Hatton Garden is a gem in London’s crown, but if it’s not looked after properly, it could be in danger of losing its sparkle.
People often associate London’s jewellery quarter as a place to find diamond deals, and go from window-to-window looking at similar designs in search for the best price — but many in the industry know it has so much more to offer customers and trade professionals alike.
It’s full of hidden talent – including goldsmiths, engravers, and graders to name but a few areas it shines – and most recently a wave of
British designers have landed in the area to build their brands and pump new blood into London’s jewellery home.
These new designers are intent on making sure Hatton Garden remain a place celebrated for its craft, and they are enjoying using the area to source loose stones, tools, and metals, to keep the original spirit of the historical hub alive.
Hannah Martin arrived in London as a wide-eyed teenager, dreaming of a career as a sculptor, but a three-day course in jewellery caused her to fall head over heels for a new profession.
Following a degree from St Martins, and a stint in Paris, the designer launched her eponymous brand in 2006, and knew from the get-go Hatton Garden would be the company’s base.
“Even whilst at art school I was based in this area, it has been my home for many years,” shares designer, Hannah Martin, who describes her jewellery as sexy, timeless, and opulent. She continues: “When I set up the brand I didn’t really consider being anywhere else. All our craftsmen, outside of our in-house workshop, are based here. Most of the jewellery trade come in and out of Hatton Garden, even if they are not based here. It just makes life a lot easier (on the production side).”
Similarly, Emmet Smith, the founder of signet ring-centric firm, Rebus, wouldn’t want his business to be based anywhere else.
Smith studied the jewellery pre-apprenticeship course at Sir John Cass School of Art & Design, where he touched upon various aspects of jewellery crafting and fell in love with hand-engraving. Exploring this area further, he secured an apprenticeship with R H Wilkins Engravers, where experts helped him strengthen his skills.
Smith shares of his story: “Once I completed my studies with R H Wilkins, I left the country to travel for a few years and soon after I returned to work, Ray Wilkins was keen to retire and presented me with the opportunity to buy the business, which I did.
“A year or so in, I decided to set up Rebus, a business to consumer, and made the decision to specialise in seal engraved signets rings.”
Having always been based in the Hatton Garden area, Emmet Smith didn’t want to leave, especially as he feels it mirrors the personality of his brand.
He explains: “I really love working here. It’s the heart of the London jewellery trade and feels authentic. It reflects the ‘refined grit’ personality of the Rebus brand.”
Ruth Tomlinson arrived in Hatton Garden late last year, moving from an open plan space in Holborn to an independent atelier in London’s jewellery quarter where she creates modern heirlooms often inspired by the stones she uses.
“On graduating from my MA at the Royal College of Art, I was very lucky to get a studio at Cockpit Arts in Holborn,” shares Tomlinson. “Our home there housed our entire operation — design, production, marketing, wholesale and retail and spanned 15 years and three upgrades of studio size.”
She continues: “It was always part of the plan to find our own independent atelier, but we had to wait until it was the right time for the business to handle it, so as we began to outgrow our Cockpit Arts studio the hunt of our new home began. We looked across London and found ourselves overwhelmed. Finding something to tick all the previous boxes, with the added element of a dedicated showroom/retail space, was tough. Ultimately, we found a building in Hatton Garden that just felt exactly right, offering enough space as well as a rich and fascinating history (it used to be a bullion dealer in the 19th century). It’s close to our suppliers and also in a central location that’s easy for our clients to get to. Although it’s just half a mile from our previous space, it feels like a totally different world; tucked away in a quiet pocket of a lively, buzzing community. Set over three storeys, it definitely feels like a coming of age.”
While designers are landing in Hatton Garden with a head full of dreams, the current reality is still a long way off from how they hope the area will be in the not too distant future.
Emma Franklin, who specialises in creating bespoke engagement rings and wedding bands for clients and decided to base herself in Hatton Garden to be close to her suppliers, fears that the area has lost its charm, a sentiment Hannah Martin agrees with.
Emma Franklin shares with Professional Jeweller: “Hatton Garden is different from yesterday. It’s not as creative, and losing its charm rapidly due to Crossrail and the movement of big companies trying to move to a ‘cool’ area.”
Martin echoes: “It is hanging on for dear life! It’s a great place to be, but I feel the life and soul of the jewellery trade is being drained away.”
Coming in with fresh eyes, Tomlinson can see Hatton Garden has started to lose its romantic appeal, but is optimistic about the future.
She remarks: “Hatton Garden is a mixed bag. There are a lot of stores that sell jewellery, retailers and traders, family-run institutions that have played an important role in keeping the area’s name, but don’t necessarily add to its curb appeal. I think for bridal clients who visit with romantic notions, it can feel a little cold and even intimidating.
“That said, there’s a distinct change afoot. The designers moving in are all championing individuality and a personal service, which is something we feel is essential for that all important commitment purchase.”
Smith from Rebus adds to the conversation: “Author Rachel Lichtenstein describes it perfectly in ‘Diamond Street’, a book I very much recommend to jewellery lovers, ‘Hatton Garden is the fold in the map, a place on the edge of different borderlands’ — literally and metaphorically. Hatton Garden is the underdog, the place no one expects.
“We get mixed reactions from customers when they visit our workshop. Some love the gritty feel of the place and others expect to find the famed jewellery quarter to be more Mayfair-esque. Once you start talking about the history and the expansive rabbit warren of workshops in each building, it tends to peak intrigue and excitement about the authenticity of the area.”
Looking ahead these designers hope the jewellery industry will be able to remain at the centre of Hatton Garden, but are concerned rent increases will push people out.
“I am genuinely concerned about the life of Hatton Garden, as I have seen quite a few workshops closed and people unable to meet the crazy rent increases we have all been battling,” shares Hannah Martin. “The area around us has changed dramatically over the years, particularly with the advent of Crossrail. In many ways it is great — there is now an abundance of good coffee shops for example. However, it is not great when small businesses and many of the craftspeople we work with are being forced out of the area altogether.”
“This is still the heart of the jewellery industry in London — and I hope it will be able to stay that way,” she adds.
In an ideal world they would like to see Hatton Garden return to its former glory, just with an injection of fresh designers mixed in with tradition that simply cannot be replaced.
Tomlinson explains: “There’s space for old and new to co-exist here. I hope that as more jewellers and makers move in, the area will become a destination for unique design. I don’t think there’s a simple answer to changing things overnight, but I think the BID can help with the area’s overall profile. It needs to be seen as desirable for luxury retail, rather than somewhere you can get a ‘deal’. It has the potential to be something really special and much less stuffy than the West End, more design and craft-led, more about a celebration of materials and craftsmanship. An ode to the past, but championed by the designers and makers shaking things up.”
She continues: “I think the trade are doing really well here, there’s a buzzing community behind the big steel doors; caverns of workshops, vaults and studios, all filled with people who are passionate about our industry and incredibly good at what they do. We need to nurture their skills by supporting them and encourage an interest in younger generations to continue the legacies of these skills that are quickly getting lost to technological alternatives.”
These aren’t ‘new designers on the block’ looking to do away with the old to make room for the new. They are very much champions of the area, looking to make sure it shines for years to come.
Businesses need to adapt to survive on the British high street, and the same goes for specialists areas like Hatton Garden.
To hold on to a heritage does not mean to stand still. Places survive when they evolve to meet current market needs. For companies in Hatton Garden that means welcoming new industry professionals to the area; finding ways to stay relevant in a digital-age; and helping emerging designers find their feet.
For those budding designers who may not be able to afford to rent a studio in Hatton Garden, but want to use it as the main source for jewellery supplies, Tomlinson advices: “Hatton Garden has a strong sense of community, talk to the local suppliers and trades people and you’ll find what you’re looking for. My advice would be to get out there, start building relationships, meet people, and have conversations, don’t get so immersed in your brand or work that you forget to look up and around you, there’s so much to learn.”
As for other trade professionals, don’t forget to pop in, say hi, and show support to new jewellery firms opening in London’s precious jewellery quarter.