W Carter & Son has been in the same premises since the business was established nearly 200 years ago. Brian Holmes inherited the company with his brother Tad when their father died in the 1950s. “Apart from carpets and paint, the shop interior is the same as it always has been,” says Paulette Newman, Brian Holmes’s daughter and another director in the company, gesturing at the floor-to-ceiling cabinets, all dark wood and glass. What they are really selling, says Ms Newman, is trust. “In jewellery, reputation is everything.”
Family Business United published a survey of the oldest family businesses in the south-west of England in 2014. It showed there were more jewellers than any other kind of family-owned business in the region and that they accounted for five of the 31 companies that had been trading for more than 150 years.
In terms of familial longevity, Mellerio dits Meller probably takes first place. The Paris-based jeweller has been in the same family’s hands for more than 400 years, during which time it has supplied pieces to many of Europe’s most prominent royal families. Laurent Mellerio, chief executive of the company, is the 14th generation to take the helm.
The company claims to be the oldest family-owned jewellery business in Europe and possibly in the world. It has survived crises such as the French Revolution, managed to outlast the siege of Paris and the working-class revolt that led to the Paris Commune in the 1870s when the majority of the Mellerio family hid their jewels and retreated, as they often did in times of trouble, to their ancestral village in Italy.
Sometimes, however, family-owned jewellery companies find they can embrace expansion and change. James Amos, marketing director at Boodles and nephew of the Wainwright brothers who are chairman and managing director, says the company had spent the best part of 200 years being a small jewellery retailer. Then, 20 years ago, his uncles took on a designer.
Rebecca Hawkins designed a collection that was popular with customers, so she did more, and a new business model evolved. Despite the transformation, Mr Amos says: “We often find that many generations of the same family come to the same jeweller because of the trust element.” In certain families, he says, “people would talk about ‘our jeweller’ just as they would talk about ‘our lawyer’ or ‘our accountant’.”
Boyde, Emma., Financial Times, November 12, 2016; https://www.ft.com/content/b4f968d4-4cf8-11e6-8172-e39ecd3b86fc