Deakin & Francis has been making jewellery in the same Birmingham factory for more than two centuries. We talked to seventh generation Henry Deakin about the past, present and future of one of the city’s most treasured companies
Over 240 years of trading, Birmingham jewellers Deakin & Francis has encountered more challenges than most, from wars to depressions. The pandemic is just the latest to be overcome by one of the city’s most historic companies.
Henry Deakin, who runs the seventh-generation business with brother James, said: “Let’s just say it’s been an interesting year! I live in the countryside, so personally being more at home has been great, but our 600 retailers around the world have all been shut at various times. So, online has been very important and we have managed to keep the factory open and taken the opportunity at the same time to look at some new systems and think about ideas and plans for the future.”
Among those plans is one to open up the factory more to visitors once the pandemic regulations allow. “The factory employs 26 people and because the building is so historic, it’s actually what you can call a proper working museum, so we’d like to turn the factory into an area that’s open to the public so they can come and see how the jewellery is made by our craftsmen.”
Founded in 1786, the company is England’s oldest family jewellers and was originally known as Deakin and Moore before becoming Deakin & Francis and then a limited company in 1902. The business has remained in the same Jewellery Quarter building in Regent Place that once had as its resident James Watt – father of the Industrial Revolution, namesake of the unit of power and revolutioniser of the steam engine. Today it is managed by Henry and James who carry on the tradition of designing and hand-making items which go into some of the world’s most famous shops, including the likes of Harrods, as well as creating bespoke commissioned pieces.
For much of its history Deakin & Francis only supplied jewellery to the industry – a strand of the business which they still do today. The company has made pieces for some of the world’s most famous brands which then have that designer brand’s moniker stamped on. “We do still manufacture for big brands, though I mustn’t say too much about who buys from us and then adds their own name,” said Henry, who went on: “Oh, to hell with it… I think I can tell you one of the people we manufacture for is Ralph Lauren!” So, now we know…
Deakin & Francis launched its own website eight years ago, and three years ago opened its first store in London’s Mayfair. Sixty-five per cent of the firm’s business is now done in the UK (in the past 70 per cent was in the US) and 90 per cent is own brand, with 40 per cent of retail sales now direct.
The firm produces everything from fine ladies’ jewellery, rings and cufflinks to a wide range of lifestyle accessories for the individual and the home. “People really like quality things that are made in England,” said Henry. Bespoke jewellery, such as signet, engagement or wedding rings, are particularly popular with customers able to pick their own stones and designs and then visit the factory to watch their piece being made.
Remaining at the heart of Birmingham and the local economy is key to the business. That closeness to the community is perfectly illustrated by Deakin & Francis’s partnership with Midlands Air Ambulance Charity to celebrate the life-savers 30th anniversary. The jewellers exclusively crafted 100 sets of limited edition cufflinks and 100 lapel pins featuring the charity’s ‘pulse’ motif.
Henry said: “The pulse collection, made in the Midlands for the Midlands, is a design we are particularly proud of as the sale of every pair of cufflinks or lapel pin will directly help fund life-saving air ambulance and critical care car missions in our region. And I’m pleased to say that sales of these unique pieces have been going very well.”