Jewelry center hopes gentrification won't overwhelm history

BIRMINGHAM, England – Kirsty Griffiths’ delight was evident as she held on to a pair of 22k gold rings, newly reshaped from her grandfat...


BIRMINGHAM, England – Kirsty Griffiths’ delight was evident as she held on to a pair of 22k gold rings, newly reshaped from her grandfather’s heavy wedding ring.

“One for me and my own marriage and one for my aunt,” Mrs Griffiths, 31, recently said in a cramped jewelry shop. “My grandfather left him the original.”

The rings are now in the form of an anchor Birmingham Analysis Office hallmark certifying the purity of the gold and the LL insignia of their manufacturer, Lora leedham.

Ms Leedham, 35, is part of a generation of independent artisans working alongside large heritage companies in the gentrifying neighborhood known as the Jewelry Quarter, a hub for manufacturers since the 18th century.

Tour guides say about 40 percent of all jewelry made in Britain today is created in the neighborhood (although no one interviewed for this article could confirm that number). But many in Britain consider the neighborhood – which covers around 270 acres in this multicultural city of more than 1.1 million people in the West Midlands – worth a visit to shop for bespoke items like wedding rings. wedding and engagement.

The Jewelry district development trust, a group working to revitalize the neighborhood, estimates that more than 800 jewelry-related businesses, including more than 100 retail stores, operate in the area. They employ 4,000 people, according to Ben Massey, marketing director of the National Association of Jewelers, which is also based here.

Confidence is heritage walking trail guides visitors through the mix of old and new storefronts and other points of historical interest. At Jewelery Quarter Museum, visitors can book ‘time capsule’ tours that show the museum’s two-story, red-brick Victorian building as it was on the day in 1981 when the jewelry company Smith & Pepper closed after more than 80 years on the site.

The district is also home to the Jewelery school, established in 1890 and now part of Birmingham City University, which has stated that the school’s annual enrollment of 400-500 students makes it the largest such school in Europe.

But the neighborhood has changed, with the installation of trendy hotels and organic cafes and the transformation of vacant low-rise brick warehouses into luxury apartments, prompting many jewelers to voice concern about the causes commerce to be pushed back as spaces are saved or reallocated and rents inevitably rise.

The trusted site, for example, shows a developer’s plan, totaling £ 258 million, or $ 358 million, to turn a parking lot into “a whole new neighborhood, including a 39-story tower.” Another developer is turning an abandoned pub called the Gothic and neighboring buildings into apartments, a restaurant and a boutique hotel as well as what the project’s marketing describes as “commercial / creative spaces” occupied by “local and independent trades” .

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council issued a statement which said: “We welcome investment and new developments to Birmingham, and the council is committed to achieving inclusive growth that benefits everyone in all of our communities. We will continue to do our utmost to ensure this is the case through our involvement in the ongoing regeneration of the Jewelry District and other parts of the city. “

Ms Leedham has, at least so far, avoided having to move.

“I don’t have a big, chic, shiny studio,” she says. “I have a dusty Victorian workshop with history and memories and broken windows and people who visit it love it because it’s authentic and I believe that’s how it should be. I make everything by hand; it is also extremely important.

The jeweler said she learned “the old fashioned way, with a saw and a file.” His wooden workbench is covered with tools: files, hammers, tweezers, cutters for drilling, a doming block for shaping metal and a gas flame. The bench itself “belonged to the jeweler who was here for 40 years before me and it must be around 100 years old,” she said.

But the building where she’s been making jewelry since 2006 has a new owner. Fortunately, she said, the business “just moves us upstairs to new workshops and says they’ll keep the same rent for the next two years.” They were really nice.

Being in the neighborhood was also important for the independent manufacturer James newman, 45, who started out selling pieces at art fairs and trade shows, but now has several employees in his workshop and a stylish showroom on the ground floor.

“When people walk through our door, we look and feel a little different – kind of like the restaurant where you can see the food being prepared,” he said in an interview with alongside his dog, Fudge. “You can see we have a workshop. You can hear the workshop.

“More people are more interested in a piece that makes more sense than just buying it off the shelf,” he said. “They like to know that someone has made a play for them or with them. They like to know who that person is. I really love that you can be a part of someone’s story.

Mr Newman, who spent three years at the Birmingham Jewelry School, described his designs as “a little more rustic, a little more bohemian, a little more ‘out of the ground’. Some parts look like they are 1000 years old, but we only did that this week.

One display case contained pieces like a ring with a textured, hand-forged platinum band and a pear-shaped gray diamond. Another held a silver pendant with 18k yellow gold soldered to the surface. Prices for the items on display ranged from £ 380 for a tourmalized quartz birthstone ring at £ 10,500 for a 2 carat salt and pepper diamond and platinum ring.

“If you are looking for a classic design, say a four prong Tiffany ring with a white diamond, then the jewelry quarter is very good because every store has the same design and they compete on price,” he said. declared. “But to the people who walk through our door, it becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly that we’re not just buying things; we don’t make anything en masse.

Mr. Newman sees the pros and cons of the quarter’s changes. “Twenty years ago very few people lived here, it was so very industrial,” he said. “Now it’s become a really cool place to live. There are more bars, more restaurants, more nightlife. Twenty years ago, after 5 p.m., you’d be rather worried about walking down some streets. “

Still, he finds it “frustrating” that many older buildings in the area are not being maintained, “so the developers will come in and keep a facade and build 600 apartments behind”.

For independent designers who don’t have a street-level storefront like Mr. Newman, word of mouth is especially important. Kate smith, 43, whose first workbench was in his parents’ garage but whose studio is now a floor above Mr. Newman’s, specializes in nature-inspired designs for alternative wedding rings, engagement and eternity.

“We’re hidden backstage so you wouldn’t necessarily know we’re here,” she said, “but I like it that way. It makes a client’s visit even more special for him. .

She couldn’t imagine not working in the neighborhood, she said. “This is the busiest year I have had. We have a lot of my gemstone suppliers and metal dealers here so it’s extremely convenient. That has changed, but you still feel like you are part of the fabric of the region.

For couples who want to make their own wedding rings, there is the neighborhood workshop, led by Victoria Delany, 39. Held in a studio inside an old coffin factory and now museum, the one-day course costs £ 480 plus materials, which can range from around £ 65 for a thin 9k gold bracelet to over £ 600 for a large 18k gold bracelet.

Her workshop is on a street occupied by new construction and, she said, “there is an underlying feeling that maybe some of the trades are going to be kicked out of the area and it becomes something else. “

And the environment has already changed in some ways, she said. “When you walk around the neighborhood you can also see a lot of storefronts selling very similar things,” she said, “with a kind of ‘we’ll beat any price’ style that doesn’t give you all the history of the district and the artisans who are here.

Some of the biggest heritage brands still exist, of course.

Henry Deakin, 39, is CEO and seventh generation family member to lead Deakin & Francois. Its manufacture, specializing in men’s accessories such as enamelled cufflinks and gold signet rings, still operates in the building where it was founded in 1786.

“We’re a bit of an iceberg here,” he said. “There aren’t many other British manufacturers like us left in the jewelry district.

The company says 25% of its annual £ 3.5million turnover comes from the United States, working with brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Company and Ralph Lauren. She also manufactures for British and European names like Asprey, Garrard and Cartier.

Yet change is in the air. “We were 250 people in this building,” said Mr. Deakin. “We are now 26 years old, so it’s immediately reduced. But in fact we are having a good time, we are busy.

The company opened a retail store in the Piccadilly Arcade in the St. James district of London; intends to launch a new line of gemstone jewelry for women in September; and hopes to open what Mr. Deakin has called a “behind the scenes” visitor center within 18 months.

Gentrification is “a hot topic right now,” he said. “The sane thing we would do would be to sell our building tomorrow, move somewhere, have a specially designed and very stylish factory.

“But that’s not really what we’re talking about. We’re lucky to own our building, although it’s tempting when the developers start giving out silly numbers. Our heritage and our history are there and I think we will lose that charm if we move. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

And there are many reasons to stay, he said: “The analysis office is around the corner; the artisans are local here. What will happen in 10 or 20 years, I cannot say. This building is a bit damp, a bit dusty, but it’s our home.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Jewelry center hopes gentrification won't overwhelm history
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