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Oldest Jewellers in Australia














Now & Then: Catanach’s Jewellers

Jeweller takes a closer look at the history of Catanach’s Jewellers with Amanda Catanach, managing director, as it turns 147 this year.

FOUNDED BY George William Catanach
ESTABLISHED 1874
LOCATION Melbourne, VIC

» VISIT CATANACH'S JEWELLERS
» VIEW PHOTOS: FROM THE FAMILY ALBUM 

 

George William Catanach migrated from London, UK to Australia in 1870 aboard the ship Swiftsure, aged 24.

A trained diamond setter, he filled a need for skilled workers to manufacture the many items of jewellery starting to be produced in Melbourne due to the Gold Rush.

As the only diamond setter in the colony, his skills were in demand and he worked for several Melbourne jewellers until 1874, when he opened GW Catanach Manufacturing Jeweller on Elizabeth Street in the CBD.

He was a founding member of the Victorian Jewellers’ Association manufacturing sector and built his business on the premise that quality and beauty must go hand-in-hand.

This value has been passed down through five generations of the Catanach family.

By 1889, the business had expanded so much that George William could purchase a four-storey bluestone building at 290 Little Collins Street, which was named Catanach House.

Unfortunately, the economic depression of the 1890s soon arrived and the building was sold within five years to the London Chartered Bank.

Happily, the next premises at the junction of Little Collins Street and the Royal Arcade fared better – the business stayed there for more than 90 years, with the corner being known colloquially as ‘Catanach’s Corner’.

"Managing everything can be exhausting, but I am passionate about my business and work incredibly hard to maintain the focus and meet our criteria to keep its momentum."

Moving into the retail sector, the business – renamed Catanach & Son after George’s
son William Mercer Catanach was made a partner – continued to find success, and was even touted in 1905’s Cyclopedia of Victoria, which called it “one of the best in Melbourne”.

It expanded into antiques, accessories, and crystal as the Catanach name and reputation for quality spread throughout Melbourne and beyond.

The business has traded through the ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic, two World Wars during which raw materials were virtually non-existent, and survived a short period of bankruptcy in the 1960s, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the years, Catanach’s Jewellers has developed a strong relationship with the horse-racing industry, making trophies for some of the most famous races, including the Blue Diamond Stakes, Caulfield Cup, George Ryder, and Galaxy. We also sponsor the MRC Foundation Race Day.

In the mid-1980s, the business underwent one of its most significant changes with the sale of the CBD store, moving to new premises on Armadale’s High Street.

High Street is one of the city’s iconic fashion and shopping precincts and its premier ‘wedding district’, home to many high-end bridal retailers. This change was driven by my father Blair Peter Catanach – who also happened to be the first trained jeweller in the family since founder George William.

The late 1990s brought a 13-year period of prosperity for Catanach’s, and we opened another store in Broome, Western Australia.

Our success to date is based on maintaining strong relationships with our customers and strong links with our suppliers to ensure we have high-quality stock available.

We pride ourselves on staying relevant to our customers, providing quality and service, and employing staff that represent our family and values.

Managing everything can be exhausting, but I am passionate about my business and work incredibly hard to maintain the focus and meet our criteria to keep its momentum.

COVID-19 has been a dreadful time for us – and many other retailers in Victoria – having been closed for nearly six of the past 12 months.

Our website was integral during this time, but unfortunately, we were not allowed to manufacture or consult.

That is one of the biggest challenges I have faced in running the business.

Planning for the future of Catanach’s Jewellers, we are moving away from general retail towards more ‘bespoke’ interaction with our customers.

To that end, we are currently expanding our workshop on High Street to be able to have more artisans working with us.

This will ensure our classic manufacturing skills last for many generations to come.

 

FROM THE FAMILY ALBUM

Above: William Alan 'Bill' Catanach, the third generation of the Catanach family to head the business, c. 1925

Left: The Catanach's store as it was left by William Mercer Catanach – son of George William Catanach  upon his death in 1947

Left: The long-standing Catanach's store in the Royal Arcade, which it occupied from 1893 to 1985



Above: Amanda Catanach, managing director

Left: Catanach's Broome, opened by Blair Peter Catanach, who led the family business from the late 1970s to the 1990s

 

Left: Catanach’s Jewellers moved to glamorous High Street, Armadale in the 1980s; its footprint doubled in 1997 with the leasing of an adjacent store, and Amanda Catanach oversaw a full refurbishment in 1998

 

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