At the turn of the twentieth century, the Jewellery Quarter was home to over 30,000 workers in the jewellery and silver industries. Today, just a few thousand remain. The area is still Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery businesses with 40% of all jewellery made in the UK originating from just 1 square kilometre of inner-city Birmingham.
The area is currently undergoing an era of intense transformation and redevelopment. This irreversible change is creating an increasingly challenging environment for surviving heritage craft businesses to navigate. Now grouped in with the “creative industries”, jewellery manufacturers have a near unique set of requirements many of which are not compatible with other creative industries, from security to reliance on proximity to ancillary businesses. Many active workers in the area are self-employed or micro-businesses that, individually, have a relatively low turnover and limited scope for job creation meaning they are often left out of the conversation around business improvement in the area. What this fails to recognise is that, although individually small, as a collective these businesses represent one of the last manufacturing strongholds in Britain.
While some skilled craftsmen are reaching retirement without having passed on their skills to the next generation other companies, from centuries-old heritage firms to start-ups, are continuing to recruit apprentices to keep these rare crafts alive. This exhibition explores the people, place, and products from the heritage Jewellery Quarter who, despite this change, continue to call the area home. Through foreign competition, recession and increasing the land value they have evolved and adapted which is why – we’re still here.
– Dr Rebecca Struthers