If you are looking to buy women’s jewellery, you may well purchase something that was made overseas. But if it is British, there is approximately a 40 per cent chance that it was made in one particular part of Birmingham.
The second city has long been known as the ‘City of a thousand trades’, but it has a specific district named after this one: The Jewellery Quarter. Located on the western edge of the city centre, it has been a major centre of the trade for more than 250 years.
Its development was linked to the wider speedy growth of Birmingham from a small village in Warwickshire to a major centre of industry. The area where the Jewellery quarter now stands became more urbanised, especially after more land was bought by the Colmore family in 1746 to expand operations and house more workers. In those days it was known as Newhall.
With a range of technological developments in jewellery making taking place there, the quarter gained a lead on other areas involved in the same trade, becoming (as it still is) the largest concentration of jewellery making in Europe.
Although the peak of the Jewellery Quarter was in the 19th century and much of the 20th brought decline - now partly reversed by 21st century urban redevelopment schemes - the area remains a key centre of the industry, with Britain’s biggest assaying house dealing with 12 million items a year.
Ironically, the materials to make the jewellery have generally come from elsewhere. Birmingham is no Johannesburg, a city that was literally built on a huge gold mine.
However, there was an exciting recent find when former soldier Andy Brooke found gold when panning in a river in the south if the city. He has declined to say which watercourse, but told the Daily Star: “I am perhaps the only gold prospector in Birmingham, but there are lots of metal detectorists.”
Perhaps this will now change as surveyors look for signs of more Brummie gold. If they find it, it may just be that any jewellery made in Birmingham that you by will contain metal from somewhere unexpectedly local.