio Leicester was Britain’s first terrain local radio station
Leicester jewellers directory
Arti Jewellers, 65 Narborough Rd, LE3 0LE, 0116 254 5091
Beaverbrooks the Jewellers, Highcross, LE1 4FQ, 0116 253 7030
Churchgate Jewellers, 12 Church Gate, LE1 4AJ, 0116 223 0005
Ernest Jones, Highcross, LE1 4FS, 0116 251 3335
Goldsmiths, Highcross, LE1 4FT, 0116 262 0909
H.Samuel, 7-9 Gallowtree Gate, LE1 5AD, 0116 262 1149
Lanes Fine Jewellery, 25 Loseby Lane, LE1 5DR, 0116 251 2529
Lumbers Jewellers, 62-66 High Street, LE1 5YP, 0116 255 1233
Michael Grundy Jewellers, 64 Queens Rd, LE2 1TU, 0116 274 5968
Pandora, 18 Humberstone Gate, LE1 3PH, 0116 251 5052
Ram Jewellers, 116 Belgrave Rd, LE4 5AT, 0116 266 4278
Robinsons Jewellers Ltd, 16 Granby St, City Centre, LE1 1DE, 0116 262 8714
Rockc Jewellers, 21 Belgrave Gate, LE1 3YR, 0116 251 1630
Sona Jewellers, 112-114 Belgrave Rd, LE4 5AT, 0116 266 1142
Sunny Jewellers, 41 Belgrave Rd, LE4 6AR, 0116 268 1618
Swarovski, Highcross, Management Suite, LE1 4AN, 0116 251 5005
Tarratt, Market Pl S, LE1 6DN, 0116 255 4434