At the turn of the 20th century, the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter was alive with over 30,000 workers in the jewellery and silver industries. Today, just a few hundred remain. Many of these highly skilled individuals are self-employed or work in micro companies, but as a collective they represent one of the last manufacturing strongholds in Britain – 40% of all jewellery made in the UK originates here –and this one square kilometre in the heart of the city contains Europe’s largest concentration of manufacturing jewellers. Whilst rooted in the trade and still inhabited by its specialist makers, the area is currently undergoing a period of intense transformation and redevelopment to create a thriving community and hub for a range of creative industries. This is bringing about many positive changes, but it is also creating an increasingly challenging environment for the surviving craft businesses that continue to earn the Jewellery Quarter its name and reputation.
Jewellery manufacturers have a very particular set of requirements, from security to reliance on nearby ancillary services. It is vital that their voices are heard in conversations about the future of the Jewellery Quarter. It is more important than ever that it retains the unique combination of elements that will enable this critical mass of knowledge and skill to endure and flourish. This work introduces the people, from last-of-their-kind to new apprentices working in centuries-old heritage firms to start-ups, who are doing their utmost to ensure the Jewellery Quarter remains synonymous with British manufacturing excellence.
Dr Rebecca Struthers