Henry Deakin, the gemologist and designer shows us around cufflink-maker Deakin & Francis, which has been in his family for generations and serves everyone from rock stars to royalty
Deakin & Francis has been in my family for seven generations, based in the same building in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter since 1786. Working methods haven’t changed much either – our machinery is over 100 years old, and we still use vitreous enamel. Our guys make their own tools too, because they don’t like the way modern tools feel.
Over the years, we’ve made everything from teapot sets to tiaras to golden mobile phones. But 80 per cent of our business is about cufflinks, which came back into fashion in the 1950s and early 1960s.
My brother James and I took over the business nearly 10 years ago. Our workplace is damp and dusty but it’s a great place to make cufflinks.
It’s more like a working museum than a factory. You won’t see many green and red buttons, as the guys – there are 26 staff here – are highly skilled craftsmen, working with their hands. It’s a quirky space split over three floors, with gas lamps on the wall, an old crude oil engine downstairs and littered with self-made objects, such as candlesticks, chess sets, hairbrushes and letter-openers.
The building is apparently haunted too. The ghost of Captain Francis – the last in the Francis line, who was killed in the Second World War – has been spotted on the top floors, waving from the window in full regimental clothing.
Today, Deakin & Francis sells more cufflinks than ever, with a £3m turnover and the US is our biggest market. We were worried when people started dressing-down in the office, but cufflinks are one of the few ways guys can express themselves, everything from football teams to sharks. You can pick your personality for the day by the cufflinks you wear.
Our customers span rock stars to royalty – we’ve supplied most palaces around the world and there’s a rumour that Prince George might be wearing our cufflinks. It’s great watching the Oscars and seeing actors wearing our cufflinks on the red carpet.
The most expensive pair of cufflinks we’ve made cost £1m – for that, you’d get some serious diamonds. The oddest? There was this guy who wanted reversible cufflinks, with his mistress on one side and his car on the other, which he could wear at home.
Our premises are very important to us – Deakin & Francis is equally as proud of coming from Birmingham, as we are England.