Would I feel more comfortable popping into one of the big high street chains?

Or are there real advantages to finding that special item at an independent jewellers or from independent jewellery designers?

Here at Jacobs the Jewellers, we’re perhaps a little bit biased, but we really think independent jewellers have a real edge over their multi-chain competitors.

As independent jewellers in Reading for over 70 years, we’ve made our mark on the area and the jewellery industry by staying true to our independent ethos and remaining a family-run business.

But for those asking why you should go to an independent jewellers in the UK, instead of a high street store, we’ve put together a definitive guide of the top reasons why we believe independent is best. 

In this article you’ll read about:

• The 5 biggest benefits of independent jewellers vs the high street chains

• Which independent jewellery designers are making the most exciting jewellery at the moment

• How previous winners of the Jacobs and Bishopsland Emerging Jewellery Designers competition are getting on since receiving their prizes

• What the future looks like for independent jewellers going forward

If you’re wondering why we think independents are the best jewellers – read on!

What is an independent jeweller?

Jewellery makers and jewellery brands all start somewhere. Every ring, pendant, necklace, earring and bracelet you’ll ever wear has begun its life in the head of a jewellery designer. Then it needs a jewellery maker (sometimes the same person) to complete the journey from idea to realised, sellable piece.

What is an independent jeweller in Reading?

The finest jewellery is wearable art. We put on precious metal and rare gemstones because they’re beautiful and valuable – but not just in a monetary sense. A piece of jewellery can have sentimental or material value as a result of the time, creativity and craft that has gone into making it.

Quality jewellery feels unique to the wearer, an item that’s been painstakingly formed unlike any other object in the world, and chosen for a single owner.

It’s this appreciation of uniqueness that independent jewellers understand and represent, and that sets them apart from a branch of a high street chain. Instead of picking a mass-produced item from a catalogue or “off the rack” in a multi-store retailer, an independent gives you the chance to own something with a story. 

An independent jeweller is usually run by its owners. That means all decisions about what jewellery they sell, how they sell it, and what other services such as repairs that they provide, all come from the jewellers themselves. 

It’s like going to the artisanal pizza restaurant run by the family from Naples rather than a country-wide “Italian” pizza franchise. The service, authenticity (and of course the product) are almost certainly going to be better at the independent. 

To outline the exact differences, here are our 5 top reasons why independent jewellers in the UK are a cut above the rest:

5 reasons to choose independent jewellers over high street jewellers 


1. Expertise 

You can walk into any branch of Pandora, Ernest Jones, Goldsmiths, etc. in the UK, and receive the same kind of courteous, competent service from a smartly dressed, friendly staff member. They’ll give you more or less identical, pre-approved answers to your queries, and show you the same selection of gold engagement rings or whatever it is you’re looking for.

We’re not saying the salespeople in these stores aren’t knowledgeable or helpful. Nor are we saying that their answers will be wrong.

So what is the difference between what you see in a high street jewellery shop and an independent jeweller?

The biggest answer is expertise. In a chain store, the assistants can only tell you what they’ve been told to say about the jewellery. Most front of house staff are probably not jewellery experts, but salespeople who have undertaken some uniform corporate training in selling jewellery. 

If you want to know what ring size you are, they have the tools to tell you. If you want to know the difference between white gold and yellow gold, they might give you a rough explanation. But there’s no guarantee that they truly understand what it takes to make an item of jewellery. 

Jacobs the Jewellers through the Years at 25 King Street

A salesperson most likely won’t have the eye for detail or the experienced taste to tell you what will best suit your loved one, or what is truly worth spending your hard-earned money towards. 

An independent jeweller on the other hand, doesn’t have dozens of identical stores and similar salespeople to impose conformity over. More often than not UK independent jewellers operate from one location, with a fixed staff of jewellery experts. 

In an independent jewellery shop your enquiries will be answered on a one-to-one, tailored basis by someone who’s likely worked in the business for many years. A lot of independent jewellers have professional qualifications in jewellery design or are jewellery makers themselves. This means they understand exactly what goes into crafting a diamond engagement ring or silver necklace. 

At Jacobs, all of our team undergo National Association training schemes before they serve any customers. This training continues over their careers to keep their knowledge up to date with the latest trends – which means quality service for every visitor, every time.

Independent jewellers are also naturally champions of independent jewellery designers. They’ll have their finger on the pulse of the latest and best independent brands and be able to advise you accordingly.


2. Personal service 

Multi-store corporate structures mean that staff often have sales targets to meet and a “company line” to follow. This is understandable – there must be consistency across the brand.

However, it does mean that there’s little room for individual opinion, interpretation or tailored service. 

Independent jewellers’ personal service is their unique selling proposition. There might be an in-house style and preferred designers or suppliers in an independent, but invariably you’ll get a personalised approach. 

That unique service is also likely to come from a familiar face each time. High street stores might get bought out by a big conglomerate at any point, or experience quite a frequent turnover of staff. That makes it pretty hard to know who you’ll be dealing with each time you go in. 

With independent jewellery shops, they’re usually small teams, and often family-run enterprises. That translates to pride in a personable service, and commitment to building relationships between individual jewellers and long-term customers. 

That’s a big reason why people go to independents. 


3. Honest dealing 

We’re not saying anyone else is dishonest. It’s not in any company’s interest to lie to customers. However, independent jewellers rely heavily on word of mouth. 

If one customer finds out that they’ve been misled by an independent, that’s a lost customer next time, and they’re likely going to discourage friends and family from shopping there too. 

High street chains feel the bite of a poor reputation much less, since they’re usually spread all over the country (or further). For them, one unpleasant experience can be put down to a poor salesperson or a bad day. 

Independent retailers of all sorts know that customer loyalty is essential. Think of independent jewellers like your local butcher. If they try to sell you meat that’s not up to scratch, you won’t be going back! That’s why honesty is also the jewellers' best policy. 


4. Experience 

Customer loyalty comes from trust. When you trust a business and the people that run it, you want to go back to them for a great experience next time. 

With a potentially high-value purchase like diamonds or gold, you’re much more likely to trust jewellers who have been around for a while. Like Jacobs’ 70+ years in Reading, a successful independent becomes part of the local community and culture. 

A shop that lasts the test of time is also an indicator of quality and trustworthiness. Not only does it show that they’ve been successful over years (or even generations) but it suggests that the people who run it have likely come across your kind of query before. 

Having that sort of hands-on experience is something a big brand name alone just can’t give you. 


5. Industry investment 

Stocking and selling jewellery is vital for jewellery designers and makers. But it’s just one part of ensuring a healthy, innovative industry. 

Jewellery as an Investment Amethyst Diamond Ring

Jewellery sales provide income for jewellery makers, but it’s not enough to build the infrastructure of the trade which supports them as sole traders and independent workers. 

Independent jewellers understand the kind of support designers need much better than multi-store chains – because we’re the same! We appreciate that it takes a community network and mutual care for everyone in the industry to thrive. 

That’s why Jacobs is committed to giving back to the industry and helping create a successful generation of new jewellery makers. Both jewellers and designers feed each other through co-operation. 

Adam Jacobs sits on the National Association of Jewellers national committee, which exists to promote and nurture the industry. Besides educating, advising and representing the jewellery community through the NAJ, Jacobs also understands that investment is crucial. 

For example, we are heavily involved in the Pride of Reading Awards, and will be announcing our sponsorship in one of their categories this year. Adam also works closely with Reading UK, who are committed to improving lives and businesses in the area. 

Jacobs is immensely proud of our support for upcoming jewellery makers and young people interested in the trade. This is why we continue to invest in emerging talent via our annual Emerging Designers competition – but more on that below. 

Suffice to say, independent jewellers are nothing without their local community and the next generation of skilled craftspeople. Giving back where possible is an essential part of the independent ethos, and ensures the best jewellery talent can thrive into the future. 


Jacobs’ top recommended independent jewellery designers 

Top jewellery designers can produce work that becomes famous worldwide. But famous doesn’t always mean the best for your needs. The big jewellery brands might be in an inappropriate price range, or too ostentatious. Or maybe there are just too many items made, and you’d rather have something more rare for a very special occasion. 

When it comes to buying creative, contemporary jewellery, some of the best jewellery brands are independents. The most innovative jewellery designs often don’t come from the big fashion houses, but from individual or boutique jewellery makers, quietly making a name for themselves in independent jewellery shops around the UK and beyond. 

At Jacobs, we stock some well-known brands such as FOPE and Mikimoto, but we’re especially proud to promote independent jewellery makers. 

Here are some examples of our favourite luxury jewellery brands whose roots are as independent as we are. 


Shaun Leane 

As exclusive stockists of Shaun Leane jewellery in Reading, we’re immensely proud of this home-grown independent jewellery house. 

A four-time winner of the UK Jewellery Designer of the Year, whose work with Alexander McQueen earned a place in London’s V&A Museum, Shaun Leane is a master goldsmith and bold, contemporary jeweller. 

From learning his trade in Hatton Garden at a very early age, Leane now heads up the Shaun Leane jewellery house, producing the latest jewellery designs inspired by nature. 

Shaun Leane Jewellery Design Inspired By Nature

Unexpected, eye-catching and elegant, the brand’s range has a thoroughly artistic flair, bound with the finest traditional goldsmithing skill. 


Hulchi Belluni 

Started in 2021 by Belgian jewellery designer Martine Hul. Hulchi Belluni jewellery takes its inspiration from natural forms and the founder’s appreciation of Chinese lore. 

Described by the New York Times as “the self-appointed queen of pavé diamonds,” Hul specialised early on in pavé diamond settings. Using many small diamonds to create a kind of gemstone paving allowed the jewellery house to experiment more boldly with this less expensive setting. 

Hulchi Belluni Jewellery Design Diamond Ring

Based in the Antwerp jewellery quarter, Hulchi Belluni displays jewellery designs that are made in line with the principles of Feng Shui and the mystical energy, “Chi”. 

While Hulchi Belluni jewellery was born in Belgium, is hand crafted in Arezzo, Italy, and has become famous worldwide, the jewellery house remains independent at heart. Martine Hul’s contemporary art, combined with ancient wisdom give the range a truly individual spirit. 


Gianfranco Bigli 

For astounding, colourful gemstones, nothing lights up brighter than Gianfranco Bigli jewellery. Bigli is a jewellery house founded and run by two Belgian designers, whose mission is to bring beauty into the best moments of life and help tell your personal life story. 

The collection of Thierry Spitaels and Laurence Arens promise 50 colours of precious gems to choose from. Set in 18ct yellow, rose or white gold, Bigli collections are only stocked in three jewellery jobs in the UK, of which Jacobs is the exclusive stockist in Reading. 

Gianfranco Bigli Blue Gemstone Ring Design

As independent jewellery designers, Spitaels and Arens are free to create unique, eye-catching and luxury pieces of the kind that you just won’t find in high street jewellers. This kind of gemstone craftsmanship is only borne from the creativity and boldness that an independent brand can produce. 


Jacobs’ Emerging Designer Jewellery and Silver Competition 

Jacobs Jewellers Emerging Designer Jewellery and Silver Competition

Nurturing the independent designer talent of tomorrow 

Jewellery shops and jewellery makers need each other. No matter how good a designer you might be, without the best jewellers to sell them, nobody is likely to discover your latest jewellery designs. 

Likewise, a jeweller is only as good as the products they stock. Therefore, it’s in the interests of the industry to encourage fresh jewellery design talent from a young age. That way, customers will continue to have new, beautiful jewellery to try on and buy from jewellers for years to come. 

It was in this spirit of investment in the industry’s future that Jacobs launched their first ever Emerging Jewellery Designers Competition in the summer of 2016. 

In collaboration with the postgraduate jewellery design course at the Bishopsland Educational Trust, Jacobs has showcased the best pieces of silver and jewellery from young entrants on the course for the public to view and vote on a winner. 

For its sixth year this summer, prizes will be awarded for winner and runner-up in both categories, sponsored by the Goldsmiths Centre and leading jewellery suppliers H.S. Walsh. To help the budding jewellery makers launch their design careers, prizes come in the form of vouchers to be spent on tools or materials from H.S. Walsh. 

To date, 20 brilliant young designers have been awarded for their groundbreaking early work. Many others also had their pieces showcased and gained valuable experience in jewellery competition entry and industry networking. 

Since the competition has now been running for half a decade, we’ve seen a lot of talent. So we thought we’d catch up with some of the winners of the past five years to see what they’re up to now.

We reached out to ask how the Jacobs and Bishopsland Emerging Designers Competition helped them at the start of their jewellery making careers. 

Here are some of the responses we received. 


Rebecca Oldfield – Jewellery winner 2020 

Since leaving Bishopsland last year I have been busy renovating my great great grandfather’s joinery workshop in Cardiff which I plan to use as my studio. I am also undergoing gemmology training through a GIA (Gemological Institute of America) scholarship I was awarded this year, learning beginners’ Welsh, and I’m currently taking part in The Crafts Councils “Crafting Business Programme” which I was selected for last month. 

Rebecca Oldfield – Jewellery winner 2020

My most recent piece of work I have made is the Britannia Silver Wall Sconce (pictured). This piece was my most complex and largest to date – for which I was awarded Silver in the Goldsmiths Crafts and Design Council Awards this year in the 3D Silversmithing Craft category.

Jacob’s competition was incredibly important to me and my career. Not only did this competition provide me with the opportunity to challenge myself and work to a larger scale, but it also gave me confidence in myself and my work, and the tool vouchers helped me set up my own studio here in Cardiff. Ultimately, I have a lot to thank Bishopsland, Jacobs and H.S. Walsh for! 

Sarah Shelton-Palmer – Silver winner 2020

Since leaving Bishopsland in August 2020 I returned to Cornwall, where I found a little workshop to continue my business in jewellery and small silverware. 

Sarah Shelton-Palmer – Silver winner 2020

I recently entered the Goldsmiths' Craft & Design Council Awards 2021 where I won two awards. I am busy preparing work for exhibitions and a scholarship in Shetland at the end of the year. I’m excited for all the lockdown restrictions to be lifted so I can apply for more exhibitions.

Harriet Morris – Jewellery winner 2019 

Harriet Morris – Jewellery winner 2019 

After my year at Bishopsland I took up a place on The Goldsmiths' Centre's Setting Out course.

Harriet Morris – Jewellery winner 2019

This has been an amazing year that has allowed me to complement the skills I learnt at Bishopsland with new business and production knowledge. In May 2021 I launched my first bridal range at Tomfoolery's Alt Bride.

Samuel Hemmett – Silver Winner 2019 

Samuel Hemmett – Silver Winner 2019

Since leaving Bishopsland I have been employed by a prestigious and well-regarded silversmithing company, Fox Silver, under Richard Fox. Whilst working in this design-led environment I have also continued to create my own pieces by taking private commissions. The combination of working for a renowned silversmith and producing my own work has enabled me to become a more rounded maker. 

Esme Tanner – Jewellery Winner 2018 

I am currently working as a Silversmith for Fox Silver in London. I have been here nearly two years and during that time I have developed and learnt new skills helping to manufacture trophies for large sporting events such as Formula 1, most recently for Bahrain and Spain. 

Esme Tanner – Jewellery Winner 2018

I’ve also been working on my own jewellery business exhibiting at markets through Hotel Elephant and showing work in the 'Adorn: Jewellery, The Human Story' exhibition at Colchester Castle, alongside both makers and ancient gold torques and bronze hoards. I have almost finished building my own workshop and am very excited to return to making beautiful, wearable jewellery for people to treasure!

Takuya Kamiyama – Silver winner 2018 

Takuya Kamiyama Workshop Area

Since leaving Bishopsland and returning to Japan I have been working on opening my own workshop, which I finally completed this year. My love for silversmithing continues but I am also working on jewellery pieces and strive to challenge myself in all areas of my craftsmanship. 

Takuya Kamiyama – Silver winner 2018

Rebecca Burt – Jewellery winner 2017 

Upon completing my residency at Bishopsland Educational Trust in 2017 I moved back to Cardiff and began to set up a workshop. I’m now based in a lovely studio space in leafy Pontcanna in Cardiff called Red Door Studios. 

Rebecca Burt – Jewellery winner 2017

My jewellery is very tactile and surface driven – my degree in textile design is still a big influence on my approach to making. With an emphasis on rings and earrings, I create organically informed jewellery with a sense of direction and flow, contrasting silver, gold and oxidized silver with carefully selected gemstones to create beautiful juxtapositions.

Rebecca Burt – Jewellery winner 2017

I sell my work online, privately, through galleries and at craft fairs. My next event is at the Craft Festival Cheltenham, 13-15 August at Cheltenham Town Hall. 

Annemarie Reinhold – Silver winner 2017 

I am currently based in the Benchspace Creative Hub in Cork City, Ireland, where I create Silver Objects and Jewellery pieces. 

Annemarie Reinhold – Silver winner 2017

In Autumn 2020, I was selected to create a sculptural piece in response to the Covid-19 crisis. My idea to highlight the preciousness of our gardens and outside spaces by creating a silver spoon vegetable garden with wood elements. The finished work will join the National Museum of Ireland’s permanent collection, as part of its Contemporary Collection of Design and Craft. 

Annemarie Reinhold – Silver winner 2017

At the moment I have been working on the commission pieces as well as creating playful pieces, looking at vegetables and fruit as my inspiration. 

Susan Macleod – Jewellery winner 2016 

I am currently based in the London Cockpit Arts studios creating bespoke jewellery and working towards my first Summer Festival Exhibition. Later this year I’m exhibiting at Elements, a show with the Scottish Goldsmith’s Trust. 

Susan Macleod – Jewellery winner 2016

I am so lucky for the opportunities and experience gained through my time at Bishopsland and was thrilled to win the Jacobs prize. This really helped me secure equipment that continues to support my creative career. 

Emerging Designers Competition 2021 – more budding jewellery makers to be found 

As you can see, some of our previous winners have produced astonishing pieces of jewellery and silverware. And since their time at Bishopsland and receiving the Jacobs competition prizes, they’ve begun exciting, creative careers in their chosen fields. 

From setting up their own workshops across the UK and beyond, to taking private commissions, all our winners continue to hone their jewellery making crafts. 

However, the next generation of contemporary jewellery designers and silversmiths still need encouragement. Every year more young people join the profession, feeding their artistry and creativity back into the UK independent jewellery industry for years to come. 

That’s why Jacobs continues to collaborate with Bishopsland, still supported by the Goldsmiths’ Centre, H.S. Walsh and Jelly Arts, to renew the Emerging Designers Competition for another year. 

The official announcement for 2021 is coming soon, but if you’re a budding designer with a new artistic necklace, or an idea for a dazzling pair of silver earrings, you could have your work displayed to the public in our Reading store. 

Look out for details of how to enter the competition this year, coming soon on the Jacobs website


Independent Jewellers’ post-pandemic prospects 

Things are looking up for independent jewellers in the UK. The industry is recovering after the setbacks of the pandemic, and jewellery shops have been open again since April to welcome customers back. 

And as we’ve seen, plenty of young people are interested in learning the traditional crafts of silversmithing and jewellery making, and producing fantastic results. The future is bright for independent jewellery brands in the UK and the best jewellers who sell their pieces. 

Here in Reading, we’ve weathered the pandemic the best we could. We’ve shown a tenacity and commitment to our loyal customers that is typical of the independent jewellery sector. 

Despite having to close for many months, we’ve not been idle. Consultations and orders took place online, and we took the opportunity of the lockdown to completely revamp our jewellery shop on King Street, both inside and out. We’ve been ecstatic to welcome customers back in April, who’ve not only complimented the new refurb, but been relieved to be out and about themselves – all in Covid-safe conditions

As restrictions continue to lift and shopping returns as close to normal as possible, we’re confident that independent jewellers will thrive. 

Across the UK, independent contemporary jewellery brands and designers are experimenting with new methods and materials, whilst keeping the traditions of the trade as strong as ever. 

As we come out of this coronavirus crisis, we predict the best is yet to come in the UK jewellery industry. That means more choice, better jewellery and more expert, flexible, personalised customer service from independent jewellers to meet customers’ needs in the ways they’re looking for. 

So if you find yourself in Reading, why not head down this summer and check out our shiny new store

We’re sure to have a selection of pieces from independent brands to suit your style, and safe measures to set your mind at ease.