A family jewel: how family-run Boodles has become England's most historic fine diamond retailer
Boodles' marketing director and sixth-generation family member James Amos tells Tempus about Boodles' family tree
In a world of mass consumerism, multi-generational artisans in Mayfair are keeping the crafts of their ancestors alive. Away from the high gloss of the corporate-owned window displays, with all their conceptual gilded animatronics and operatic set designs, there is an older world of classic bespoke and other craft, much of it still in the hands of the families that founded their businesses one or two centuries ago.
There are workshops and archives that have survived world wars and developed a gorgeous patina from the everyday craft that they facilitate. Here, Mark C O'Flaherty explores the iconic Boodles jewellers, where marketing director and sixth-generation family member James Amos, tells us about running England’s most historic fine diamond jewellery retailer.
Talk us through the family tree, to where we are now with you...
The business started in 1798. Our family got involved in the mid- to late-19th century. The original founder was William Wainwright and his son was Henry Wainwright. His sons were Harold and Herbert Wainwright and Herbert’s son was Captain Antony Wainwright, my grandfather, who took over in 1945 when his father and his grandfather died within two weeks of each other. His two sons, Nicholas and Michael, now run the business as chairman and MD – their sister is my mum. Jody Wainwright, my cousin, is the commercial director and I’m the marketing director.
Was it expected for you to join the business?
No, not necessarily. My mother is not connected to the business, so I suppose I was lucky to get the nod and get the call up, and I had to earn my stripes on the back of that.
How does being a family-run business benefit the company?
When competing with other Bond Street brands, we’re not a faceless brand. There are lots of wonderful jewellery brands who have other things we don’t, but we’ve got real people and I think that’s very important when dealing with our customers. We also have a very real relationship with them – it’s not a transactional business. It tends to be relationships formed over a long period of time. The family is very involved, almost to a fault. We do between 150 and 200 events a year and there’s usually a family member at every event. >>
How has the product changed since the company was established?
Between 1798 and 1990, we were effectively a county jeweller. If you looked in one of our shop windows, you would’ve seen lots of lovely silver, candlestick holders, carriage clocks, grandfather clocks, watches and jewellery... none of which we designed ourselves. In 1990, we took on a designer, Rebecca Hawkins, who’s still with us today. She started by designing one jewellery collection, called Hug, and it went well, so we started designing more collections. Between 1990 and where we are now, it has effectively been a renaissance – we have the same core values as a company but we’ve changed immeasurably in terms of our offerings.
What inspires the designs of Boodles’ fine jewellery collections?
There will often be an organic feel to it, such as a floral theme, or we do quite a lot linked to water. Two years ago, we did a collection called the Poetry of Landscape, inspired by key places around the UK, such as the South Downs, Jurassic Coast, Cornwall and the Yorkshire moors. Two years before that, we linked in with the Royal Ballet for their first-ever jewellery collaboration. We produced some exquisite jewellery, on the basis of Rebecca spending a couple months in rehearsals, time with dancers, ballerinas and the archives. In two month’s time, we’re launching Always a Story, which is part of our Wonderland high jewellery collection. It’s made up of 25 individual pieces of jewellery, each one of which tells a separate story. When we do high jewellery, the designers love it because they get the chance to do something amazing. We give them carte blanche to go away and design amazing jewellery.
You’re also known for buying important or unusual diamonds.
That’s one other area which has become important for us. In fact, I got an email from my uncle and my cousin an hour ago – they’re in Antwerp and they just bought two lovely pink diamonds. They promised not to spend too much, but that’s what they’re doing today. My cousin in particular, has spent a lot of his working life sourcing interesting stones from around the world. We’re linking up with the Cullinan mine in South Africa this year to get some of their more interesting diamonds – many of the world’s blues come out of there. Sometimes we’re buying to order. Other times we’re buying to then present to the designers and say, “What can we do with this that’s interesting?” We always try to add design to the diamond offering.
Words and photography by Mark C O'Flaherty