Collins & Sons is one of the world’s most famous fine jewellers, courtesy of its exceptional craftsmanship and affiliation with the late Queen, who awarded founder Harry Collins with the Royal Warrant. Since he retired, his son Josh has taken over running the business. Here he gives Eileen Leahy an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the impressive workshop where passionate and skilled artisans are fusing tradition and innovation to create exquisite pieces that will stand the test of time…
Collins & Sons Jewellers is one of the longest-established businesses here in Tunbridge Wells and its iconic shop on the High Street is one of the town’s most recognisable landmarks – especially at Christmas when the distinctive period building is beautifully festooned in festive decorations. This year’s theme is The Nutcracker.
Inside, is a smart shop, where you’ll find antique display cabinets filled with precious gems and also a specialist watch area. Upstairs is a very chic, and recently launched, private dining room where the G. Collins & Sons team hosts many of its loyal clients on a regular basis.
Founded by Harry Collins in 1985, G. Collins & Sons has since become one of the world’s most reputable fine jewellers, boasting both myriad local clients as well as many from across the globe.
In 2000, Harry was first commissioned by the Royal Family for the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday, when he created the Centenary Rose brooch.
In 2005 he then had the ultimate career highlight for any fine jeweller when he was appointed the Queen’s Personal Jeweller.
Then in 2007 he was given the additional honour of becoming the Crown Jeweller – which meant he was responsible for the care of the Crown Jewels in The Tower of London.
After a long and extremely successful career looking after his clients and designing pieces, Harry decided to retire in 2019, handing over the reigns of his treasured business to his son Josh who is continuing the legacy of this specialist jewellers. Harry’s daughter Zoe is also involved with the business.
“One of the first things I was very keen to do when taking over was to show off where we make all our jewellery, here on site,” explains G. Collins’ Director Josh when we meet for a chat.
“That’s our real USP: we make everything ourselves, and we make it here in Tunbridge Wells. There is so much artistry happening here and I want to celebrate that with our clients.”
I have been invited by Josh for an exclusive behind the scenes tour of G. Collins & Sons, which I soon discover is the beating heart of this famous timber framed building.
“This is really where the magic happens,” he says as we navigate the warren-like collection of workshops located at the back of the premises.
Our first port of call is the main atelier where four skilled jewellers are sitting at their workstations.
“We redid this workshop during lockdown,” reveals Josh who also designs jewellery – notably the Skyline and Nectar collections. “The counter is carved out of one piece of solid oak and the enhanced lighting in here is now perfect for this intricate work.”
The talented artisans are busy making, restoring and remodelling pieces of jewellery including a precious rare yellow diamond ring which long-serving master jeweller Dave is currently working on.
“This is a flawless, perfectly-cut radiant diamond. It just dances in the light,” he smiles.
Dave proudly tells me that he’s worked at G. Collins and Sons for nearly 20 years so what does he love most about his job?
“I really like the fact that there is always something new to see. You come across pieces you’ve never seen before. Every job is a challenge but that’s what appeals to me. It’s bespoke and I just really like that.”
His colleague Bill tells me he is currently restoring a Victorian engagement ring. He shows me the carved seals and scrollwork he’s working on.
“It’s been completely worn away over time but once I have redone it you will get maybe another 50 to 60 years out of it.”
As we peer over their shoulders, Josh informs me that the two experienced craftsmen’s knowledge is essential in helping to train the next generation of jewellers. These currently include Alex and Eleanor who also work in the atelier.
“This is the ultimate training,” declares Josh. “You can’t just turn up here. You’ve got to have a fantastic eye for detail and be really committed to working very hard because it’s a long process to learn these skills. Our aim is that they never die out.”
Josh says that Alex has ‘a great work ethic and an excellent eye for detail.’ “He came to us when he was 16 and he is now 21. I would say he’s probably 15 years ahead of most people his age in terms of the training he has had here.
“And Eleanor is hugely talented too. She is 26 now and would probably beat any master jeweller in the world – she’s so skilled.”
One of the most popular pieces that G. Collins & Sons are commissioned to make is engagement rings.
“These tend to be timeless designs as you want to wear them every day for the rest of your life,” explains Josh.
Necklaces, earrings and bracelets are perennially popular but like his father before him, Josh also designs pieces which are just that little bit more unique. It’s something he has encouraged his wife Julia, who he says has a great aesthetic sense, to do too.
The result is the stunning Sienna collection, which was launched in 2022 and features exquisite yellow and rose gold star-shaped diamond earrings, necklaces and rings which are inspired by the night sky.
“She has created a really stunning collection that is doing very well with our clients and online,” Josh says. “Our website is actually an area of our business that is now growing too.”
In contrast to the artisan jewellers’ workshop G. Collins & Sons’ others are pretty high-tech, boasting state-of-the-art equipment which further fuses the traditional side of this business with the contemporary technique.
First we head into the polishing room where new recruit Lewis is busy ensuring that every facet of each gemstone is polished to perfection via a microscope.
“The aim is to achieve a polished mirror finish so it’s like you just see a diamond sitting in the air. We do this process with every single stone that passes through our doors,” explains Josh.
He then introduces me to Rick, G. Collins & Son’s head setter who has been with the company for ten years.
“We make things the right way here. If you want attention to detail then this is where it is happening. And to me this is the best area to invest in because this is what fine jewellery is all about.
“We want to keep all of these essential skill sets not just alive but thriving, showing people what it’s all about because that really is magical. We live in an age where people want everything quickly but training to be a jeweller takes time as it’s a proper art and that’s what we want to preserve and celebrate.”
In addition to the specialist workshops there is also a specialist Patek Philippe watch office located at G. Collins & Sons.
“Patek Philippe are the ultimate watch brand,” declares Josh. “They’re family owned and really care about their products and so their values align with ours.” In 2017 the company gifted G. Collins & Sons a Patek Philippe Calatrava Clock which hangs above the shop and represents the relationship between these two family-owned companies.
Josh goes on to say that over the road from the main G. Collins & Sons building is another smaller premises with a dedicated Cartier suite.
“Sadly I can’t show you our watches today as our watchmaker is on a training course in Geneva,” Josh tells me before showing me inside the adjoining engraving room which has been recently renovated.
“Being able to show clients what we do here has always been my dream and now it’s happening. You can’t do this type of thing anywhere else. Nowadays there are a lot of jewellers out there and so we have to really stand out. But for us, the irony is we do because we’re creating things the old-fashioned way. It makes total sense to me to know from start to finish where a precious piece of jewellery came from and how it was made. To be able to shake the hand of the jeweller that made you a ring or necklace is amazing.”
It must be a wonderful world to live in I say as our tour nears its end and I get ready to step back into everyday reality.
“It is, and I know I am really lucky. Pretty much everything we’re involved in here is for a happy occasion. Yes of course there are pressures and strains just like any other business but ultimately it is very positive. People come in looking to make memories and that is very special.”
Collins & Sons