Boodles puts Liverpool’s jewellery history on display with exhibition
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Boodles chair Anthony Wainwright liked to keep his family jewellery business a step ahead of the competition in Liverpool. So in March 1962 he jetted to 10 cities around the world in 16 days, stopping to source beautiful stones from dealers in India, Thailand and Hong Kong, and pearls in Japan.
To mark the 60th anniversary of the tour, his son Nicholas Wainwright, current Boodles chair, is making his own journey this month: around Europe in 10 days. Just as the jeweller paid homage to Anthony’s adventure with a collection last year, so this trip will inspire new designs launching in spring next year.
Three rings from the upcoming collection will go on display at Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, Wirral, north-west England, this month in Boodles’ first exhibition. Staged as part of the gallery’s centenary, Pure Brilliance: The Boodles Story will tell how the Bond Street jeweller grew from a shop in Liverpool, across the River Mersey from the gallery, into a national brand creating designs seen on a global stage.
The story begins on the opposite, north-east coast, in Hull, where clockmaker Thomas Kirk set up a business in 1798 that expanded into jewellery and silverware. Kirk & Co opened a branch in Liverpool in 1889. Anthony’s grandfather, Henry Wainwright, moved from Leicestershire to work in this shop and bought the business in 1898.
Liverpool was “a great commercial city by that time”, says Alyson Pollard, head of the gallery. A transatlantic trading port, its population grew from 77,653 in 1801 to 517,980 in 1891. “Jewellery and other businesses were moving to Liverpool because there was quite a large middle class with more money to spend because of this growth in mercantile trade,” says Pollard.
Henry changed the shop’s name to H Wainwright & Sons to include his children, Harold and Herbert, and the family bought another Liverpool jeweller, Boodle & Dunthorne, in the early 1910s. Henry and Herbert amalgamated the businesses under the Boodle & Dunthorne name after the first world war — which claimed Harold’s life — in the Lord Street building that remains the headquarters. The company shortened its name to Boodles in 2004.
Anthony returned from second world war service in Burma after the deaths of his father Herbert and grandfather Henry in 1945 to find the business struggling. He persevered, against the advice of his bank manager and accountant.
His 1962 tour included a visit to Tiffany & Co in New York. “He’d always have a tape measure in his pocket . . . he’d be busy measuring up how long other jewellers’ windows were and taking photos of what they were doing,” says Anthony’s grandson James Amos, a Boodles director. “He wanted to be inspired by the best in the world.”
Amos credits the trip with kick-starting growth. Three years later, Anthony opened a second branch, in Chester. Today, Boodles has five shops in London, four in northern England and one in Dublin.
Boodles was a retailer until it took on a full-time jewellery designer, Rebecca Hawkins, in 1990. Now all jewellery is designed in-house in Liverpool. Hawkins has designed a one-off gold bracelet for the exhibition, which runs from October 22 until March 5. It features diamond-encrusted motifs inspired by the Grade II-listed gallery’s glass ceiling domes, while the gems — aquamarines, morganites, kunzites, green beryl and yellow beryl — reflect colours in Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the collection. Also being displayed is the emerald and diamond Greenfire necklace worn by Helen Mirren in the high-octane film Fast & Furious 9.
The gallery is in the model village built by its founder William Hesketh Lever to house workers from his soap factory (later Unilever). It is not known whether he bought from Boodles, but he did inspire Anthony. The late chair wrote in a paper on jewellery marketing, “it was the first Lord Leverhulme who once stated he knew at least half of Unilever’s massive and very successful advertising budget was completely wasted. When challenged by shareholders . . . he replied with a smile that he did not know which half it was!” Boodles will hope a 75-page exhibition brochure it is distributing to 12,000 UK customers will not go to waste.
Amos says the show helps “further to establish our history as an important part of what we do [and] as a building block for . . . the future”. Boodles will replicate panels from the exhibition in the basements of its Liverpool and Bond Street shops, and display key pieces.
Amos says Boodles has realised that “it’s increasingly useful to be able to look backwards” for brand reputation. “We don’t have Indian Maharajas and kings and queens of Russia having bought our jewellery, but we do have our own family history,” he says.