Giorgio Buttironi talks to James Amos, Director of British fine jeweller Boodles, about the family business and what the future may hold.
The company is just over two hundred years old, was founded in Liverpool in 1798 and became increasingly prominent through the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries. His family merged their own jewellery business with Boodle and Dunthorne in the 1890s and bought the company outright in 1911. Moving forward in time, James Amos’s grandfather took over the company when his father and grandfather both passed away in the same week in the summer of 1945; he opened a second shop in Chester in 1960, and then another shop in Manchester. About thirty years ago they opened their first shop in London. Boodles continue to remain a family business, with four family members on the board.
How many shops do you currently have and how many people do you employ?
We have five shops in London, 3 in the north west of England and 1 in Dublin. The shops in London are located in New Bond Street, Sloane Street, Harrods, the City, and the Savoy Hotel. We have approximately 100 employees, split between sales staff and support staff. The sales staff are front of house, and focus on selling the jewellery, but we also have production, design, finance and marketing departments to help to support the company and build the brand.
Do you export internationally?
We do not officially export to other countries yet, and continue to sell everything through our shops in the UK and Ireland; that is our main focus. Although not currently exporting, we hope that an opportunity may present itself in the future – so far, we have looked at both franchising and joint ventures as a potential route into the Middle East. I think that would be a key area for us to concentrate on, more than anywhere else in the world right now, although China is always going to be interesting too. We have seen a lot more international business through our London shops over the last few years, particularly through our shops in Harrods and Sloane Street and to a slightly lesser extent on Bond Street.
Would you venture to the Middle East via your existing Arab client base in London?
We have a growing Arab client base in London, which has started to notice, and buy into our ‘Blossom’ collection, and this has paved the way for some high jewellery sales as well. Our Arab customers are usually from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Which countries in Europe would you consider?
It is a difficult question to answer. If one could choose any city in Europe in which to open a fine jewellery shop, then it would have to be Paris, with Monaco not far behind. But in reality the European fine jewellery market is already saturated, with a lot of fantastic brands such as Cartier, Bulgari, Van Cleef, and Boucheron. I think it would be difficult for Boodles, a typically British company, to compete against home grown brands on European soil.
Opening overseas is never easy. We opened a shop in Ireland and it took over a year, despite being under similar fiscal and legal jurisdictions and speaking the same language.
What’s the secret behind Boodles’ success?
I think family is very important because it allows you to take long-term decisions, which are not necessarily linked to satisfying shareholders over a two to three year timeframe. We often think about what the business might look like in 10 or 20 years’ time. One day I hope that my children might want to work in the business too, so family continuity is very important as is the advice passed down from one generation to the next.
The most important changes to our company can be traced back about twenty years, when we decided to start designing jewellery for ourselves. Before then we were a successful regional jeweller, selling manufactured jewellery and watches, but none of them made by Boodles, and without a proper sense of identity. So we took the decision to wave goodbye to all third party brands (apart from the amazing Patek Philippe watch brand) and to sell products that had been designed and made by Boodles. It is a far more exciting business, and we have become a recognised brand.
If I was to pick one word that stands out above all others, and that has been a key to Boodles’ success, it would have to be ‘focus’. My grandfather talked about the importance of focusing, and the four family members who are in the business today continue to talk about focus. We are focused on designing and making beautiful jewellery, we are focused on building customer relationships, and we are focused on our long term family business objectives.
What are the current trends in the international jewellery business?
There are many trends in the jewellery world – some we follow, and some we decide not to. Individuality is just as important as following trends. One of the most exciting trends is the resurgence of interest in the big three coloured stones; sapphires, rubies and emeralds. They peaked in popularity about twenty years ago and then the jewellery buying public turned their attention to diamonds, but coloured stones have come back in force over the last two or three years, with emeralds on top of the list. Our stunning ‘Greenfire’ collection consisting of 18 of the fabulous Colombian emeralds bears testament to this.
Another current trend is for ‘opera length necklaces’; five years ago, they wouldn’t have been seen in the Boodles collection, but we have designed a number of lovely long opera length necklaces, and had success selling them too…!
There is of course a huge trend for coloured diamonds, although it is perhaps more than just a trend. Many buyers are purchasing coloured diamonds for their investment potential – at Boodles we love coloured diamonds, and have just bought an amazing pear shaped pink diamond and a marquise shaped blue diamond as well.
Where do these stones come from?
Pink diamonds usually come from Australia, whereas yellow diamonds are more likely to be of African origins. The best quality emeralds come from Colombia and the best sapphires originate in Sri Lanka. Similarly, the best rubies are from Burma. We buy all our diamonds through the main diamond centres in such as Antwerp and New York.
What was the impact of the impact of the recent financial crisis on business in this sector?
It depends where our shops are situated geographically. Our shop in Ireland suffered more than the others due to the Irish recession, and our regional shops have probably been slower over the last five years than our London shops. The London based luxury sector is on the crest of a wave at the moment and it appears to have been insulated from many of the problems that other parts of the UK have experienced. The presence of affluent international customers are spending time in London plays a big part in this.
What’s the future for Boodles?
It is difficult to look into the future and there is no one correct answer – as a family business, we only commit to something when we are all singing from the same hymn sheet. Personally, I would like to see Boodles develop its internationally standing so that we become a recognised international brand. The last decade has been exciting, but we have only just scratched the surface in terms of international potential.