Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has a bright future in manufacturing, boosted by strong skill sets and cheap rents, and will flourish despite uncertainty over Brexit and a pollution charge.
Several large-scale manufacturers are based in the historic Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, including Weston Beamor, Hockley Mint and Charles Green, as well as small-scale artisans with a wide variety of skills, many of them working in units around Vyse Street.
The manufacturers can recruit highly skilled employees, and benefit from local educational institutions such as Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery on Vittoria Street.
Birmingham jewellery manufacturers are exporting to markets around the world despite fierce competition from suppliers in low cost countries such as China and India.
Commercial rents are much lower in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter than in Hatton Garden, which has seen rents soar due to the planned Crossrail railway network.
Crossrail though will boost footfall to Hatton Garden’s jewellery shops.
For Birmingham, High Speed 2 (HS2), which is now being built and will deliver faster rail transport to London, will bring new market opportunities to the sector.
HS2 is a high-speed railway which, when completed, will connect London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.
Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has made great strides to become a destination for jewellery retail, with customers visiting the area from far afield, not just to buy jewellery and watches, but also to enjoy the restaurants and pubs — and the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.
Many of the area’s former warehouses have been converted into stylish apartments, attracting a new wave of professional talent who wish to enjoy the local shops, bars and nightlife.
Jewellery retailers in the area say they have seen a strong increase in footfall from people who see the Jewellery Quarter as a destination for a day out, with the benefit of cheap parking.
Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter needs to shout louder about the talent pool it uses in the discreet, red-brick Victorian buildings that permeate the area, says Dinesh Parekh, owner of diamonds supplier Just Diamonds.
“You can get just about anything you need here in terms of manufacture or repairs,” he said.
Commercial rents and wages are cheaper than in central London, enabling small-scale artisans to operate more economically in the Jewellery Quarter, with ready access to colleagues in the district who can support their work.
Despite the uproar over the cost of HS2, Birmingham will benefit from the faster rail times to London when the network is finished, potentially boosting synergies between the Jewellery Quarter and Hatton Garden.
The immediate challenges for the Jewellery Quarter include uncertainty over Brexit – issues such as what level of tariffs will apply to imports of raw materials like diamonds, and the outlook for the economy.
The district has survived many shocks to the economy since Victorian times, and will doubtless weather any future storms that Brexit may bring.
Plans to introduce a pollution charge in Birmingham may reduce vehicle traffic to the area and encourage more jewellery sector workers to come in by train, potentially piling pressure onto local railway services such as the small Jewellery Quarter station.
There are proposals to bring in fees for high-polluting vehicles driving within the city’s ring road from January 2020, as the council faces pressure from the government to reduce pollution by setting up a clean air zone.
Drivers may have to pay more than £10 a day under a planned pollution charge in Birmingham city centre.
The businesses of the Jewellery Quarter will adapt to the pollution charge by campaigning for improved public transport links in the area, to ensure that they can still meet their customers’ needs.
“The Jewellery Quarter is a great place to visit, with a long history and lots of talented people in jewellery making. It will have an exciting future, for sure” said Deepak Patel, owner of the Design Centre jewellery store on Vyse Street.