Designing jewellery the Deakin & Francis way:
Our secret formula for success
“I am determined to keep an element of fun in my designs, I’d like to keep that bit of cheekiness. The most important thing to me is that when someone walks past a Deakin & Francis counter, by two-thirds of the way down they’ve got a smile on their face!”
At Deakin & Francis, we are famous for creating pieces that hold an undeniable charm. Whether it’s a set of embroidered cufflinks, a diamond ring or a hairy skull lapel pin, there’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that set our designs apart from others and remind us all how playful jewellery can be.
For over 200 years we have lead the way with our high-quality jewellery and have remained a consistent and vocal advocate of traditional British craftsmanship. As we look to the future of the company and the wider jewellery industry, we are committed to honouring our proud family heritage while continuing to be an innovative presence in the British jewellery making landscape.
James Deakin is leading our wonderfully creative design team and championing this exciting new chapter of the Deakin & Francis story. Being a seventh generation family member to work in the business, he has a direct link to the original essence of the company and is in the unique position to fuse this rich history with exciting and bold new ideas.
The path to gemology
“My training without a doubt happened in this building before I realised, I fell in love with it before I really understood what it was. The nostalgia of this business from half terms and summer holidays, it was always exciting to come into the factory.”
After discovering a love of carpentry during his school years, James knew that he wanted to pursue a career that would allow him to be creative. “It started with wood, a little bit of factory time in the school holidays, and then very quickly I found myself doing an art a level, design degrees and then fell into gemology.”
After successfully gaining a place at the Sir Johns Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, James was invited by his father to go to Los Angeles to study gemology, giving up his place at The Cass. “That was like my exam for my father; if I got into the Cass, then I was invited to go to Los Angeles for a six-month course to learn about gemology.” It was during this time at The Gemological Institute of America that James found his second passion in gemology; “I did my apprenticeship in making pieces out of metal and my love changed immediately from wood to solder joints. I then graduated from the gemological institute as a Graduate Jeweller Gemologist.”
The Gemological Institute of America is the most highly respected institution in the industry, and requires an incredibly high level of dedication and commitment in order to graduate. “It’s very hard work but it is internationally recognised around the world. You have to get 100% in your exam, but get it and you’re with the best. It’s a privileged course. If anyone is given the opportunity to go here, first of all, think about it seriously then leap at it if you get the opportunity.”
One of the most notorious parts of this course is the ‘100 stone’ colour grading exam. In this exam, you are given a tray with 100 stones on it and you have to identify each item in front of you, from a piece of gravel off the floor and a stone that will be worth everything and anything in between. “The theory as to why you need to get 100% is because when you’re sitting in a shop or I’m sitting with a client, you don’t get a second chance! It’s high stakes, but it’s fun isn’t it.”
While the study of gemology may give the impression of simply looking at nice stones all day, the skills required to actually be a successful gemologist are actually more akin to that of a detective! Bringing together different elements of maths, history and science, you need to piece together the story behind each stone that you’re presented with. “You’re in a microscope all day. It’s detective work – It’s a process of elimination basically. When you sit down at the microscope to explore this unidentified stone in front of you. When you look through the microscope you are in a different world. You’ve left the classroom, you’ve left your professional environment, you are now underwater swimming around inside this natural creation looking for its identity and its impurities and personal characteristics.”
Finding your place in a family business
Once James had completed his formal education, it was time to start thinking about what his role in Deakin & Francis might be. “I knew that I loved the design and the manufacturing so I wanted to be a part of that, but there were also many other aspects of the business that I needed to learn about so I needed to get out there and meet some of our customers”
Rather than getting stuck in head first with the day-to-day of factory life, James was instead encouraged by his father to get out into the world and interact with Deakin & Francis customers so he could learn who they were and what they wanted from a shopping experience with us.
“A lot of it came down to dad saying ‘do you want to sit in that room and face that wall for the rest of your life, are you going to be alright doing that? But actually, there’s a whole world out there, get out there’. Basically what dad was doing was telling me; know your stuff, learn your service, know what your clients want, and then you can design and service it through.”
This rich background of theoretical and practical knowledge meant that when the time did come for James to work in the factory, he was able to bring a strong set of skills to the table and fully integrate into the core of the business. “Our experience from school was a foundation, but our experience out in the world was much greater in terms of speaking to customers and designing pieces they would want.”
These days, the process of designing a new range for Deakin & Francis requires range planning which involves looking at a new collection and identifying the core sales, the PR and marketing pieces and the exemplary sales. From here James will identify any additional pieces that can be added to a collection.
“I’ve seen different pieces fight for the same sale, so we’ve got to learn from trying to do it in a more educated manner. First, we have to look at different sections, whether it’s plain, classics, sports, hobbies or personalities. And then filter between these lines, but make sure that everything remains relevant and make sure that the designs don’t fight against each other. What we want is to have a nice broad display of everything that suits lots of people. We know that we need to have a nod of exciting and a little bit of crazy!”
Across all of our collections, one of the most unique selling points of a Deakin & Francis piece is the traditional craftsmanship behind its creation. “How lucky are we to be able to use completely traditional methods! I mean downstairs we are using techniques which were developed by the Egyptians thousands of years ago. And then we also have a CADCAM designer working away so we can also print out our own models. We can blend traditional and modern methods to our delight. It’s brilliant, it’s very exciting.”
But why exactly do we still champion these old techniques now that we have new technologies that could help us create our collections? “The reason that we still do the Vitreous enamelling techniques that we use downstairs, the glass enamelling, is because the glass will last forever. There is a reason why we stamp the product rather than cast it when we can, it’s to reduce the impurities. So from the moment that you pick up something from Deakin & Francis, it’s a little bit heavier than you might expect. If you find a pair of our Vitreous enamelled cufflinks in the ground 300 years from now, the colour will be as vibrant as it was the day it left the girls downstairs. And that is not necessary, but it is a huge honour. It is quality. Everyone bangs on about the quality and it’s sort of meaningless when you just say “the quality”, but it is, from the moment you pick them up you hear the quality of the spring on the back and you see the quality of the hallmarks. It’s the whole package. It’s properly made. It’s attention. It may not be necessary, but it’s very important.”
Creating modern designs using traditional methods
Heritage sits at the heart of everything that we do, however, it’s important that we continue to look to the future and establish what Deakin & Francis looks like today. “I think we are very lucky to be able to say that we moved into this factory over 200 years ago, we make in England, we design here. As the world gets smaller, less and less people are independent in this manner, so I think it’s nice for people in the country to hear that there are these old institutions around.”
“Our father has explained to us that this business was not set up for us to be miserable. So it’s important that we work for the business and that the business works for us. Which means adapting it to modern society and working it for today’s era, but keeping what is fundamentally core to why the business was set up. I’d like to keep the reputation high within the business, but earn that reputation, not just carry it on from the previous generation.”
Behind all of our modern designs is a genuine love and appreciation for our craft, as well as a desire to instil a bit of fun into everything that we create. We want to ensure that whenever someone sees our jewellery, whether it’s via a shop window or on our customer’s clothing, walks away with a smile on their face. “That’s my mission. Our stockists say that when their customers walk past a window or a counter there’ll be something there which tickles their fancy. You don’t have to buy it but that’s the mission statement. That’s Deakin & Francis, that and the quality of the product.”
So, what exactly does the future of Deakin & Francis look like? “As far as passing it onto the next generation, I love that idea, but only if the next generation wants it. My training started a bit younger than I realised, but the next generation has got to show interest for them to continue it and pass it to the next generation, so the important thing is that we work in our time period and then give someone else the opportunity to do the same.”