City jeweller Searle & Co is by no means an imposing presence in amongst the luxury retailers clustered in and around the Royal Exchange.
It would be easy to rush straight past the narrow 1930s shop front at the Bank end of Cornhill, eyes drawn to bigger names and bolder signage up the road. So how, then, has this fourthgeneration family-owned jeweller managed to flourish for more than a century in a notoriously difficult City retail market?
It could be the glint of a bespoke morganite pendant in the window, one of many luxury gem-set pieces just begging to be taken to the ball. Maybe it’s the cabinet of antique curiosities; one of a kind and near impossible to replicate. Or perhaps the secret to Searle’s success lies in longevity itself. Searle & Co has been selling modern and antique gem-set jewellery and silverware to private clients, livery companies and some of the City’s big-name businesses from this tiny shop since 1893.
Managing director Nigel Bird tells of a recent customer who knew about Searle long before setting out in search of a 70th birthday present for his beloved wife. “When we asked how he had come across us, it emerged that his mother had brought him in here at the age of five to enquire after something herself,” Nigel says. “In effect, he had known about the business for 65-odd years.” Nigel himself started in the business as a teenager sweeping the floors and polishing silver for his grandfather.
He has since moved on to managing all new pieces and commissions, while business partner Steve Carson handles vintage items. Having notched up 40 years in the business between them, there is little this pair doesn’t know about their industry, but the challenge always remains working out what their customers want.
Designing a piece often takes several consultations, where Nigel attempts to draw out as much detail about the recipient as possible. “When you’re talking about these sorts of price points [Searle & Co bespoke wearable pieces are generally upwards of £3,000] you want it to be a piece of jewellery that person will love and treasure for years to come,” he says. And although maintaining a thriving business on one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares for well over a lifetime is bound to net you a few returning customers, Nigel believes this sentimental factor is the reason customers return again and again.
“More often than not our pieces are commissioned to mark a birth, engagement, important birthdays, anniversaries; important occasions in a person’s life,” he says. “Over time, the customers become our friends, it becomes so much more than a transaction – it’s lovely to feel part of their lives.”
1 Royal Exchange, Cornhill EC3V 3LL