Old-school jewellery business makes it work

THEN AND NOW: Linley Hart’s shop has been a jewellery store for nearly 100 years, and she says not much has changed. From left:  Linley Hart, Sue North and  Anna Williamson.
THEN AND NOW: Linley Hart’s shop has been a jewellery store for nearly 100 years, and she says not much has changed. From left: Linley Hart, Sue North and Anna Williamson.

Inside, Hart Jewellery is a narrow, cosy shop. Warmly lit with cabinets full of sparkling jewellery and a spiral staircase rising into the ceiling.

It has a street frontage in Railway Building on Ward St. There's history here: the store has been occupied by jewellers for 94 years since the building opened in 1920.

"Realistically," says owner Linley Hart, "nothing's changed in this building."

She says "We're here for the long haul. Until the building falls down, probably."

Hart says business is tough for a lot of people in the central business district (CBD).

"For one thing there used to be just shops full, both sides [of the street]," she says. "There was no Chartwell Square, the was no Base . . . town was the place to be."

Now Ward St paints a different picture. There is still pedestrian traffic but it's all passing through. There are no aimlessly wandering shoppers.

Hart says less opportunists come through the door, and there are no more late-night Fridays for CBD retail.

So Harts makes it work by being a "destination store".

"We're fine, we have a very good reputation," says Hart.

A lot of her business is from return customers, some of whom are the third generation coming back to the same store.

"People come here because they know us. It's probably 80 per cent of our custom is done out of the small group that return again and again."

In 1920, the store was called Moughan's Jewellers. After that, it became Saunders.

"Harold Saunders owned this for a very short time," said Hart.

Then, for 28 years the store was Barkers Jewellers, and that's when Hart first came in contact with it.

She had a keen interest in jewellery, and took a job at the store when she left school. "I worked here as a teenager, then I worked for another jewellers," she says. "I've always really worked in jewellery."

And it was while working in a jewellery store that Hart met husband Clive, who is the actual jeweller behind Hart Jewellery.

"Clive has been doing it since he was 17. He's now 72," says Hart.

She left work for several years to have a family, then returned to Barkers in the 1990s. In 2003, the couple took over the store.

Customer service, stocking rarer lines of international jewellery and making high-quality jewellery to order are their keys to keeping people coming back.

"We see people who are purchasing jewellery for special occasions, not just everyday purchasing like you buy your groceries."

Hart says a lot of the stock in the store cabinets is from overseas ranges, because there aren't enough manufacturing jewellers in New Zealand, and there isn't enough choice of supply.

Though he does make some stock for the store, Clive Hart spends most of his time creating custom contract jewellery and doing repairs.

Linley Hart says her customers are comfortable ordering custom jewellery that some people might consider strange, like a set of wetas, dragonflies or a small pair of golden boxing gloves.

"We do make very different things. We often get asked to make things that wouldn't sell, [that are] peculiar to a person's tastes."

She says jewellery is something people always want. "Realistically, time doesn't change romance. There's always birthdays, anniversaries, people falling in love, people falling out of love." 

Waikato Times