‘The other day I had a couple of impeccably dressed ladies from an Italian fashion magazine come in looking for hipsters,” says William Cheshire, a designer based in Hackney, east London – not the most obvious shopping destination for overseas tourists.
As well as being a mecca for hipsters, over the past five years the area around Hackney and Shoreditch has become a popular place for independent jewellers to set up shops and workshops.
This part of London is not about to take on Bond Street, but visitors continue to arrive in search of unusual and handmade pieces.
They might even walk away, were the jewellery to be branded.
At Thor & Wistle in Shoreditch – a store with a vintage ambience where fashion and jewellery coincide – there are gold-plated entry-level pieces from new British designers such as Dominique Lucas and Rachel Entwistle.
Work made on the premises includes a £250 alchemist’s pendant that comes hand engraved, cast in sterling silver and then oxidised.
Branch on the Park, in Hackney, sells commissioned rings and other one-off creations designed by Julia Cook, a goldsmith who trained at Central Saint Martins.
Meanwhile, Mr Cheshire – a furniture designer-turned-jeweller who learnt his trade under Islington-based Stephen Einhorn and then designed and made jewellery under his own name for Silas, the Anglo-Japanese fashion label – says sales of more expensive pieces are rising. Examples include his £3,600 Venus Fly Trap ring in 18-carat yellow gold with a tsavorite garnet.
Mr Cheshire’s jewellery shop opened last year in Hackney’s Broadway Market, a traditional market street beside London Fields in E8. Business is brisk at the weekend, but how much do his customers spend?
He says that when it comes to impulse purchases, the price range narrows to between £90 and £160. Customers tend to return a couple of times to see the more expensive pieces or wait for a special occasion.
London’s tourists usually stay in the West End, but the presence of fashionable hotels such as the Town Hall in nearby Bethnal Green and the Ace in Shoreditch indicates that tourism is on the rise in these areas.
“These tourist visitors give us great feedback – they seem genuinely delighted to have found a real, individual London shop with a bespoke, luxury feel in a more edgy, bohemian area,” says Mr Cheshire.
When he opened his shop he took out a 10-year lease and fixed the rent for five years. He has recently moved his workshop from Hatton Garden, London’s jewellery quarter, to below the Hackney store.
“Around me, on Broadway Market, shops are closing and new ones opening almost fortnightly,” he says. “Landlords have been persuaded to raise the rents on retail and domestic [properties]. Some retailers have shorter terms, so they can find the rent going up 40 per cent in some cases overnight.”
The story is similar in Shoreditch, where Thor & Wistle can be found. It opened in 2012 on Club Row. Kamilla Thorsen and Rachel Entwistle, who founded the store, do not own the building but have secured a long lease and a “fairly competitive rent”.
Other local independents have been less lucky. According to Ms Thorsen: “The rates in the area are climbing fast and many independents in certain streets, such as Cheshire Street off Brick Lane, have had to shut down or move due to inflation.”
The pair say tourist numbers in general are on the rise and they have noticed an increase in UK visitors. “During the week the crowd is local, comprising well-educated, design and environmentally conscious people,” Ms Thorsen says.
Nevertheless, they rely on wholesaling their respective brands – Rachel Entwistle Jewellery and Dynasty – to other retailers to boost overall revenues.
“I have lived in the area for 20 years and I would never have opened a jewellery shop until about four years ago, when I felt that at last the time was right,” says Ms Cook of Branch on the Park.
Her customers are mostly Londoners on the hunt for investment pieces. But she notes that Japanese tourists often wander into the shop, with a guidebook to independent London retailers clutched to their breast.
Bella figura: Italian glamour at the V&A
Elizabeth Taylor spent nine months in Rome filming Cleopatra in 1962, writes Helen Barrett. According to Richard Burton, her co-star and later her husband, she learnt just one Italian word during her time in the city: Bulgari.
Extravagant fine jewellery, once owned by the British-born actress and now in the company’s own collection, will be on display at the Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014, an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from April 5.
The exhibition will trace the extraordinary glamour and craftsmanship of Italian fashion in the second half of the 20th century. It includes work by the creative postwar entrepreneurs and artisans whose luxurious designs marked an end to the wartime austerity.
Among the jewels on show will be an emerald and diamond “tremblant” brooch, worn as a hair ornament in this promotional picture of Ms Taylor to publicise her 1963 film, The V.I.P.s.
Julie Ann Morrison, managing director of Bulgari UK, which is sponsoring the exhibition, says the company’s history is reflected in the exhibition.
“It parallels the postwar period at Bulgari, when the third generation of the family took over the company. In this we see echoes of the stylistic heroism and refinement of fashion designers of the times.”