“W J Sutton was founded by William Josiah (W J) Sutton, who was the son of a jeweller”, says Kenneth Sutton, W J Sutton’s great-grandson and director of the Birmingham-based jewellery manufacturer and wholesaler. “He realised his passion for jewellery whilst studying for his metallurgy degree and so he followed in the footsteps of his father and uncle by setting up his business in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter.”
The company has specialised in creating silver and gold handmade chain since it was founded nearly 130 years ago, but Sutton says the company now also focuses on providing “top quality heritage designs”. He says the heritage design pieces continue to be popular, and gives the company “great pride” to keep the tradition alive”.
The manufacturer only sells to the trade, not to the public, and its clients are an “eclectic mixture” of high-end independent boutique shops, other manufacturers and wholesalers, small multiple retailers and online jewellery entrepreneurs, both in the UK and worldwide.
When asked what the key is in maintaining a good relationship with his customers, Suttons says it is thanks to having over 6,000 product lines – meaning the company is able to tailor “different products to the differing needs” of its client base. “Many of our customers with high-street store-fronts choose our chunky handmade chains and bangles”, says Sutton, “whereas our customers with online stores tend to go for pendant chains to display pieces that they have designed, or plain pieces with space for engraving as they offer personalisation services.
“He adds that communication is another key to good customer service, and explains how the staff are very knowledgeable about the product range – able to answer any queries that customers may have and help direct them to the correct product for them.
“We also try to go above and beyond for our customers, continually raising the bar on what our company offers. When our customers thrive so do we, we want to help them where we can. We are pleased that our agents embody this philosophy and are able to offer this service to our customers in person across the UK and Ireland,” he adds.
Sutton goes on to say how every business “faces ups and downs”, and adds that durings its 130 years, the business “hasn’t always thrived”. “Jewellery wasn’t people’s priority during difficult times, so the wars and the great depression definitely had an impact on the business,” he says, “We’ve had other challenges in the past, like demand increasing too quickly and not being able to keep up with it. Also, the challenge of developing new infrastructure, both physical and digital is ongoing.”
He also thinks that the state of the jewellery industry is experiencing “radical change right now”, and adds many of the most skilled jewellers are “reaching retirement age, and as a trade it needs to “support and train new talent to fill their shoes”.
Despite this, Sutton says the company has continued to improve and is able to provide the “best possible service” to its customers. “When I joined the business, I was eager to introduce computers into our work system, which allowed for a much greater range of products and to reach a wider pool of potential customers.”
W J Sutton has a core range of heritage design handmade chains in both silver and 9ct yellow, rose and white, which Sutton says is one of the company’s most popular collections. It also offers machine made pendant chains, which is available in a variety of alloys, lengths and styles. “These are particularly popular with our customers who are designer/maker jewellers,” explains Sutton, “Items that started off as trend pieces, like the infinity symbol and tree of life collections have continued to be popular with customers for many years now and have become part of our continuing lines.”
New collections such as nautical themed jewellery and snaffle bracelets have also recently been added to the company’s range. Additionally, individual products of all kinds are often continuously added to its range, such as earrings, pendants and handmade chains. “We plan on introducing more chunky silver jewellery because this is something our customers have requested time and time again.”
In terms of current trends, Sutton believes the trade is split into those that follow the trends and companies who “thrive on providing traditional lines at competitive prices”. “We sit more on the side of traditional lines, but are working to expand our trend piece collections.”
In 2017 the company celebrated its 130th anniversary, which saw Sutton’s children, Elizabeth and James, join the business. “They will be the sixth generation of jewellers from the Sutton family,” he says, “I believe that new faces bring with them new ideas, new ways to innovate and a fresh approach, which I think is a key asset in an industry that is notoriously slow when it comes to adopting new technologies.”
The company is now working on a new catalogue which has been requested by its customers. It is also working to further develop its online presence and automate more of the in-house tasks in order to allow it to focus on other areas. “We’re also hoping to take on new employees to fulfill growing demand,” adds Sutton.
“My son and daughter are advocates of sustainability in business. They see many areas which can be improved within the business to make sure what we do is eco-friendly. One of the steps we have taken on this front is to work with Aston University’s Low Carbon SMEs project to decrease our carbon footprint and energy consumption. This year we are exploring other ways we can make our company more environmentally conscious,” he concludes.