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Now & Then














Tim and Chris Holdsworth, co-directors of Holdworth Bros. Jewellers
Tim and Chris Holdsworth, co-directors of Holdworth Bros. Jewellers

Now & Then: Holdsworth Bros. Jewellers

Jeweller takes a closer look at the history of Holdsworth Bros Jewellers with Chris Holdsworth, co-director as it turns 136 this year.

FOUNDED BY Hampden William Holdsworth
ESTABLISHED 1884
LOCATION Melbourne, Victoria

» VISIT HOLDSWORTH BROS. JEWELLERS
» VIEW PHOTOS: FROM THE FAMILY ALBUM 

 

 

Holdsworth Bros. Jewellers was established as H.W. Holdsworth, Jeweller & Watchmaker, on Chapel Street in the thriving suburb of Windsor, Melbourne, in the spring of 1884 by Hampden William Holdsworth.

Hampden was trained as a jeweller in Geelong and opened his store at age 24. His premises replaced that of a parasol and umbrella maker. All manufacturing and repair work were done on-site and accommodation was built at the rear.

At first, trade was slow for Hampden, but as more people came to know the name and service it represented, his business became a success. He was rewarded for his choice of location as this is where he met and later married a pretty local Windsor girl named Ellen.

Later, Hampden asked his older brother George – also a jeweller – to join the business and in 1891 they changed the business name from H.W. Holdsworth to Holdsworth Bros. Jewellers.

After 20 years the brothers were able to buy corner premises at 21-23 Chapel Street. In 1913 they built a beautiful modern jewellery store and factory, consisting of a two-storey shop and dwelling on the site. That shop is still standing, although it is now a convenience store.

In this particularly strange and unprecedented year, it is interesting to look back to see what Holdsworth Bros have done to adapt to changing times. World War I and the Great Depression were major periods of difficulty.

During World War II the shop was forced to close for a time as resources were spent on the war effort and essential goods and services. During the war, the oldest of Hampden’s eight sons, Roy, was left in charge of the business, while several of the younger ones joined the armed forces.

Roy had been badly wounded at Villers Bretonneux during World War I and had a fine appreciation of the miseries of fighting, so when watch supplies were rationed in Australia, Roy reserved his for returned soldiers to whom he either donated or sold at cost.

Roy’s son John was one of the first tenants to open up at Eastland in 1967 – the only jeweller in the centre for many years – and one of only three original tenants still there today. John was a Prahran City Councillor and Treasurer of the Prahran Chamber of Commerce, as well as President of the Victorian Gemmological Society.

He was one of the first Melbourne jewellers to stock tanzanite – before Tiffany & Co. made them popular – and travelled to Japan to source Akoya pearls when Princess Diana started the trend; pearls remain an integral part of our business to this day.

In the 1970s, John noticed that Chapel Street was changing from a prosperous retail shopping centre to being more of a party destination, with as much traffic in the street at 1am as 1pm. This caused several nights of meeting the police at the store at 4am when the windows had been smashed. Eventually, this led to the closure of the store and opening at Knox City Shopping Centre.

I can clearly remember the 1990 recession, during my father’s time with the business. We had expanded too quickly in the preceding years to five stores and incurred a lot of debt, which nearly killed the business once interest rates reached 17 per cent.

We had to sell our family home and the wholesale side of our business was put into voluntary administration. We emerged on the other side with two stores, Knox and Eastland – which are the same two we have today – and we repurchased the wholesale business at the end of the administration.

The curfew and lockdown of Melbourne during COVID-19 is the first time in 75 years Holdsworth Bros. Jewellers has been forced to close its storefront, so this would be the greatest challenge during my ownership of our family legacy. To adapt to this situation, we have opened up a ‘pop-up’ store in Mandura, Western Australia – our first location outside Victoria.

Finding your way into the family jewellery business is not very hard; I've spoken to dozens of generational jewellers and their stories are all similar to mine. I started on the shop floor when I was 14, doing whatever was needed.

After completing my commerce degree, I took on the bookkeeping and computer work for the head office, then completed the Gemmological Association of Australia courses in Gemmology and Diamond Technology.

Following that, I travelled the world for a year with no intention of returning. I found employment in the UK – and coincidentally my brother Tim had done something similar after his fine arts degree.

Dad died from cancer in 2000, leaving the business to my mum, so my brother Tim and I returned to help her. Within five years she had retired, and Tim and I were running the business ourselves.

There is an ad I like from the Prahran Chronicle dated 19 September 1884 announcing the opening of Hampden's store.

Announcing the opening of Hampden
Announcing the opening of Hampden's store. Prahran Chronicle, 19 September 1884

It reads: “Jewellery! Jewellery! H.W Holdsworth respectfully begs to announce that he has opened a manufacturing establishment at the above address where he is prepared to execute any article in the trade that may be entrusted to him at the lowest charges compatible with good workmanship and guaranteed material.”

I could print this ad today, 136 years later, and it is still true. We do a brilliant job of fixing, restoring and making fine jewellery to an extremely high standard for a fair price.

I am really proud of what we do on a daily basis – but the fact we have been doing it for 136 years gets a little lost! The business surviving for four generations is, I think, a matter of serendipity. Holdsworths are notoriously slow breeders, meaning there were never more than two generations of the right age to work together. If there were more, I imagine that would have created conflict!

Maintaining our values and the core aspects of what we do is part of why we are still here. However, where we see advantages to changing the way we do things, we will take those on board.

In general, the hardest challenge has been to find a niche in the trade and be the best in that niche. Our goal is to be a traditional jeweller, based on old-school principles of value and quality. Our business is traditional and looking at photos from our stores in the ‘50s isn’t much different from looking at them today.

Resisting the changes from external factors that aren’t in line with our business model is just as important as recognising changes in the market.

We have spent a long time educating ourselves and gathering experience in what makes diamonds and gemstones beautiful, how to source these items at the best possible prices, how to design and create traditional jewellery with broad appeal, how to present and sell these items in our jewellery stores, how to find the best staff and train them well, and how to keep administration and the 'back end' of our business as simple and uncomplicated as possible.

Jewellery has a history spanning tens of thousands of years – it is probably the second-oldest profession! I don’t see it disappearing in my lifetime.

FROM THE FAMILY ALBUM



Above:
Hampden William Holdsworth, 1892

Left: Taken in 1895 in front of the first store, located at 241a Chapel Street, Windsor, featuring its original name H.W. Holdsworth Watchmaker & Jeweller.

Left: Holdsworths ‘new’ store at 21-23 Chapel Street in 1923.
Left: Interior, Holdsworth Bros., Jewellers 21-3 Chapel Street, Windsor [ca. 1940] State Library of Victoria Archives


Left: Holdsworths' Bros. had to board up the store in 1943 for bombs.

Left: The Eastland store is one of the shopping centre’s original tenants, opening in 1967

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Holdsworth

Co-director • Holdsworth Bros. Jewellers


Chris Holdsworth is a fourth generation jeweller based in Melbourne, Victoria with two stores in Knox City and Eastland. Visit holdsworthbros.com








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