The Cotswold cluster creating a jewellery hotspot

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Made famous by honey-coloured stone manor houses and cottages, the Cotswolds, about 130km north-west of London, is often depicted as a pastoral dreamscape where people from the UK capital move, or purchase second homes.

But, in spite of its widespread international recognition, particularly among American anglophiles, the region is not clearly defined. It covers more than 2,000 sq km, spanning the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire as well as parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.

“I consider the Cotswolds to extend from Stratford-upon-Avon [in the north] to Bath [in the south] and Bloxham in the east,” says Charlie Pragnell, managing director of Pragnell, a jeweller in Stratford-upon-Avon. “There are not a lot of main roads between Stratford and Cheltenham, more wonderful homes and estates — these are our customers. We look after generations of families which is why — as well as selling Patek Phillipe, Cartier or finding a matching stone for antique Burmese ruby earrings — we also retain important services, such as valuations.”

Pragnell, who also operates two more showrooms in England, says his Stratford-upon-Avon business turns over £35mn-£40mn, which is down to a wealthy clientele that is 97 per cent domestic. Tourism may have taken a 30 per cent share five years ago but the abolition, in 2021, of the VAT refund scheme for international visitors has put paid to that.

He is also active locally, participating in private events, the most recent of which was at Highgrove, the Cotswolds residence of King Charles III where the company’s British goldsmithing capabilities, deployed for its Masterpiece Jewellery collection, were on display.

Just a few miles south of Cheltenham, Hugo Houldsworth Gibbs came up with the idea for Elkstone Studios — a rural complex, offering workspaces, a padel court and shops, including a jewellery outlet opened in September 2023 in a converted 17th-century barn by Edinburgh College of Art-trained Catherine Zoraida. “It’s great for shopping for a gift or for everyday pieces for yourself, so demi-fine is more popular,” she says. Demi-fine accounts for 70 per cent of her business and, for the rest — mostly bespoke commissions — she works in 18-carat gold.

One of Zoraida’s clients is Catherine, Princess of Wales. In 2012, the jeweller, who was relatively unknown at the time, was contacted by the palace, which led to the princess wearing the Double Leaf earrings to a dinner with the king of Malaysia. More recently, she was spotted at Chelsea Flower Show wearing the jeweller’s Fern Drop earrings.

This royal association appeals to customers who visit the store. “It’s a real mixture — tourists but also many locals,” Zoraida says. “Elkstone Studios is becoming a destination in the middle of the countryside with more exciting things happening, so there’s potential for growth.”

Tourist purchases are more evident in destinations such as Bourton-on-the-Water. According to tourist authority VisitBritain the top three international visitor groups here come from the US, China and Australia. Describing it as the “Venice of the Cotswolds”, Miles Mann says his shop, Highbridge Jewellers, is characterised by domestic and overseas tourists making impulse gift purchases. “A summer season is the equivalent of Christmas in our other stores,” he says.

Mann, whose ancestors have operated jewellery businesses in the region since 1741, is headquartered in Gloucester, where he employs five in-house goldsmiths. Their work includes estate jewellery and UK-manufactured pieces. Mann has built up a chain of eight jewellery shops, mostly through acquisition, branding the group online as Cotswold Fine Jewellery. Shops operate under different fascias including Miles Mann in Bath and Bakers Fine Jewellery in Cheltenham.

Hattie Rickards is an independent jeweller who works from a home studio in Poulton, near Cirencester. She specialises in bespoke commissions and is known for bold gold frames, highly technical custom-cut stones, and signature settings.

Since launching in 2010, Rickards has built an international clientele through word of mouth, Instagram, and online marketing. “Often, clients — particularly engagement ring commissions — enjoy coming out to the Cotswolds to discuss their rings,” she says. For this, the Thyme hotel in Lechlade is her meeting location of choice. “Clients have even been known to book a long weekend stay in the hotel around a ring collection.”

Over on the Oxfordshire side of the Cotswolds, Alice Sykes, whose sister Plum sends up contemporary Cotswolds society in her recent novel Wives Like Us, operates “salons”: taking ready-to-wear, tablescape and fine jewellery to women at events in the Hamptons, New York, and the Cotswolds. Hers is a local crowd, a coterie of female devotees who may frequent the Cotswold private members’ club Soho Farmhouse, or live in well-heeled villages such as Great Tew and who love “finds”.

“I bring the designers to the customers; women eager to shop because of the dearth of boutiques in Oxford and this part of the Cotswolds,” she says.

In November 2023, she organised an event in Gloucestershire at the Thyme, and another over the border in Charlbury, west Oxfordshire, at the Cornbury Park estate, the home of David and Fiona Howden. Sykes’ selection at the latter included Reluxe Fashion, an online venture founded by luxury stylist Clare Richardson, who sells pre-worn fine jewellery by brands such as Bulgari and Carolina Bucci; and Ladbroke Grove-based brand consultant-turned-designer Lucy Delius.

Delius sells her vintage-inspired fine jewellery collection at Net-a-Porter and Dover Street Market. At the Cotswolds event, she says her bestselling wishbone bracelet and gold T-bar pendant proved popular.

“It was attended by well-dressed women of all ages, including those in their mid to late thirties who have left — mostly west — London and, with it, their easy access to up-and-coming brands,” she says.

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