Jewel in the crown

HL Brown directors: David Oswald, Neville Woodhouse, managing director James Frampton,       chairman Michael Frampton and Richard Pool
HL Brown directors: David Oswald, Neville Woodhouse, managing director James Frampton, chairman Michael Frampton and Richard Pool
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Jewellers abound in Britain’s high streets, but there are few that can compare themselves with HL Brown.

The Sheffield-based group celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and, through an acquisition in the 1920s, can boast connections that stretch back 230 years to 1781.

What’s more, every one of those 150 years has been under the control of one of five generations of the same family, descended from Harris Leon Braun, who fled his native Poland after taking part in an insurrection against his homeland’s Russian rulers.

And, throughout that time, the company has unswervingly maintained its founder’s values, rooted in the pursuit of quality and beauty – and not the transience of modern fashion.

“We are in the beauty business,” says chairman Michael Frampton, who took over the running of the business from his uncle, H L Brown’s grandson, Denis, in 1972.

“Things have changed and it is very much the influence of fashion. People buy base metal things and fling them round their neck, but a diamond will last for years and we are looking for a thing of beauty, that is of good design and will last.

“We are a family business. We don’t go for the quick buck because our customers will come back to us and we value their confidence.”

HL Brown’s managing director, and Michael’s son, James, agrees.

“We don’t believe we are selling a commodity. We are selling beauty and design .

“When it comes to jewellery it’s a sentimental purchase, it’s often to mark a special occasion and part of the enjoyment is coming to a special place to choose.

“There is a section of the population that goes for what it perceives to be the best price. The customers that come here want to talk to experts. They want to enjoy the experience, which is why we won’t change. We are here to provide that service and that expertise. It’s a service people enjoy having.”

That’s not to imply HL Brown has set its face against all change.

The company embraced a trend towards shaped engagement and wedding rings that are designed to fit so that they appear to be a single piece of jewellery, yet can be worn separately.

It has responded to concerns about “conflict diamonds,” sold to fuel violence in Africa by ensuring they don’t find their way into its jewellery.

And, it has taken to the internet. “The Web has changed things to a certain degree,” says Michael Frampton. The company this week unveiled its own e-commerce site - a bespoke development by one of Sheffield’s leading agencies, Uber - but continues to emphasise the importance of personal contact with customers.

While the company is boosting its internet presence, bulk buying of jewellery continues to be anathema to HL Brown.

The company boasts the expertise to choose and buy stones on the international market and to select mounts from designers in Birmingham, Antwerp and Italy, in the main, before the two are made one by its own specialists.

“We like to buy our own gem stones and have control over the quality,” says James Frampton.

“We are involved in the design; trying to find a variety of different styles of mount and create an item of jewellery.

“We like to develop something that is a little bit different, something people know they won’t see again in the window.”