Few businesses can boast the longevity of Charles Fish, which was founded in 1830 in London’s East End. Initially a pawnbroker, it has since expanded its remit into homeware, luxury watches and jewellery. A stockist for brands including Hugo Boss, Michael Kors and Swarovski, it also boasts its own custom collection. And, despite the global pandemic and subsequent temporary closure of its two shops in Chelmsford and Harlow, business is booming.
A truly family-run company, run by cousins, Fish Brothers originally traded in everything from fishing rods to furniture, fur coats and pianos. The aftermath of the Second World War saw its focus shift – jewellery was one of the easiest areas in which to lend, and this transformed over the years into a dedicated jewellery shop.
Luke Stafford is the seventh-generation family member to continue the work started by his four-times-great grandfather. Unsurprisingly given his upbringing, Luke undertook the Professional Jewellers’ Diploma from the National Association of Jewellers at the age of just 14. Having grown up in Singapore, he would return to work in the shops each summer.
“I always wanted to be involved with the family business,” he says. “I especially loved rare and unusual stones: talking about them, selling them, dealing in tanzanite, emeralds and rubies.”
An official stockist for some of the world’s biggest brands, Charles Fish, part of the group, also offers its own collection of diamond and gemstone engagement rings, wedding rings, earrings and necklaces. In recent years, it is watches that have most captivated Luke’s attention. The largest-growing arm of the business – pre-owned timepieces – can be both bought and sold here. “The past two months have been some of the best most dealers have ever recorded,” says Luke. “They’ve really been gaining as an investment asset in the past five to six years.”
Luke explains that during periods of financial turbulence, the prices of vintage cars and artworks plummet in line with the stock market, while gold and watches do “exceptionally well” in what are generally larger markets with more outlets. The simple logistics of buying or selling a watch compared to larger items also plays into this ability to “cash in and out” during times of uncertainty. Over the past months, of course, Charles Fish has been operating online viewings and images rather than face-to-face buying and selling, but its 28-day free return period is on hand should a customer need it.
Impressively, Charles Fish sells around 10 per cent of its stock every week, so its items for sale can change rapidly. A beautiful collection of limited-edition 007 Omegas are currently on offer, which Luke admires for their connections to Bond, “a great British hero”, and the fact that there simply aren’t many of them around: a true collector’s item.
Luke describes the firm’s “personal service” as being of the utmost importance. “Our flagship shop in Chelmsford is lovely,” he says. “You can wander around or head into the private viewing booth. The majority of customers will speak to me personally, especially when they’re buying online. They’re not calling in to a help centre, where no one knows who’s picking up the phone. We have very loyal customers as a result – a great deal of returnees and recommendations.”
He adds that the shop now has a strict Covid-19 policy in operation, with staff wearing masks, social-distancing markers in place and hand sanitiser provided at the entrance.
The group has plans to include its second-hand jewellery pieces online by the end of the year; if they are anything like as successful as the pre-owned watches division – where 80 per cent of sales are conducted digitally – Charles Fish will have even more to celebrate as it approaches its 200th birthday.
For more information visit charlesfish.co.uk
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