24 August 2018
Founded in 1786, Deakin & Francis is England’s oldest family-owned jewellery business. Today, the company is run by the founder’s sons – James and Henry Deakin – whose inherent talents and modern approach to business are taking the brand to new heights.
With over 5,000 cufflink designs that vary in colour, style and theme, Deakin & Francis offers an expansive product portfolio. The company is known for its in-house expertise and craftsmanship, and providing bespoke pieces for discerning clients. JNA sat down with James Deakin, creative director of Deakin & Francis, to talk about the company’s beginnings and future endeavours.
JNA: How did you get into the family business?
James Deakin: As a child, I was always in the wood workshop. At the time, I felt I was destined to be a carpenter. However, I share the love for metalwork and beautiful gemstones, and design with my father so it’s safe to say it was always in my blood.
JNA: How does your family’s legacy guide you in your work?
Deakin: Walking into the factory, you climb the same stone steps used by seven generations of our forefathers. On a great day, they are an utter pleasure while on a bad day, the old steps are humbling. Before my father retired, he came to me and said: ‘If Deakin & Francis does not work for you, do not work for it.’
What he meant was that Deakin & Francis was not set up to make us miserable so we have to tailor fit it to work in a modern world. I find relief in those words when I face pressure at work. They make me realise what the company is all about, how much I love designing and making beautiful pieces, and that work should be enjoyed.
JNA: What is the story behind Deakin & Francis’ cufflinks?
Deakin: Cufflinks have always been a part of the Deakin & Francis story. Think about the ‘The Great Gatsby’ era and the wonderful elegance of the 1920s. It was my father who helped inspire passion for cufflinks after silver prices went through the roof in the 1970s and silverware went out of fashion. He decided to become a precious metal cufflink specialist and now, the company has risen to become a men’s accessories brand. We still sell cufflinks designed in the early 1900s and have a pair of Charles Washington Shirley Deakin cufflinks.
JNA: Is demand strong for cufflinks?
Deakin: Fashion trends come and go but cufflinks are about style. It’s a very personal choice to own a pair of cufflinks. They can reflect one’s passion, personality and emotions. The wearer can choose to display them or keep them tucked up his sleeve. Cufflinks can put a spring in your step or a smile on a friend’s face. Everyone has their favourite pair and it is hard not to collect them. Our cufflinks are lovingly handmade to very high standards so they last for years.
JNA: Who are your clients?
Deakin: Our buyers are men and women who love to laugh and recognise quality. We are not about mass production so there is a real sense of individualism. Our customers are very discerning and incredibly loyal; there is nearly always a twinkle in their eye when we meet them.
To sum it up, I can say that we take cufflinks very seriously but not all of our cufflinks are very serious.
JNA: Aside from your flagship store in London, where else can buyers find your products?
Deakin: We sell to a number of high-end department stores around the world and to independent jewellery stores. Our website also offers a vast selection of products for when visits to the physical store are not practical. Henry and I are very approachable so we often talk people through their selections over the phone as well.
JNA: You are expanding to Asia. Can you tell us more about this?
Deakin: I’ve been travelling to Asia for 20 years, following my father's footsteps back when we were making other people’s collections. To now be selling Deakin & Francis’ branded products in Asia is extremely exciting for us. We have just instigated our marketing plan to help people find and understand us, and we have a highly competitive team plus a year to get things into full flow.
Asia fascinates me and, as a historic brand, it’s a pleasure to be sharing our story with the world. I want to visit South Korea and Japan in the next 12 months too and we are tailoring the shop to accept more modern methods of payment like WeChat pay.
JNA: Could you share your experience with us about running the business with your brother?
Deakin: I am the creative director and responsible for the business in Asia, and Henry is the managing director and runs the shop in London. Being siblings in business puts immense pressure on our friendship.
We are both very proud of turning Deakin & Francis into a brand while preserving our core principles of being in a service industry. We are fortunate to have grown up in the factory so we share the same beliefs in terms of product quality and tradition but with a sense of fun thrown in it too. Space and independent responsibilities are key to keeping a healthy relationship. Having five-year business plans also means we have to focus and deliver or we would be held accountable. We are very different people but that does not mean we can’t unwind and have fun together too.
JNA: Which achievements are you most proud of?
Deakin: There is no doubt opening a shop in central London last year was fantastic. It enabled the world to find us. For me, watching people smile and enjoy my designs is the greatest pleasure there is.
JNA: What is in store for Deakin & Francis?
Deakin: We are growing as a company so to build up our departments within the factory is a dream. We would really love to further elevate Deakin & Francis to an international level.
All product images by Deakin & Francis
By Esther Ligthart
About the author
Founder of jewellery blog Bizzita.com, Esther Ligthart has 25 years of international sales and marketing experience in the jewellery industry. She now enjoys contributing to trade and luxury magazines and working as a business consultant.