Luxury champion on new investments and mixing business with pleasure.
As John Ayton is awarded with an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list, Rachael Taylor quizzes the man about town on a very busy year that has seen him invest in upstart online business Boticca, take watch brand Bremont to the States as its chairman and continue his work at his own retail business Annoushka and luxury organisation Walpole at which he is a director.
For John Ayton, 2011 has been about reaffirming his position as a key backer for new initiatives in the British luxury jewellery and watch industries.
John has continued to help drive retail venture Annoushka and watch brand Bremont forward, continue his work on the board of luxury British association Walpole, and also put his money where his mouth is to support an emerging jewellery retailer he considers to be “groundbreaking”.
John, who founded Links of London, has been approached to invest in a number of jewellery ventures this year, including a high-profile retailer, but instead it was a tiny, brand new venture that caught his eye: online retailer Boticca, an online outlet that offers accessories, including jewellery, made by designer-makers across the world.
“The sheer number of designer-makers out there is huge and they are finding it difficult to find a marketplace,” explains John. “But now Boticca can offer them one.”
He first came across the site when buying a ring for his wife, jewellery designer Annoushka Ducas and said he enjoyed the function on the site that allowed him to converse directly with the designer of the ring. “I had this dialogue with the designer and she was able to make changes to the ring,” he explains. “It was altogether a pleasurable experience.”
The site does not hold stock but instead works as a platform to showcase jewellery, giving full control to the individual designers about how their brand is displayed on the site. Describing Bottica as unafraid of putting the consumer in direct contact with the designer, John is confident about Boticca’s growth and scaleability and he has been working closely with founders Kiyan Foroughi and Avid Larizadeh, who were named Ti Sento Retail Stars in this year’s Professional Jeweller Hot 100, since investing in the business.
“By selling directly to shoppers the designers can tell their story themselves and it gives them greater control about how their product is displayed and presented,” he explains.
John has also seen some of his more mature investments grow this year, such as British watch brand Bremont, which won a prize at the UK Jewellery Awards and has started selling in the US.
2011 has been a mix of work and play for John, who admits the line between the two is blurry. “I love business and don’t really distinguish between work time and play time,” he says. “In fact my best ideas often come when on holiday. I love to do a bit of work each morning before heading to the beach.”