The manufacturer of the world’s finest cufflinks is right here in Brum – and reaching a major milestone this year
There are all sorts of puns you could write about the business run by brothers James and Henry Deakin. ‘Off the cuff’ and ‘the missing link’ are two that spring to mind. And both would be relevant descriptions when talking about Deakin & Francis. The Birmingham cufflinks makers is the oldest family jewellers in England, stretching back to 1786. This year, the company is celebrating its 230th anniversary as manufacturers of the world’s finest cufflinks, with the seventh generation of the family at the helm. But while its rich heritage is important, it is what the business is achieving right now that is really impressive and grabs the attention. “As well as the oldest business, we can also say we are the most modern too. We have certainly become one of the UK’s youngest brands in the last decade,” says James. “We are always looking to stay ahead and for the next trend and exciting designs.” It is this ‘link’ with heritage and quality translated into what today’s discerning buyer wants that is driving the success of the business in 2016.
“Our dad retired from the business about 10 years ago and, as every generation has before, we have taken things on and met the challenges and changes needed,” says James. “In the past the company supplied some of the most famous, high-end jewellers without our names appearing on the product or the box. We felt that our heritage and quality meant that we needed to address that. Now every item and box is stamped with our name and we are a brand that people look for and want to buy.” While sumptuous, stylish and even slightly oddball cufflinks (the spinning aircraft propellers, black sharks and walking tortoises come to mind!) remain the core of the business, Deakin & Francis also produces handmade rings, pendants, bangles and pins from its base in Regent Place in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter – which has been home for all of its 230 years. The business currently employs more than 20 highly skilled craftsmen. Both brothers are graduates in gemology – James, 40, studied at the Gemological Institute of America, while Henry, 34, attended the International Gemological Institute in Vicenza. In addition, James is also a graduate in jewellery and design. Every piece is designed by James, while his brother heads up the business as the MD. “I guess you could say Henry is more the business brains while I am more the creative, design one,” said James. “But there aren’t any barriers or anything, we both get stuck in with everything to do with the business.” As we spoke, they were preparing to showcase new designs at Baselworld. The annual event in the Swiss city is the world’s biggest and best watch show which also features leading international jewellery companies. Deakin & Francis were unveiling exciting products, including the new Fundamentals range. “We have a wicked stand which puts us right there in front of all the major world buyers,” explained James. “After that, we have more shows in Las Vegas and London among others.” As well as designing retail ranges, Deakin & Francis also produces bespoke items for some of the world’s richest and most famous. While James is protective of naming names, he gave one example of the huge craftsmanship involved in making jewellery for these discerning and demanding customers.
“We were asked to make a pair of cufflinks featuring an exact copy of the customer’s personal huge super yacht scaled down to just 27mm,” said James. “It was a perfect copy, right down to reproducing the exact colour of the blue tiles of the boat’s swimming pool. I sat down with the client and discussed what he wanted, then drew the sketches, and then made various models before the cufflinks were produced using precious metals and stones. It took us four months to make them in our workshops.” Such time-consuming individuality comes at a price – running into thousands of pounds a pair. “The level of quality in what we do is the same whether you are talking about an item costing a few hundred pounds or thousands,” explained James. “It’s the time required to produce bespoke items and the metals and stones used that reflects in the cost.” The company is also commissioned by leading multi-national giants, such as Ford Motor Company. “We are producing limited edition cufflinks to mark their new GT car,” said James. “They will be under 30mm and in 18 carat gold costing £4,500 a pair or in sterling silver priced at £400.” It seems there’s nothing Deakin & Francis can’t make to adorn your cuffs or lapels. We can only imagine what exciting treats James and Henry have up their sleeves in the future…