Walking around Brighton it doesn’t take long to figure out this is a place with a unique personality and a vibrant nature. The shops alone speak wonders about the city by the sea as independent jewellers find themselves in the company of stores offering vintage clothes, vegetarian shoes, photo-gimmicks and organic food.
Brighton centre has three main shopping areas all in close proximity of each other – Churchill Square, North Laine and The Lanes. These three can easily be visited in one day and they all have something different to offer consumers.
Churchill Square is the city’s main shopping centre, offering over 80 high street stores. Inside the centre the multiple jewellers – Ernest Jones, H Samuels, Goldsmiths and T H Baker – can be found on the upper mall all within a stone’s throw away. Churchill Square also houses a Swarovski concept store.
For The Lanes and the North Laine it is mainly the independent jewellers running the show. In North Laine independent jewellers such as Silverado, Posh Totty and Makena can be found. This vibrant area of the city has more of a fashion-vibe, with jewellery retailers stocking base-metal jewels and commercial brands, and neighbours offering consumers home accessories, clothing and art. The Lanes however hosts Brighton’s very own jewellery quarter, with no fewer than 20 jewellery businesses all in a row.
Jewellers in Brighton are certainly not afraid of competition. In fact, the majority say that being in a jewellery hub is one of the best opportunities Brighton gives them as a jewellery retailer.
Nicola Morris, one of the founders of Goodman Morris, an independent jeweller stocking a mixture of original contemporary work and other designers, comments: “Brighton is well known for jewellery so we do get people from all over the south east come to look particularly for jewellery.”
Goodman Morris co-owner, Alex Goodman, adds: “I don’t know if what we do is the biggest part of the market, but there definitely are people coming in looking for something specific, and they come to Brighton because of its reputation as a jewellery centre and a creative hub.”
“We’ve got an alternative crowd here so people are looking for something different, something edgy”
Historically, the Brighton jewellery quarter used to be known for its antique stores, but over time that has adapted and now The Lanes features an eclectic group of independent jewellers offering between a mixture of contemporary jewellery, bespoke designs, wedding bands, engagement rings and store-made pieces.
Ring Jewellers has been trading for over 10 years in Brighton’s jewellery quarter. When asked what opportunities Brighton gives the retailer, Stuart Stanley answers: “Although a lot of people view The Lanes as very competitive, the flip side is it gets really known as a jewellery area.
“When it comes to jewellery a lot of people think of Hatton Garden and Brighton, but The Lanes has a more relaxed atmosphere, which is kind of a Brighton thing in general. It’s very popular with the public and we get lots of visitors from all over the country.”
When it comes to comparing Brighton to Hatton Garden, it is clear speaking to the jewellers in The Lanes that they feel they have the upper hand.
“There are 370 independents in Brighton, there is nowhere else like it in the country,” says Pavilion Diamond sales account manager Jacqui de Groot. “Hatton Garden is very clinical and cold, whereas The Lanes is warm, bouncy and flamboyant. It’s a small area, which covers a large amount of shops. Brighton is a gem and The Lanes is at the heart of a unique place.”
On average Brighton has over 8.5 million tourists visiting the city. With an infamous pleasure pier, bustling seafront and plenty of bars and restaurants, it is no wonder people flock to the city by the sea.
Store manager of Goldsmith’s Brighton branch, Chris Jones, comments: “Brighton is very buoyant at the moment. The tourist market seems to be as reliable as usual and the pre-wedding season has been really good to us. People come here for the weekend to visit ‘London-by-sea’ and have a great time.
“When people are really enjoying themselves for occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries, they like to take home a memento – for some that’s a piece of famous Brighton rock, or a photo on the glorious Pier, for others it can be that sparkly diamond they’ve researched time and again online or the Swiss Watch that they’ve idolised through the windows at home but never committed to buy. Holidays create the best memories in all of us, and we get to be an integral part of that.”
Notably, Brighton jewellers have noticed an influx in people from London visiting the city specifically for the jewellery quarter. Aside from the time Professional Jeweller visited Brighton in the midst of Southern Rail struggling to provide its services, in recent years travelling between Brighton and London has been made easier and quicker, with express trains available which take under an hour.
In addition, the quick and easy travel service between the two cities has paved the way for more people living in Brighton and working in London, and in turn increasing the average amount of local disposable income.
“It is the connection with London that makes a big difference,” says Goodman. “It means people can live here and work in London and then there is just a bit more money around. That makes things better for us because there are people around who have more money to spend.”
Brighton is a distinctive place to live, and those who choose to take up residence in the city more often than not love individualism and creativity.
It is Brighton’s eccentric crowd that allows independent jewellers selling their own contemporary jewellery to thrive alongside high street chains.
“I came to Brighton originally because I used to come here a lot most weekends anyway, I decided to move down here. At that point I was in Wimbledon, and I decided there was nothing like this down here,” explains House of Hoye jewellery designer and store owner Jeremy Hoye. “There wasn’t really anyone doing contemporary jewellery at the time. So when we opened up here we opened on a very small budget, and there was lots of antique shops around, and slowly its evolved and changed and a lot of people have followed suit.”
Hoye continues: “You can be a little bit more outward guard here, you can push boundaries a bit more, people are a lot more open to what you are doing. We are in a bit of a bubble here really. If you leave here and go to other cities you miss it. I had a London store in Soho for five years, but I was finding London hard work. I don’t really enjoy going there much anymore so we stopped doing that.”
“I’ve noticed the world has gone crazy for digital and we are a digital business but because we manufacture in the UK, which is something people should be helping us with, instead we can’t find any building to go into because nobody wants the manufacturing element of it”
For jewellery designer Jason French, who has worked for the likes of jewellery giants such as Graff, Brighton provides the perfect place for his Baroque Jewellery boutique, which he runs with co-director Pippa Knowles.
“We love the city and we felt we had something else to offer the city,” French explains. “We’ve got an alternative crowd here so people are looking for something different, something edgy. So it is great for us because we can do all sorts for customers and they are happy to go in all sorts of directions. People are happy for people to look like they want to look and be what they want to be.”
A number of jewellery store owners mentioned to Professional Jeweller that Turkish-owned jewellery businesses have cottoned on to Brighton’s successful jewellery hub and started opening up stores.
Unfortunately some local independent jewellers have felt this has bought The Lanes’ reputation down, as the Turkish-owned stores have a different selling approach and the quality and authenticity of their jewellery offering has been questioned.
However, walking around Brighton first-hand the flamboyant character the city is famous for shines above this. It is still very much feels like a professional jewellery quarter, with a wide offering for consumers who travel near and far for the Brighton jewellery experience.
Other than that the Brighton jewellers Professional Jeweller spoke to had very little complaints about business in the city. At the time of speaking, many of them were mostly concerned about the Southern Rail train service. Over the last few weeks many trains have been delayed or cancelled due to lack of staff causing some people to think twice about making a journey to the south coast.
Aside from the current train problems, parking can also prevent people from travelling to Brighton.
“There are issues with parking in Brighton,” explains Morris. “It’s expensive and it is difficult, so actually sometimes customers come to pick something up on a Saturday and parking can be an issue. It is really difficult, because what do you do?”
For the managing director of jewellery retailer Posh Totty, the biggest problem with Brighton is manufacturing space as the company makes its jewellery locally. Alice Rivers-Cripps comments: “I’ve noticed the world has gone crazy for digital and we are a digital business but because we manufacture in the UK, which is something people should be helping us with, instead we can’t find any building to go into because nobody wants the manufacturing element of it. We’ve got chemicals, we’ve got fire, so they don’t want that in their place. So we really struggle.”
Interestingly, while some grumbled about the buskers and seagulls, no jeweller mentioned the mass amount of competition surrounding them as a challenge. Instead, everyone we spoke to felt confident in their store, product and positioning.
Ring Jewellers says its greatest assets are its bespoke offering and customer service as the team are happy to meet with consumers four or five times for design consultations, without them even committing to a purchase.
For Posh Totty same-day engraving helps the business stand out from the crowd, alongside selling its own jewellery and accessible price points.
“We start at £50. We try and appeal to everybody, so we’ve got studs and charm necklaces at low price points, and then we’ve got solid gold and diamonds at the other end of the price range,” Rivers-Cripps explains. “The fact that we are personalised is also different, because it isn’t something that many jewellers down here offer, they are much more diamonds and big settings.”
Goodman Morris used to stock 90% of jewellery from other brands, and 10% of their own, but now the jewellery retailer only stocks about 30% of other designers’ pieces.
“Brighton has such a great jewellery quarter and there are two of us in the business, so we decided to have a shop each splitting our time between the two shops”
“It’s quite important to have your own thing going on and the obvious way to do that is to have our own jewellery,” Morris explains. “You have to work with real integrity, because if you are producing stuff that is right for you to make just keep moving with it. If people want to copy you, they will try and copy you but they are always playing catch up. Everything is finished very well and we hope in the end it will make us stand out. Some people will get that, but it is not for everybody.”
Goodman adds: “We also put a lot of time and energy in changing our displays. We try to do something that is quirky and interesting.”
Jeremy Hoye likes to make sure House of Hoye looks different to other jewellers. Currently the shop’s store front is a bright red and it is certainly hard to miss walking down The Lanes.
“Over the years we’ve gone through looks,” Hoye shares. “We found at one point we had it very white and minimalist, now you’ve got every jeweller doing the same. These so called contemporary jewellers that sell the likes of the so-called contemporary brands come out with this white generic store, which has got a one feature wall and a place to have a champagne. The way we have the store now, the store is meant to be an extension of my personality and like they are stepping into my living room.”
One thing that struck Professional Jeweller walking around was the amount of jewellers with two physical store premises in Brighton. Some had stores in both The Lanes and the North Laine, while others had one in the North Laine and seafront.
Rivers-Cripps has three Posh Totty stores in Brighton. One is the company’s flagship, another is along the seafront and only open seasonally and the last acts as a space to hold workshops.
Independent jeweller Baxter and Hanks has two stores, both in The Lanes, only about a two minute walk apart.
Director George Pavlides explains: “There are a couple of reasons why we decided to open up a second shop in Brighton. Firstly, Brighton has such a great jewellery quarter and there are two of us in the business, so we decided to have a shop each splitting our time between the two shops. Secondly, we were running out of space for all of the jewellery that we want to display.”
All in all the Brighton jewellery scene is as vibrant and unique as the city is often portrayed. It has everything to offer and more, from the big brands, to the multiples, to independents selling traditional and antique jewels, to stores selling their very own designs just a short walk from each other.