FEATURE: Meet the Bristol jeweller bucking high street trends

Once in a while Professional Jeweller stumbles across a jeweller that is so inspiring, the team can’t stop talking about the business for months.

This was the case when our editor, Stacey Hailes, went to Bristol this the summer and spent some time with John Titcombe in Clifton Village.
The eponymous owner first opened a store in the city in January 2000, following a career manufacturing pieces under the name ‘Anvers’ in Birmingham’s renowned jewellery quarter.

Getting off to a successful start in retail, Titcombe opened a second store in the heart of the Cotswolds in 2003, and then when the opportunity arose five years later to expand in Bristol and open another store across the road, the founder jumped at the chance, and up until now has been operating from two units opposite each other in the city.

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John Titcombe is the very definition of a manufacturing retail jeweller, and therefore has something truly different to offer its customers. All products are made and designed in house, with the exception of some wedding bands and cufflinks, and in Bristol the company has a growing team of CAD designers, goldsmiths, and stone setters.

A new bar for customers to enjoy.

It didn’t take long for John Titcombe to make a name for itself in Bristol, with people travelling far and wide to buy exclusive fine jewellery designs.

Today, the business continues to go from strength to strength, and consumers are increasingly opting for larger stones, higher value products, and bespoke pieces.

While bespoke has been key to business since the beginning, in recent years the company has seen demand rise and John Titcombe has been keen to give this service a dedicated space.

Needless to say, when Lloyds Bank, which occupied the unit next to the original boutique, announced plans to leave — John Titcombe seized this the opportunity to open a flagship.

MAKING A DREAM A REALITY
Before Lloyds Bank announced its closure, John Titcombe was looking to renovate the original unit because buildings in Clifton Village are rare to come by, and when one does appear on the market, it tends to be small and snapped up quite quickly.

So it was the perfect storm. The jeweller was looking to expand, and the right space came up at the right time.

Not only was the space next door to John Titcombe’s boutique, but it was also on the corner where all traffic enters the quaint village.

Discussing the timeline of events, John Titcombe’s business manager, Mark Smith, shares: “Essentially the process started in April 2017 when we became aware that the previous occupiers of the premise, Lloyds Bank, were looking to close. Being next door we were very interested in expanding our premises. Originally we were looking at renovating the original premises, which is now 20 years old, but then there was this opportunity to expand into next door and we decided to do it.”

Getting the keys took time, especially when the building belonged to a charity, and the jeweller had to negotiate with two separate landlords to tie together two separate leases, with agreement that the business could knock down the wall in between.

“That took from September 2017 to essentially getting the keys in the second week of May 2018,” reveals Smith.
As soon as the keys were in the company’s hands they wasted little time in breaking stone and making their dream of opening a flagship a reality.

A lot of our customers have come in and they are ecstatic with how we’ve grown and they are loving the experience they are getting in here.”

It’s important to note that this is no ordinary new store or refurb. Every element, big or small, has been designed by the man whose name is above the door. From the furniture, to the cabinets, to the finishing touches of each individual room, the flagship, which opened in Bristol at the end of September, is the end result of John Titcombe’s very own vision, and reflects his skills in design and craftsmanship.

“There is nothing in here, other than the two main doors and the windows, that were kept,” says Smith. “Everything else is brand new and been bespokely made for us.”

The two-story showroom features a workshop on the top.

He continues: “All of the walls are new. Where we are now upstairs was originally five rooms – kitchens, toilets, storage etc – so we had to remove all of that and knock through. We also needed to add new ceilings, new electrics, and new lighting to make it firstly, 21st century, and secondly, fit for a modern upmarket jewellers.”

Where possible the jewellery retailer used local workmen to bring the vision to life — and what a vision it is. Aside from the striking jewellery pieces inside the windows and cabinets, the first thing anyone notices when they walk through the doors is the modern and chic white marble floor that alludes luxury, and was chosen as a visual and practical option.

On the first floor consumers can sit down with the jeweller’s design and CAD team to see bespoke commissions come to life before their eyes.
This area comes complete with a bench in the window, which John Titcombe will often work from and consequently draw in a crowd, alongside a TV screen which teaches people about CAD before they even come in.

Upstairs consumers can discover a wider selection of John Titcombe jewellery, and enjoy a complimentary drink at the bar when waiting for a repair service or enquiry, or just wanting to look around at a leisurely pace.

“The end goal was to bring in inspiration from boutique hotels and high end luxury, but with a bit of a spin. It had to be warm and inviting, not cold and clinical, and John wanted it to feel like the reception areas of boutique hotels, but bringing in the Georgian architecture as well,” says Smith.

He adds: “We wanted it to feel luxurious but be practical. So be a little bit different. The floor is a bespoke design that John decided on. The whole point of it is to give a feeling of luxury, but also to have some ‘wow’ factor. We really have changed the fabric of the building from what it was originally.”

John Titcombe has certainly achieved its goal, with our editor using the word ‘wow’ when she walked through the door and saw the transformation.

Unsurprisingly, the retailer’s customers have been delighted with the look, feel, and service of the flagship.

“They have loved it,” Smith tells Professional Jeweller. “They have come in and the words have been ‘amazing’, ‘wow’, and ‘oh my God’. A lot of people have seen the process because it has always been open they’ve been able to peek inside and be involved in the project. I can generally say I have never seen so many people staring through a window than when we were putting our tiles down. It was unbelievable. At one point we had about 20 people staring through the window. When you are laying a metre square tile it’s not something you see every day and people were stopping and staring. They were gobsmacked really. And now people have been in and seen it finished, and they have been as pleased as we are.”

“We want our customers to follow us on this journey and they have. Quite a lot of our original customers have come in, and they are ecstatic with how we have grown and they are so happy for us and they are really loving the experience they are getting in here.”

BUILDING BUSINESS IN BRISTOL
When Professional Jeweller visited the store it had only been open four weeks, but already the smiles on the staff’s faces showed it had been a month to remember — and not only because they’ve now got a glamorous new place of work.

The jeweller has already seen a lift in business, although the team didn’t want to give too much away about how successful the opening has been. We can reveal though that within the first couple of weeks someone famous came in and bought an impressive ring.

Smith shares: “The business has always been successful, but I’ve noticed more jewellery is being sold. So it has been good.”
“Obviously bespoke has always been a huge part of our business, but by adding the dedicated room that has improved too. People are really liking the experience of sitting down, sitting with the designer, and going through their unique CAD design.”

Throughout the new store John Titcombe wants to highlight how everything is made with care — whether a piece designed and made by the team in the shop window, or a bespoke item created to meet a specific criteria.

The business has always been successful but i’ve noticed more jewellery is being sold.”

This is why the jeweller decided to place a bench in the window. No matter how much the business embraces new technology to strengthen its offer, it will never stray far from its roots and will always finish each piece at the bench.

“Bristol is very much a tech city. It’s got lots of technology companies based in and around it. They are very aware of CAD design. A lot of our customers use it in their industries or in their jobs. But they also understand with ours it is just the start. You might design something on a computer programme but that is literally just the beginning of a pieces journey,” Smith explains.

“The store has John’s name on it, so we want customers to know that he really cares. Same with all of our staff really — they have to care.”

And the staff do care because they are well looked after. A quick look at the staff room, which resembles a modern yet homely kitchen, reveals the store has been designed with its own people in mind.

Looking ahead, the team want to look back this time next year and know they made the right decision.

The true impact of Brexit may be around the corner, but that doesn’t faze this independent jeweller, who urges other retailers to look forward and focus on what they can control.

The new space combines modern technology with traditional skills.

“Over the road, when we opened the second Bristol boutique, we looked back and knew it was the right decision. So that’s our goal. To look back next year and say, ‘It was worth it, our customers like it and are customers are happy’. That’s why we do it.

“You read the press and what’s going to happen, but I think sometimes you’ve got to make your own decisions based on what you feel is right.

Looking at the outside world and reading the news, it is all negative, but you’ve got to make individual decisions and move forward. We signed the lease for the store across the road and two weeks later the credit crunch hit. We could have tried to get out of it, but we owned our decision. We made the decision for the right reasons and it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Our turnover increased dramatically, and it was an amazing decision. This one hopefully will turn out to be an even a better one.”

For Christmas John Titcombe will be keeping the decorations simple and understated, and very luxurious. However, when it comes to the tree the jeweller will be using its new found space to make a statement.

The workshop is already busy making bespoke orders, which usually take 3-6 weeks to finish.

The jeweller is hoping to have a sparkling Christmas in its new home, and then its New Year’s resolution is to get a new website up and running.

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