Family history runs deep at Deakin & Francis -- seven generations deep. That’s how long the workshops in Birmingham, England, founded by Charles Washington Shirley Deakin in 1786 have been designing and manufacturing some of the world’s finest cuff links.
Today, Charles’ descendants, James and Henry Deakin, brothers and GIA alumni, own and manage the business.
James, director of design and manufacturing, said he feels a sense of responsibility for carrying on the company’s long legacy. His favorite part of being in the family business is “creating products to the very best of our abilities so they will last and be treasured for generations.”
“My father’s parting words before retiring were, ‘Someone out there will always try to make it cheaper than you, but don’t let anyone make it better’,” he said.
Deakin & Francis designs are worn by business people, celebrities and members of royalty worldwide. Styles include gold and silver cuff links that incorporate vitreous enamel and fine gemstones and run the gamut from traditionally shaped (diamond, rectangle and square) to animal-, insect- and sport-themed cuff links, including King Rat, motorcycles and a skull and cross bones topped with a crown.
InStyle magazine featured the company’s “Knockout” cuff links in its December 2012 gift guide and GQ highlighted the bumblebee, pirate and dinosaur cuff links in its January 2013 issue.
“It’s great that our designs are becoming internationally recognized,” James said. “GQ and InStyle magazines are ideal publications for us to be featured in.”
Both brothers attended GIA to enhance their knowledge of design and gemstones: James earned his GIA Graduate Jeweler diploma in 1995 and GIA Graduate Gemologist (GG) diploma in 1996 in Santa Monica; Henry earned his GG and Jewelry Design certificate in Vicenza in 2001. Both worked for Aspreys in New York before returning to the family business.
James said attending GIA was a great way for him to get the bench experience he was seeking.
“All I was interested in at that time was designing and making,” he said. “I use the skills that I learned at GIA every single day. From design to gemology to manufacture, these three courses were tailored exactly to processes I go through every day either in the factory or in meeting with clients.”
Henry, director of sales, said GIA gave him all of the skills and confidence he needed to join the family business.
“I was very young when I started working and my GIA education was a great help in reinforcing confidence in my abilities, not only for myself but also for my customers,” he said. “When I am talking with them I am able to understand their needs and advise them on the best designs, materials and stones to fit their specifications.”
These days the brothers are focused on coming up with new ideas and designs to keep the family business competitive.
“We have found that continually redesigning the collection of products we offer and not worrying about what other companies are doing has kept us ahead,” Henry said.
That includes going with your gut inspiration and being prepared to be wrong -- and being happy to be different, James said.
“Some of my weirdest designs have become our best sellers,” he said. “I originally drew them for myself out of curiosity to see what they would look like. Some of these designs have made their way into the world’s best stores.”