Name: Alistair Zelley, Zelley Jewellers
Year established: 1886
Number of staff: 7
How was Zelley Jewellers founded?
My great grandfather Fredrick John Zelley started out as a sole trader during the 1890s in Bishop’s Stortford and registered the first FJ Zelley Jewellers in 1910. My grandfather Claude moved to Norwich in 1947 leaving his brother Eric in Bishop’s Stortford where Eric’s grandson still runs the business today.
Claude started in the region selling to the Americans on the surrounding air force bases as well as wholesaling to the region’s jewellery shops. The family also ran a number of retail stores in the area, all of which have closed down over the last couple of decades as family and closely trusted managers have either retired or passed away. The Zelley family name still remains in three locations being Phillip Zelley in Sudbury, Martin Zelley in Bishop’s Stortford and ourselves in Norwich. Claude bought a jewellers in Norwich called A Ames which was established in 1886. This was limited and the name changed changed to FJ Zelley (Norwich) Limited in the 1950s and is the company we still run to date.
What types of jewellery do you sell?
We sell antique, vintage and pre-owned fine jewellery. We do have new items but no modern collections or brand name jewellery. Our watches are all vintage mechanical pieces of which the majority are Omega and Rolex. Art Deco and anything between the wars is currently selling really well. Our large and varied collection of amber also sells well and brings in some fairly affluent Chinese clients.
What plans do you have for 2017?
Plans to expand the workshop are coming along nicely and hopefully we can start making more items for stock rather than commissions. Ultimately I would like to get another goldsmith at the bench. We have stockpiled a great deal of jewellery over the gold buying boom years as we refuse to scrap anything where possible. All this stock is just waiting to be tidied up, restored or repaired but we are finding it hard to get items into the workshop thanks to plenty of customer’s jewellery jobs. I suppose we will do what every other shop is trying to do and drive more customer traffic through the front door.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
I would say it is our premises and our stock, as well as the knowledge and information we provide. We have a deceptively large shop floor and every inch is filled. All the walls are covered in cabinets, clocks and barometers of all shapes and sizes. My father has an extensive collection of amber as part of a museum display. I doubt I’m exaggerating when I say it is possibly the largest private collections of amber on show in the country. Our workshop allows us to do things in-house and subsequently turn repairs around nice and quickly. Most of all, however, I would say it is our safe deposit boxes. Over the last two years it has brought in a great deal of high value customers. Most of which want us to do revised insurance valuations, repairs and alterations as well as purchasing new items.
The business is more than 100 years old, how do you keep up with current trends and demands?
The short answer is, we don’t. We are a traditional jewellers and we plan to stay that way. Our clients want timeless items of fine jewellery and we have no intention of providing anything less. The hardest thing is keeping up with current unacceptable gemstone treatments and enhancements making their way onto the market. Synthetics, simulants and enhancements have been around for a long time but mostly always disclosed. These days those terms tend to be omitted from descriptions.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Much of the same but a bit more efficient. We own the building so we are pretty well set. The way the economy and world affairs are at the moment, five years is a long time, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
This feature first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Jewellery Focus